While this is a good theory, here's where it falls apart in practice, at least lately: I eat crap for dinner. OK, sometimes it's not crap, but it's usually not something that qualifies as a meal for my toddlers. I might have a bowl of cereal and a banana. Or a piece of toast with sunflower seed butter. Or some microwave popcorn and some ice cream. Or a bowl of chips and some baby carrots. Those kinds of dinners are fine for the kiddos on occasion, but I don't want them to think that dinner is always like that.
Our typical eating pattern is like this. We eat a good breakfast together: fresh fruit (always) plus oatmeal, whole grain toast with sunflower seed butter, bagels with cream cheese, egg sandwiches, pancakes, or whatever. The twins always have a hearty lunch at daycare; I pack all their lunches for the week on Sunday night, and they get a main course, fresh fruit, yogurt, no-sugar applesauce, and some kind of crunchy snack. I pack my own lunch for work and try to make it something hearty and healthy.
When dinnertime rolls around, we've all had our big meal of the day, we're tired, and we're pressed for time. In theory, I want us to all eat as a family, but in practice, I'm not ready for dinner at 5:30 or 5:45, and the twins still require enough management while eating that I don't really get to enjoy my meal when we all eat together. I have a laundry list of twin-friendly dinner foods (yes, that includes mac'n'cheese!) that I can cobble together quickly, and I usually just serve them an old standby. I eat a little snack with them so that we're at least sitting down together to eat, and I can help them as needed. Then I eat my craptastic dinner after Maddie and Riley go to bed.
I actually love to cook. In our pre-kid, pre-cancer lives, John's and my relationship revolved around food. We ate out a lot—dining out was by far our biggest entertainment expense—but we also cooked elaborate meals at home. Despite my documented hatred of Christopher Kimball, I am a whore for Cook's Illustrated. It used to be that when my new issue would arrive, I would pore over it, selecting the item I was going to prepare first, making my grocery list as I went along. John and I had complimentary skills and worked really well together in the kitchen, and I have many wonderful memories of meals we created together. Even when I was single, I would spent weekends in the kitchen, cooking gourmet meals just for myself and friends.
It's precisely because I love to cook that I haven't been doing it anymore. The truth is that I'm a snob when it comes to food and cooking. Since I no longer have the energy to make the time-consuming, gourmet meals that I used to make, I just don't bother to make much of anything at all. Add to that the fact that grief has sent me into serious comfort-eating mode, and you have a recipe for dining disaster.
In the past week or so, I've started pulling myself out of the rut. Between getting a bit more sleep and feeling emotionally lighter after my anger realization, I have had a bit more energy to deal with all aspects of my life, eating included. I've long shunned (remember: snob!) those types of books that promise family-friendly meals in less than 30 minutes with no more than six ingredients . . . and yet I'm starting to realize that those kinds of books are exactly what I need. I need to readjust my idea of what cooking is and focus on what is really important here: getting healthy, tasty food on the table rather than martyring myself for not being able to work full-time, take care of two kids on my own, and cook gourmet meals to boot.
After reading through the comments on Moxie's post on this very subject, I decided yesterday to order The Six O'Clock Scramble. We'll see how I like it. I also printed some recipes off of the very excellent A Year of Crockpotting. I'm putting together a grocery list for next week. My pattern has been to cook at least one leftover-friendly meal each weekend; that's where my lunch comes from. If I can cook one more such meal, plus find some recipes that I can make after work without feeling too harried, I think we'll be much closer to being able to truly have family dinners.
If y'all have any favorite quick (vegetarian, please) recipes that you want to share in comments or via e-mail, please feel free. If my motivation continues and I find some good meals, I'll share them here at the blog if there's interest.
Random aside: I finally got my BlogHer Ads approval! Sweet. Ads should be up soon. I apologize to those who find ads offensive, but after careful consideration, I've decided to go for it. Please pardon my shameless commerce.