What’s For Dinner?

My life at home gives me absolute joy. There are some days when, as soon as you’ve finished cooking breakfast and cleaning up the kitchen, it’s time to start lunch, and by the time you’ve done that, you’re doing dinner and thinking, ‘There has to be a menu we can order from.’  Julia Roberts

Every morning it’s the same thing. What am I going to make for dinner? Until this question is answered, I cannot begin to tackle my to do list without that sword of Damocles dangling above my head.

Of course the fact that my son’s first words to me each day, before uttering “Good Morning,” are “What’s for dinner?” doesn’t help much. You’d think there were a constant battle for food around here. I finally had to make a new rule: You are not allowed to ask me what’s for dinner until after lunch. Even then though I cringe when I hear those words.

My husband will call during the day, interrupting whatever I am doing, to ask, “What’s for dinner?” At first I would tell him (if I actually knew), but after he told me once or twice after finding out what I was making, “Oh, did I tell you I have to work late tonight?” I stopped indulging him. Sure he might have been kidding, but planning dinner 360 nights a year can get stressful and I’m not always in the mood to play.

As for my daughter, well she has reached that wonderful age where she thinks she can freely express her dislike for some of the things I prepare. Silly girl! Why in the world would she think she actually has a say in this? She doesn’t help with the planning, she certainly doesn’t “offer” to help with the preparation, and getting her to clean up is like pulling teeth, so until she has “earned” a say, she’d best tread lightly.

A few years back I decided to write out a monthly menu. For six months I wrote a different meal in every box of the upcoming months calendar. This gave me a guideline for shopping lists each week and took the pressure off of constantly feeling like I had to come up with something new for dinner.

The euphoria soon wore off though because the menu made me feel “tied down.” Although I certainly could have changed a planned dinner on the menu, seeing it in writing gave it a sense of permanence making me feel guilty if I didn’t follow it to the letter. I believed if I changed the menu for this one day, what was to stop me from doing it every day. And if that were going to be the case, what was the point of the menu?

The weather was another factor when it came to following the menu. If the weather was hot and steamy typically grilling outside was better than heating up the kitchen even more with a huge pot of soup. Or if a cold front or thunderstorm suddenly decided to descend on us, which living in Michigan is always a distinct possibility, I surely wouldn’t want to find myself standing outside flipping burgers.

Additionally, some nights I did not feel like making what was on the menu. Every week I was sure to have a different Mexican dish and Italian dish. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, when my husband worked out, I had to make either pork or beef, chicken didn’t give him enough umph. And what about leftovers? If I were to schedule them on the menu, there was no guarantee that someone wouldn’t eat them for lunch, and again, I found myself right back to the old routine of “What’s for dinner?”

One good thing that did come of the “Menu” was it forced me to make a master list of all the meals I make. Surprisingly I had enough dishes to go three months without repeating a single meal. That was good to know and in theory sounds really good, but there are some meals I like having more than once every three months.

So, here I sit, staring at the dogs next door romping in their yard, listening to the birds chirping in the trees, waiting for the clouds to break up just enough to let a little sunshine into the morning, wondering What’s for dinner tonight?

It isn’t supposed to rain, but the temperature is only going to be about 54°, so I don’t want to grill. It’s Wednesday, which means I have to make something with beef or pork. I haven’t made anything Mexican or Italian this week, so there are those options. There is leftover ham in the fridge — but that would be good for a snack for my husband after his workout. Everyone should be home by 4:00, so I don’t have to serve dinner in shifts. What really matters here is:  What do I have all the ingredients on hand to make? Having to run up to the store for even one thing is not going to work today.

Mexican! I always have everything I need for that. Soft and hard shell tacos sound good, with some fresh homemade salsa from home canned tomatoes and jalapeno peppers, and maybe even a pot of Mexican soup with home canned pinto beans. Done! Now I can get on with my day and not stress about “What’s for dinner?” Not tonight anyway, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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