It was a chilly Tuesday evening in May. The skies had been threatening rain all day and it looked like the weatherman’s predictions were finally going to arrive. I stood in the parking lot of Short Pump Middle School, clutching the sides of my jacket a bit tighter against my body.
Janelle’s soccer coach approached me and said, “Looks like rain. I’ll let the girls run around for about 15 minutes and then we’ll call it a night.”
I quickly agreed and ran to the warmth of my car. Great, I thought, I raced over here for nothing. Evening soccer practice always annoyed me. Not only due to mother nature’s unpredictability, but also because it interfered with a tradition of mine—family dinner.
When it comes to dinnertime, I’m a bit like June Cleaver. I like to have dinner as a family every night. I enjoy the togetherness as we gather around the table. I relish the conversations about my children’s day. It’s more than sustenance to me. It’s connecting to the people I love most in this world. And soccer practice was totally screwing with that.
I wasn’t always Mrs. Cleaver.
Years ago, as a harried working mother, I’d return home and the inevitable question, “What’s for dinner?” would arise.
Sitting at the kitchen table I’d watch Michael as he opened the refrigerator, peered inside and began calling out our options. “We’ve got some ketchup, pickles, a few slices of American cheese, about 40 jars of half-eaten baby food, and a container of those nasty Gerber meat sticks that Amanda loves.”
“Oh God,” I’d reply, disgusted. “I’ll order Chinese.”
Eventually growing weary of Moo Shu Pork and Beef with Broccoli, I decided to do the unthinkable. I decided to plan ahead, to make a weekly dinner menu.
June Cleaver was born.
At first, I didn’t pay much attention to the nutritional quality of the food I was preparing. My goal was simply to get something on the table. But, after my third child was born at age 36, I discovered that the baby weight was clinging to me tighter than my newborn daughter.
I needed to make some changes to lose the weight. I had to. I’m not born with good genes. I come from a long line of German and Swedish women. And not the Swedish Bikini Team. No, my stout, hardy relatives were out in the fields plowing while the bikini team’s ancestors were dancing at the royal ball.
Fighting my DNA and losing the postpartum weight required nutritional fanaticism.
I morphed into the love child of June Cleaver and Dr. Arthur Agatston (of South Beach Diet fame).
Now every Sunday, sitting down with a stack of my favorite cookbooks, I plan out the week’s menu with a careful eye toward incorporating fresh produce, lean meats, and good carbohydrates.
Even though I enjoy cooking, I don’t like to cook every night. So, I always schedule a left-over night and a pizza night. At most, I cook five nights a week.
After planning the week’s dinners, I make the accompanying grocery list and shop for all the supplies. With everything on hand, and the menu set, there’s no more guesswork. No more Chinese take-out for dinner.
What started as a way to combat boredom with restaurant food and lose weight, evolved into a sacred family tradition. Now, with all three children in school full-time, and each one involved in different extracurricular activities, it’s the only time during the day that we are together as a family.
For my family, for those precious moments together, I go through the effort of shopping and cooking.
Well, and also for my DNA. Great-Grandma Ische is lurking inside me, waiting to emerge. I have to throw lettuce at her daily and tell her politely and respectfully, to pipe down.
P.S. If the thought of planning a week’s menu seems daunting, borrow mine. Here’s a look at what we’re having this week.
Monday: Spaghetti, a tossed salad, fresh fruit, multigrain bread
Tuesday: Fish kabobs, rice, salad (fish recipe on page 166 of South Beach Diet book)
Thursday: Grilled steak salad, fresh fruit (salad recipe on page 152 of Boy Meets Grill cookbook by Bobby Flay)
Friday: Pizza (Michael’s homemade this week, but usually we just order Papa John’s)
Saturday: Cookout with friends (burgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, salad)