Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The best laid meal plans

I'm going into 2011 with just one simple resolution. To plan the family meals every week.

We have two evening mealtimes in the geekyhousehold. I know that having the whole family round the table is supposedly important for family bonding, developing conversation skills and keeping your children out of prison, but when one person in the family has a 60 mile commute and gets home at 7.30pm that just doesn't seem to work. I also secretly quite enjoy the relaxing, conversational dinner Geekydaddy and I enjoy if the kids have gone to peaceably to bed. We eat all together on the weekend, a ritual that has its good parts, but is still not exactly leisurely

It falls upon me to plan and prepare the children's evening repast every day. In the car on the way home from preschool the kids start to discuss argue over what to have for dinner. If I'm lucky my memory of what is in the fridge or freezer is accurate and I give them a couple of viable options. By the time we get home we usually have a stalemate situation and I will be forced to choose one child's request over the other, thus assuring that the loser will at best refuse to eat whatever I prepare, or at worst hurl it on the floor (thank goodness for the ever hungry dog).

The only thing they both regularly agree upon is boxed Mac and Cheese, of the 'Annies organic' variety, though even then a fierce battle can ensue over whether to have "Arthur" shaped pasta in orange cheese sauce or his compatriot "DW" in white cheese alfredo. Sadly the differing shapes of the pasta and the colour of the sauces is what passes for a varied diet most weeks. (This isn't a sponsored post, but if anyone from "Annies" is reading, a years supply of your boxed pasta, rabbit shaped crackers and gummy bunnies would be most welcome).

Exhausted from the effort of deciding what to feed the kids, then making it and persuading them to eat it, I am then faced with thinking of something for Geekydaddy and I. This often coincides with his phone call from the drive home, and more frequently than I would like we both fail to summon up any ideas for dinner and I divert him to pick up take out. The lovely fresh produce he bought so optimistically at the weekend languishes in the fridge thanks to our exhaustion and lack of imagination.

It didn't used to be this way. I'm a pretty decent cook, and so is Geekydaddy. I got an 'A' in my O level food and nutrition class, thanks to my biology teacher, Mr. Singleton, who very generously snuck in and ate the evidence of a small measuring error that resulted in a double quantity of orange mousse. I realized over the holiday that it wasn't the act of cooking that was daunting me, but the opening of the fridge, staring at a mound of food and wondering what on earth to make with it.

This has not been helped by the demise of our oven. When we remodeled our kitchen back in 2004 we replaced the ancient 1950's gas stove, a stove which upon reflection had never given us a days trouble,  with a modern and quite expensive Bosch double oven. This piece of overpriced crap broke down for the first time in 2006, just before Thanksgiving and just after its warranty had expired. We had it fixed (though not until well after thanksgiving), and it lasted until this summer, when the thermostat failed again. The problem is that the hinges on the doors are not strong enough to withstand daily opening and closing. Apparently, despite its hefty price tag, this is a purely decorative appliance that isn't suitable for every day use.  The door no longer closes properly, heat leaks out and the oven struggles to maintain temperature until it simply refuses to heat up. Though to fool you, its display tells you that it has reached temperature, it isn't until you poke at your cold casserole that you realize that the temperature dial is lying.

We are so mad at the damn thing that we can't bring ourselves to actually deal with the situation and cough up the cash for a new oven. Instead we resurrected Geekydaddy's old countertop toaster oven, a twenty year old relic from his single days, for anything that needs to be baked.

I started the meal plan resolution this week, the menus decided in consultation with the rest of the family, and so far (two days in!) it has been a resounding success. I came home from work knowing exactly what I needed to do, and set about steaming rice and frying tortilas with gusto. Geekyboy, upon seeing the quesadillas I was frying in the pan, burst into his usual wails that he wanted Mac n Cheese, which he had yesterday. I picked him up and pointed to the meal chart I have stuck up on the wall. "Look, you had Mac n Cheese yesterday. Today is quesadillas with peas, and tomorrow is sausages, spaghetti O's and carrots. We will have Mac n Cheese again on Friday."

"Oh" he said. He seemed impressed and disarmed by my decisiveness. "I like quesadillas."

He ate them up too, with two helpings of peas. I was quite stunned.

Next week I might even try to create some meals for the kids that don't involve cheese!

Suggestions welcome.