The Complications of Dinner: Slice of Life 13/31 #sol16

slice of life

Some days it seems like we just finished breakfast and already it’s time to think about lunch. And just after lunch, there’s dinner to figure out. How can human beings have to eat so often? I love food, love to eat, often love to cook and bake as well, but there is a part of me that longs for astronaut meal pouches or maybe a Star Trek replicator.

It is not enough to simply get some food on the table so that we can refuel.

First, there are preferences to keep in mind.

My son struggles with new foods or even new combinations of familiar foods. He may take an unexpected turn away from an old favorite any day. After asking for pancakes nearly every morning for a year, he suddenly recoils if pancakes are even suggested. He won’t eat fish or eggs or tofu. On the bright side, he will eat every vegetable in the world and even cheers for Brussels sprouts.

My husband doesn’t like to eat butter, cheese, or milk. He won’t eat tofu either, and he hates much spice.

Then, there is balance to consider.

Did my son get the questionable treat of a Big Mac for lunch? Then it’s definitely big salads and fruit smoothies for dinner. Was there cheese at lunch? Everyone but me will complain if dinner is also cheesy. Has my son gotten enough calories? Has he gotten enough fruit and vegetables? Enough protein?

There is the eating well factor.

Much as I long for a silver pouch that provides all the nutrients we need in a meal, I’m actually a bit of a food snob. My husband could eat a soy burger and a plate of greens—no dressing—at every meal, and my son would be thrilled with a rotating menu of burgers, nachos, and spaghetti, maybe spiced up occasionally with chili dogs. But I want to eat well. I’m a sucker for words like local, organic, and grass-fed. I love the idea of “quick and convenient” cooking, but I rarely like the taste, which is so often underdeveloped and one-note. And I notice that my son is becoming a bit of a food snob too. He has a thoughtful palate and strong opinions—and he’s usually right on in his criticisms of new recipes.

And of course there is the daily battle with time.

How much time do I truly have in a day to plan, shop for, prepare, eat, and clean up after meals? In an ideal world, cooking would feel more like a personal hobby, like something enriching that rejuvenates and replenishes. I would look forward to my time in the kitchen. In reality, it’s closer to another household chore. I do love to cook—sometimes. But not necessarily when I have to.

In the end, though, meal preparation isn’t another daily household task like folding laundry or putting away the dishes. It may be a chore, but it’s a chore with added value. When I fold my son’s laundry, he doesn’t feel special. When I cook his favorite meal, he does.

Food, ultimately, is about love.

Maybe it’s a Southern thing, but I need the people I love to eat well. I grew up in the South, and I have been away for a very long time. I have lost my Southern accent and my ability to tolerate heat and humidity. But I have never lost my taste for the flavors of my childhood—grits and fried okra and vine-ripened tomatoes and biscuits—and I have never lost that Southern belief that food connects and heals.

When I know my son has had a stressful day at school, I’ll sometimes shift dinner plans at the last minute and make nachos. When I know he’s been missing his mom, I’ll make an Ethiopian feast.

On the days when the trauma is toughest, I head to the kitchen when he finally agrees to eat. I know just what to prepare. I dry sauté an onion, then add a little water and bring it to a boil. I pour in several glugs of olive oil and a heaping tablespoon of berbere, the complexly flavored Ethiopian spice. I chop a tomato and add that to the mix with a little more salt than tastes good to me. While the sauce is simmering, I cook spaghetti. In about fifteen minutes, we have a meal that feeds more than bellies.

We sit together and eat, our lips stinging from the spices. My son polishes off his bowl and asks for more.



This post was inspired by today’s topic suggestion at the Slice Challenge check-in post and by the slice Breakfast for Dinner at It’s About Making Space.





21 responses to “The Complications of Dinner: Slice of Life 13/31 #sol16”

  1. carriegelson Avatar

    I loved this entire post. Maybe because I have a full belly of dark coffee and a sweet pastry that was an indulgence. Food represents so much. But yes, I am thinking about the fruit salad that must be lunch!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Ah, dark coffee and sweet pastries. Such a pleasure. Starting the day off writing about food maybe isn’t the best way to avoid indulgence for the rest of the day!

  2. Brian Rozinsky Avatar

    Preparing “a meal that feeds more than bellies”? Not just a Southern thing, but a human thing. Awesome!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      True, not just Southern. Funny to me, too, how sometimes it’s the simplest of meals–not really a recipe at all–that is the most meaningful.

  3. Shari Daniels Avatar

    Oh Elisabeth, I can resonate with almost everything you write in this post. I’m not sure if a Food Snob is a good thing or a bad, but I’m hanging on good side of the teeter totter as I declare to be one and to have created a family of them.

    You are inspiring me to think about each of my family members’ one favorite food. Usually, it’s the meal they ask for on their birthdays. Food is so much more than fuel. It truly is love.

    p.s. We must be on the same schedules because each day just before I am ready to post my slice, yours pops up before me. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I get such pleasure out of my son’s moments of food snobbery, especially when he will analyze the small failings of a new recipe with me and make suggestions for improving the flavor. I’m amazed at how seldom I write about food, given how much time every day I devote to the thinking, planning, preparing, and eating of it!

  4. Maria Avatar

    You post really gets me thinking. Sometimes I don’t think very much about what we’re eating, just that we are before we have to dash off to the next activity. I wish I had a personal chef. 🙂 You’re doing an amazing job!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I wish I had a personal chef too! That would really be ideal. Then I could stick to what I love, which is baking. I wish I had more meals that I could feel good about just throwing together and serving without all the angst.

  5. Jennifer Laffin Avatar

    Beautiful post, Elisabeth! I loved the line “I need the people I love to eat well.” I am always saying that feeding others is one way I show my love. Funny how we sometimes connect food with love. We all need those meals of “food that feeds more than our bellies.”

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I definitely show love this way. I also definitely equate food with love–rightly or wrongly! Thanks for commenting!

  6. Linda Baie Avatar

    I enjoyed hearing your thoughts wend their way from “want” to “need” and then mixed in together, Elisabeth. There are times I think that we in the US have too many choices, hence the challenge of choice and/or pickiness. I don’t know the answer to choosing. Some days it seems even harder to choose for just me. I’d prefer a crowd. I do love “a meal that feeds more than bellies.” That’s one that’s just right!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      When I was single, Linda, I basically ate grilled cheese, some greens, and a smoothie every day, and I was perfectly satisfied by that. Really, there’s just no meal that a grilled cheese isn’t right for! I agree with you that we may have too many choices here which increases both pickiness and the challenge of choosing.

  7. maribethbatcho Avatar

    Here are a few of my favorite lines from your post: fabulous description of boring food.> interesting alliteration. I love that about food. When I miss Dad, I have my go-to snack that brings back memories. Missing Mom, same thing, just different foods.
    Thanks for the lovely read.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thank you for visiting and commenting. Different foods certainly connect me with different people. I don’t think I ever make grits without thinking about my grandmother.

  8. margaretsmn Avatar

    One of the main things I do not miss from having a house full of kids is figuring out meals. I’ve never been good at it. But now that’s it’s just my husband and me, he thanks me every time I make an effort to produce a meal. We eat out more often than is good for us. Your conclusion is just right. Food is ultimately about love. Especially so here in the South. Maybe that’s why we have such an obesity problem.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Meal planning is really my least favorite thing too. I love eating out, but there are very few restaurant choices where I live, and most of the ones we have aren’t very good. When I travel, eating out is my big pleasure!

  9. Carol Avatar

    Elisabeth- This post should be submitted to a food magazine. It’s beautiful! Your family is so loved. I’m a terrible cook and it makes me really sad that I don’t really take care of my boys in that way.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      That’s a flattering compliment about my writing, Carol, thank you. I have noticed that it seems very important to my son that I cook for him and take care of him in that way.

  10. Akilah Avatar

    I love this. After years about stressing what to feed my daughter, I have finally accepted that she has the palate of a six-year-old and will plan meals accordingly from now on. Only one and a half years left of me cooking for her, but better late than never, sigh.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL! Might as well give in and cook to please. I make nachos FAR more often that I personally would EVER need to eat them (which is basically, like, never).

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