Unpalatable Mealtimes: A Brainstorming Session with Myself

Full course dinner

My kids would actually probably be fine having this for every meal. Nuts + bread = complete protein, right? (Image via Wikipedia)

My least favorite times of the day are mealtimes.

Mealtimes at my house involve me preparing food one-handed with a toddler propped on my hip trying to grab everything I’m working with; my daughter scolding me for getting out dishes of the “wrong color” (ie, that don’t follow her intricate dish-color hierarchy); my son throwing food/spoons/bowls/plates on the floor, asking to get down, then asking to eat my food, which has gone cold in the course of dealing with all of the other issues.

Meals take forever, but not in a pleasant, multi-course French way. It’s one course and it’s interminable. When we’ve finally had enough of meal time, I do dishes with children hanging from my legs. Then we get about 30 minutes of free time before it’s time to start the whole thing over again. Unless the meal we’ve just given up on is dinner, in which case we get about ten minutes before it’s time to start the bedtime hassle.

I’ve come up with a few possible solutions to make the whole event more palatable:

1) Fast. Perhaps we only really need one meal a day. I will cook that meal and perhaps the children, by then, will be so hungry that they’ll actually eat the food and not care what color plate it’s on. I have a feeling this scenario would be unlikely as I’m not sure there’s a stage of hunger acute enough to cause my children to simply eat their meals with no talk-back. In addition, it increases the risk of hunger-induced meltdowns all day long.

2) Absolute uniformity. I will get rid of all colorful bowls, plates, cups, spoons, and forks. I will get unbreakable white dinnerware and child-sized silverware, one set for each child. If we have company, I’ll have them bring their own, but only if it’s identical to ours. If they don’t have dishes that match, they can eat from our dinner trough (see below).

For breakfast I’ll make my smoothie first. Perhaps I’ll even make it the night before so I’m not interrupted 17 times while trying to wash and cut the ingredients. The kids can have cereal or eggs. I will only cook eggs one way (scrambled) and if my daughter says they’re too brown or not brown enough, or if my son throws his bowl on the floor after the first bite, then they can wait until snack time (crackers and cheese).

For lunch the children will get peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat and whatever fruit was on sale at the store that week. I will have leftovers from dinner the night before because wheat does bad things to my digestive system and peanut butter gives me a migraine.

For dinner I will cook the same thing every night with enough leftovers for me because I like leftovers.

We had a next-door neighbor when I was growing up. While her husband was on cruise, she served boxed mac and cheese and canned peas to her kids every single night of the week. I thought that would be boring, but now I see the appeal. (Even then I saw the appeal when my mom would make things like Creamed Salmon Over Biscuits and Creamed Chipped Beef Over Toast and Eggs a la Goldenrod. Here are all three recipes: Make a white sauce. Add canned salmon/chipped beef/hardboiled eggs, and spoon it over white toast or box-mix biscuits, and you’re all set for supper.)

Since I can’t have box mac and cheese, I’m going with rice pasta with red sauce every single night for supper. At the beginning of the month, I’ll make gallons of sauce that I’ll store in the freezer (in this scenario I have a chest freezer and therefore have space for all of this sauce). I’ll cook fresh noodles each night, but that’s it.

Maybe one night a week we’ll change it up and have eggs. And if I want spinach in them, I’m darned well going to have spinach in them, no matter what my kids say.

Since we’re all eating the same thing, I’ll serve dinner in a trough. Simpler cleanup, and more of a sense of family what with the sharing and all.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m not good with uniformity. I rebel against everything, including myself.

3) Exclusive Breastfeeding. There’s no research that shows an age at which human milk stops providing for all of the nutritional needs of a human child. It’s unlikely my daughter would want to go back to nursing, but I could rent a hospital-grade pump, pump every two hours to increase my supply, and then provide her with fresh milk at each meal and snack. My son could get his milk directly from the source, like he does now. Then I would just need to prepare food for myself and my husband. It would be like before we had kids (except for the lactation piece). I wonder how many calories I would need to consume to meet the total caloric needs of both of my children and myself?

4) Outsource. Perhaps I’ll just send my kids over to friends’ houses for every meal. If a friend says they aren’t available, I’ll simply leave my children on the doorstep. Their Oliver impressions will allow them to weasel their way in for some grub in no time.

And I can sit at home and eat white bean and kale minestrone and read.

This post was inspired by Topic #90 from The Daily Post: Pick something that annoys you and redesign it.


  1. Heidi Lewis · April 9, 2011

    You are too funny! I love this post.
    We go through the same stupid color plate thing and a few bits and then something gets spilled and then we are yelling at the dogs to get out so no one is enticed to feed them then we yell at them to come in to clean up the floor. Then Jules is all done because she ALWAYS needs to stand up and poop during dinner and when she is done (I have not eaten a thing by this point) we can’t get her back to sit down (after a diaper change). She is running around and sometimes coming back to me to feed her. Gretta insists I feed her because she doesn’t want to do it. I tell her no she needs to so I can eat and then she still doesn’t so then I end up feeding her again and then my husband tells me I’m a push over and should stick to my guns….
    Hahaha. Every night.
    oh, and during all this, my husband is enjoying his beer or wine with his home cooked, WARM, dinner as I watch.


  2. Lisa Sylvester · April 9, 2011

    ha ha ha….this is hilarious. I couldn’t handle option one–too many meltdowns, including from mama! I’ve had all these same thoughts and issues from time to time. You are not alone. I’ve made lists and lists of the fastest things I can make, and I make them over and over again. It’s harder with dietary restrictions, and I often wish i could just pop in a pizza once in a while. If my kids are hanging on me, I either have them help me, or I get out the playdough, or some other really engaging toy for them to play with by themselves. Or, I send them outside!


    • CJ · April 9, 2011

      I try to have the kids help me sometimes, but last time I did that, the little one burned himself on a pot I thought was out of his reach. I’ve been too nervous to have them help me since then unless there’s absolutely nothing hot or sharp anywhere remotely nearby them. I’ll have to start brainstorming other engaging activities for them. For now, their dad has agreed to shepherd them while I prep breakfast, which really helps. An up-side to unemployment, I suppose.


  3. Lea · April 9, 2011

    Depending upon how much money you’re spending now, consider this: Mcdonald’s southwest salad with grilled chicken is reasonably healthy, low in sodium compared to most fast food, and costs $5 depending on your tax rate. They offer about 10 kinds of dressing, if the southwest dressing is too spicy for the kids. So for $15, you and Ryan get a salad and the kids split one. Throw away containers and silverware. Done!



    • CJ · April 9, 2011

      Unfortunately, even their grilled chicken contains wheat, and I can’t do dairy, either, so the cheese on top is out. There’s literally nothing there that I can eat except for the coffee and the ketchup (and the ketchup only if I ignore the HFCS). Even the french fries have dairy and wheat in them. And right now we’re not spending any money on food out anyway. But it’s a decent idea and it reminded me that $15 is about what we spend at a local fast-food-ish burrito place when we go as a family. If we really need a break from food prep, we can always go there.


  4. Cindy · April 8, 2011

    Here’s what I remember from our trip to Williamsburg: in colonial America, the main meal was dinner (served midday). Supper was leftovers from dinner and breakfast was leftovers from supper. One meal prep time, three meals. I wonder if what makes our meal prep so hard is our own beliefs about variety and novelty in food preparation.


    • CJ · April 9, 2011

      Well, I really only prep two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. Lunch is leftovers from dinner the night before. But even the reheating of the leftovers seems more than I can handle some days. And now that I’m eating so many veggies, I’ve got those to prep at every meal time. (Theoretically I could prep them all the night before and just quickly cook them before each meal. That so far hasn’t panned out in practice.)


  5. Stacy · April 8, 2011

    Favorite post ever. Hands down.

    My current mealtime frustration is that my normally somewhat behaviorally challenged children turn into possessed demon monsters who are required by their mystical demon monster contract to yell at all times as loudly as possible. And the two year old throwing 15 basketballs into the kitchen doesn’t help.

    And meal planning! Pancakes are good. So is boxed Mac and cheese. Problem is, I spoiled my husband in the early days of our marriage and now he’s somehow convinced that he needs a real meal every night. My least favorite is when he looks at me at 11 on a Saturday morning and asks, “what’s for lunch?”. I alternately want to smack him upside the head or tell him to go forage in the fridge like the rest of us.

    Of course, as my kids get older, my response lately when they ask for food has been “pretend I’m dead. What would you do then?”. Unfortunately, the brilliant sarcasm is lost on the children.


    • CJ · April 9, 2011

      That’s another thing…where on earth do these little kids get so many basketballs? I seriously don’t remember buying as many as we seem to have in our home and rolling around underfoot wherever I’m hoping to walk (while carrying food items or human children, usually).


  6. Zoie @ TouchstoneZ · April 8, 2011

    5. Dump contents of fridge and/or pantry into a “here’s what’s for breakfastsnacklunchsnackdinner today” bin and let everyone fend for themselves (also involves clean up, but that can be done with a power washer each night after the little darlings are in bed.) This may lead to receiving more help in the kitchen due to the drastically reduced culinary standards.


    • CJ · April 9, 2011

      My next kitchen needs to have a drain in the middle of the floor.


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