Thursday, March 3, 2011

Shake it up

I cook dinner for our family 90% of the time (5% of the time we order pizza, 3% of the time we "fend for ourselves", 1% of the time the husband makes pancakes, and 1% of the time we eat out)(I don't know why I felt the need to break that down for you, but there you go). That is a lot of cooking. I feel simultaneously tired, bored and a little stressed just thinking about it.

Most of the meals I cook follow a basic formula: one entree/meat type thing, one pasta/grain/potato type thing, and one vegetable type thing. I tend to focus all of my energy and effort on the entree, which means the other components of the meal get short shrift. I'll lovingly marinate a flank steak for hours, grill it, rest it, cut it across the grain into perfect medium-rare slices, then hastily whip up some buttered egg noodles and microwave-steamed broccoli to go with it. Or I'll mix up a meatloaf with all sorts of yummy seasonings and diced onion and pepper and whatnot, then serve plain boiled white rice and a boring green salad alongside.

I fall into a rut, is what I'm saying, and that has definitely been the case lately. I've fallen into such a rut, in fact, that I've been relying on -- gasp, swoon -- packaged side dishes! Processed food! I know! Lately whatever entree I make has been accompanied by some sort of packaged, oven-baked potato product and a microwaved bag of frozen vegetables. This is awful. This has got to stop. My family is so incredibly bored by these offerings and I feel kind of bad serving them. Me, who used to make everything from scratch! I don't know what's wrong with me. I blame the peri-menopause.

Anyhoo, it's gotten so the kids don't even eat their vegetables anymore, because they are so sick of the same old stuff every night, so last night I decided to shake things up a bit. When I serve a green salad, which is OFTEN, I serve it "bar" style with a big bowl of romaine lettuce and little bowls of sliced cucumber, shredded carrot and cherry tomatoes so everyone can fix their salad however they like it. I followed that same principle last night, but instead of lettuce I put out a big bowl of baby spinach leaves. And instead of little bowls of cucumber, carrot and tomatoes, I put out little bowls of sliced fresh strawberries, blackberries, mandarin orange segments and raisins. I even whipped up my own from-scratch dressing with some wild berry vinegar I bought at IKEA ages ago, good olive oil, honey and a bit of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

My teenagers were ecstatic. Neither of them touched the spinach, but they loaded up their plates with fruit (alongside grilled sausages and oven-baked sweet potato fries) and ate it enthusiastically. And that's when I realized that I couldn't remember the last time either of them had eaten any. We always have fresh fruit in the house, but it's tucked away in the fridge where the kids tend not to bother with it.

It was what you might call a light-bulb moment. So now I've decided: fresh fruit with dinner, every single night. If I prepare it and put it out with the other dishes, the kids will eat it, and I won't stress so much if they decide to skip that night's vegetable offering.

Sometimes I'm really smart. And sometimes I'm really slow. I think this counts as both.


  1. On pancake night they can throw the fruit on top of the pancakes!
    If I do a stir fry I usually throw in some orange or pineapple.
    I like throwing some dried cranberries and walnuts onto a salad.
    I'd much rather eat fruit than vegetables.

  2. Hmm. I hear you on the "in a rut" thing. I'm a 90 percenter as well. My go-to meal when I can't be actually bothered to cook for the chillun is baked beans on toast and boiled eggs and raw carrot sticks. That's healthy, right?

  3. I'm joining you in that fruit plan.

    Please share any other such lightbulb moments!

  4. Brilliant!! Thanks for reminding me to shake things up occasionally. I'm wondering what changes I can make in the coming week. So inspired...

  5. I'm in the same rut. Meat entree, frozen veggies, and gasp...rice-a-roni or noodle-roni or instant mashed potatoes! Not good. I have started to add fruit though, so that's a start right? I personally can't stand veggies, but will eat most any fruit.

  6. You just summed up my cooking perfectly...boring, precitable, uninspired. Now when anyone complains about their dinner, I'll throw fruit at them.

    That's what you meant, right?

  7. I think fruit on the side is a brilliant idea. I usually give the main course a pretty good effort but slack on the side dishes, too. Next time, I'm serving fruit on the side.

  8. Great idea about the fruit bar! Will have to try that tonight.

  9. All I can say is that your salad sounds delish and made me drool.
    Other than that, 1% going out for dinner is a little too low, if you allow me. With all the ethnic choices you have? I'd be all over th eplace, all the time.
    But that's ME.

  10. We tend to eat lunch out, just the husband and me, rather than dinner. It's cheaper and way less hectic that way.

    I have to go out and buy more fruit today! We ate all of ours already. I may have to rethink this plan a little bit.

  11. Don't forget smoothies or lassis, too. That's another way that I manage to keep my kids eating tons of fruit. I also stock up on frozen fruits (often more nutrional than the fresh stuff). My "smoothie" is often a daquiri. Yum.


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  13. Saw on your FB post that you're really getting the hang of this "side dish" thing! The farmers market is so inspiring!