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Dinner with the Fussies

January 30, 2013

We’re not normal. I was just trying to explain this to the kids recently. Mommy works, Daddy stays at home and takes a lot of pictures of food. Granted I think this scenario is becoming more and more common (minus the food photography). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I don’t know how families with young children go out to dinner on weeknights.

By the time Mrs. Fussy comes home there is at most two hours to eat dinner and get the children to bed. As it is the kids all too frequently skip baths. Driving to and fro, and all of the collective waiting that is part of the restaurant experience, is just not all that appealing with the overtired underfed bundles of joy in tow. So the vast majority of nights I find myself making a homemade dinner. Nothing fancy, but from 5 pm to 6 pm you can find me in the kitchen.

Anyhow, as part of my prize package from Bellini’s for coming in second place in their cooking contest, I got four free “Dinner Table Tuesday” meals. These are take-out only specials intended to feed a family of four some pasta, salad and bread. I had had one of these a while back when the promotion was still relatively new. Now that we have completed our four week cycle with the Bellini’s take-out trays as part of our regular routine, I have some thoughts that I want to share.

Week number one we got cheese tortellini in a tomato sauce with broccoli and sundried tomatoes, with a caesar salad and bread.

First and foremost, not cooking felt like playing hookey. I got an extra half hour to spend with the kids, and when Mrs. Fussy was putting the kids to bed there were significantly fewer dishes. Like hookey, it felt kind of naughty.

The kids liked the cheese filled pasta just fine. I was pleased there were some vegetables. Mrs. Fussy enjoyed all the salad greens. The bread was totally forgettable. However, more than anything we were struck by how much leftover pasta there was at the end of the meal. We also barely made a dent in the container of salad dressing, despite finishing all the salad greens.

Week number two, the guilty-naughty feeling went away, and I simply enjoyed the convenience of picking up Bellini’s version of pasta carbonara with chicken. This came with bread and their house salad.

I won’t spend too much time on this, but pasta carbonara that was not. I didn’t think it was going to be possible to eat less pasta than we did in week one, but mine is not a family accustomed to heavy cream sauces. Luckily Young Master Fussy is still fairly trim and growing, so we pushed most of the leftovers onto his slender frame and elastic arteries. He wasn’t complaining.

Week three was the meat lover’s dinner, and was the biggest hit with the kids: rigatoni tossed in a creamy tomato sauce with pieces of Italian sausage and small meatballs. In an effort to stick to my diet, I avoided all of the meat except for two small nibbles just to get a sense of the proteins. Still, there isn’t much that’s nutritionally sound about a plate full of white pasta with a creamy sauce. So for better or worse, much like the week before and the week before that I filled up on lightly dressed salad as much as I could.

By this time, I had grown accustomed to the fact that Tuesday night was my night off from cooking. It didn’t feel like a treat, it felt normal.

Last night was perhaps Little Miss Fussy’s most disappointing dinner. She didn’t like the chicken marsala over penne the moment we closed the car doors and the aroma wafted to her nose. Young Master Fussy really enjoyed the flavor, but was unthrilled by the actual mushrooms. I was just relieved that it wasn’t creamy. Still, despite my taking three reasonable sized plates, Mrs. Fussy eating her fill, and Young Master Fussy going for seconds, I think we still had half the tray remaining as leftovers.

Now my concern is that I’m addicted to my Tuesday night of no cooking.

Although I don’t think we’ll be continuing with our weekly pickup from Bellini’s. It was fun while it lasted, but that’s a lot of white flour. All that pasta, plus the bread. If I want the kids to eat refined flour for dinner, I’ll just make them a box of macaroni and cheese. They’ll be even happier than they would be with a meatball.

And if I don’t want to cook, I think I’d be better off (from a nutritional perspective) with whole grain cereal and low-fat yogurt.

Maybe this is the start of a new weekly tradition. Perhaps I’ll consider dedicating one meal per week to my own sloth, and feed the kids mac and cheese from a box, while foisting cereal on the adults.

That’s awful.

I don’t think I could do that. Plus I still have a freezer full of food to use, including some gorgeous lamb shoulder, lamb riblets, a giant turkey, and a whole bunch of pesto preserved from last summer. We’re getting deep enough into winter where it may be a good idea to start breaking some of that stuff out.

Maybe you noticed the days are getting longer. February is almost here. Not that we’re in the home stretch yet. We still have to make it through four more weeks before we even have a hope of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But I’m at the point now where I’ve got the cold in my bones.

So we’re going to need something heartier than refined pasta and cereal to make it through. Looks like I’m heading back to the kitchen. I don’t mind though. It’s warm in there.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2013 1:54 pm

    I wish I could stay home all day and blog and cook — I’d surely have much more time and enthusiasm for it. (I like to cook, in theory, but the amount of cooking and menu-planning and shopping you do, I just don’t have the time for, with a full-time office job.) As it is, we’re lucky to squeeze in one home-cooked meal a week, with our busy schedules — the rest of the time, it’s either leftovers, thrown-together stuff (a quick quesadilla or a can of soup or some such) or eating out.

    • February 2, 2013 3:20 pm

      C is home most days, though he works from home (writing is thankless and sometimes, like now, doesn’t pay actual dollars, but he’s probably working more hours than I am at a FT office job), and we’ve been cooking a lot more at home lately. Even so, it is hard to have nourishing, home-cooked meals every night. Stir frys and (in the winter) stews (and chilis) are our go-to meals. We’re also fans of the pork tenderloin from TJs, as that makes for a simple dinner with some potatoes and brussell sprouts (or cauliflower, or zucchini, or something similar). But something that takes more than a half hour of prep is really exhausting on most nights.

  2. January 30, 2013 3:37 pm

    Although there are no munchins in my house (the dogs do get fresh food prepared.. does that count?) I totally understand wanting to take a night off of cooking. We share the cooking duties as we both work but there are at least 2 nights a week that I’m out after work and not home until at least 6:00.

    We have started a list of “quick and easy” meals that balance a lean protien with a veggie.. although sometimes, admittedly, that “veggie” is sweet potato fries.. even that feels like cheating sometimes.

    We all need a night off. Last night was “cook up some chicken breast, cut it up and chuck it on some greens with peppers and carrots” Tadah. Dinner.

    My coworkers tell me how hard it is to find time to cook for a family of 5 when both adults work and there is boy scouts, and homework, and football, and after school activities. I cannot imagine…

    These dinners have their place but at the same time.. yeah. I can’t imagine once a week.. thatsa lotta pasta

  3. christine permalink
    January 30, 2013 4:53 pm

    Here’s what I do so that not every night is a real “cooking” night but you don’t need to order in or eat out. I usually reserve Saturday or Sunday to cook something big. A big pot of soup or spaghetti sauce or even a large ham, roast beef or turkey. I make enough that it lasts a few meals. For instance, I made spaghetti sauce, meatballs and sausage on Saturday. We had it on Sunday (I even invited my parents, daughter, son in law and two grandkids) in its traditional form. On Monday night, I poured it over stuffed shells and my husband ate meatball sandwiches twice for lunch. We are all pretty sick of it by now, so the last bit left I intend to freeze for another time. So, make it once and then find ways to reinvent it throughout the week.

    • Kerosena permalink
      January 31, 2013 1:35 pm

      Ham is a great idea. I haven’t always been a big fan, but the versatility can’t be beat. We use bits of it in our beans and greens, baked mac and cheese, ham sandwiches, with eggs, or in ramen.

    • February 2, 2013 10:29 am

      We do the same thing here. Sunday is our only day off together but we usually spend at least a couple of hours making 2-3 dishes that we can eat during the week. We’re big fans of soup so usually some kind of soup, maybe a casserole (moussaka, lasagna, etc.) and a braised meat dish. Then during the week, it’s only a matter of reheating food and maybe throwing together a salad which is simply bagged greens tossed with vinaigrette.

      It works really well for us considering we both work and I have work and school.

  4. January 30, 2013 5:09 pm

    The concept of a meal in my family is rather dubious… It seems that we manage to survive on an unending cycle of snacks and small plates. We have two small ones, I work nights, and the wife stays home so we aren’t tied too tightly to a traditional meal schedule. Also, the wife and I are usually on opposing types of fad diets and the kids are of the usual childhood picky natures. I can’t remember the last time we all sat down for a harmonious meat and two veg sort of dinner…

    On the subject of going out to dinner, someone should explore the business model of a true family restaurant. Rubber floors/walls and child-cages should be included.

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