What’s For Dinner?

Those 4 little words that no mom wants to hear:  What’s for dinner tonight?

I take that back– sometimes I like hearing those words, like when they’re spoken by my 8 or 9-year-old sons as they burst through the door from the garage and fling their backpacks on the laundry room floor and dump playground tire chips out of their shoes and take an appreciate whiff of cozy house-air that smells like fresh basked cookies and whatever casserole is bubbling in the oven.

But let’s face it– that only happens for like 3 weeks in October. If I’m lucky.

I’m an academic, so I relish the crisp new start every fall brings us after a sweltering August of being officially sick of being home on break everyday– you know the feeling, when even the pool is boring and Popsicles are blasé, the feeling that seems impossible on the tender, finally-warm cusp of June when grilled meat and watermelon and cold beers after mowing the lawn are our irresistible rewards for crock-potting our way through another appalling winter and when we can’t wait for the school bell to ring its final chime and release our kids to us– ours, all ours for the whole delicious summer.

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“What’s for dinner tonight?” is worst when my husband is the one asking, after he’s been home with the kids all day and I’m the one bursting through the laundry room door, but it’s a pretty terrible question even when I’m the one doing the asking and even when I am just asking myself as I roam Costco or Whole Foods aimlessly chucking chocolate chips, honey crisp apples, and pinot grigio into my cart.

When summer hockey and Little League and gymnastics and my desire to live at the pool and come home only when everyone is fed and showered and pajamaed get in the way of even the most slapdash menu planning, we all start eating terribly, and I stop posting on my Facebook “What’s For Dinner” group because I am embarrassed to type that my kids ate hot dogs at the baseball field.  Again.

This year, I am starting summer break with the kind of zest for feeding my family that I usually reserve for fall, and I am going to try to ward off the what’s-for-dinner-dread by simplifying my routine and making peace with eating garbage sometimes.

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Here’s my plan for better summer meals and less meal prep hassle:

  1.  I am going to post our dinner every night on the genius What’s For Dinner Facebook group that a fellow academic mom started.  It’s a wonderful group made up of women from all over the country. Every night, we post our menus, linking to good recipes, sharing pictures if the food is particularly drool-worthy, and sharing brief anecdotes about our struggles to feed the family. Not only have I found my favorite cookie recipe ever, but I have also been tempted to make things I never would have tried before. Knowing that someone besides my family is going to see what we eat makes me more likely to get it together and make a good meal.
  2. I am going to try Dinnerplans.com. I got a month’s subscription to this site free in return for a review on my personal blog, and I really like that the meals are all pre-planned and come with a comprehensive grocery list.
  3. SPEAKING OF GROCERY LISTS– no more wasting beautiful summer afternoons trolling the aisles or missing Sunday baseball games because I am prepping for the week. I am committing to going digital with the shopping list AND the shopping experience. So far, I have been making a Google Doc list and sharing with with my husband– we both update throughout the week and on Saturdays we sit down at our computers and shop Hyvee online where we can schedule a Sunday delivery, again using strategies of scheduling and convenience to revolutionize a formerly cumbersome task.
  4. Sometimes we will eat junk– baseball concession stand meals, pool snack bar dinners, takeout pizza from the golf course restaurant, sandwiches for the kinds and homemade nachos after bedtime for the adults– and that’s OK. I am going to make my peace with treat dinners and enjoy the heck out of them because they are the essence of summer.
  5. Finally, I will meal plan with the calendar by my side, and I will refuse to set myself up to fail by buying the ingredients for stew in July. No one wants stew in July– we want light, quick food that’s easy to cook and doesn’t make the house too hot. Gazpacho it is, my friends. (Just kidding. More like brats and corn on the cob).

If you have any meal planning trips for those busy, chlorine-soaked summer nights, I’d love to hear them!

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