Why I Stopped Making A Family Dinner

by Jennifer Lima
Originally Published: 
A little boy getting excited about family dinner
courtneyk / Getty

My least favorite words are “what’s for dinner.” Too often I hear them before I’ve even rolled out of bed in the morning. Why my kids think my first waking thought is what meal I’m going to prepare for someone else twelve hours from now is beyond me. Especially when I have repeatedly told them that I am done (D-O-N-E, done) with cooking for them.

You see, I have a confession to make: I’ve stopped feeding my children. Before you call child services on me, let me clarify. I haven’t stopped providing them with food. I’ve just stopped preparing it for them.

I never liked to cook. When I was single, I happily ate cereal or frozen pizza at every meal. Once I had a family, I sadly had to accept that wasn’t realistic anymore. I knew I had to do more, and for years, I gave it my best shot.

Unfortunately for my kids, becoming a mother didn’t automatically turn me into Julia Child. As a working mom, I needed recipes that were easy to prepare and that were kid-friendly so I Googled and I Pinterested. I tried freezer prep, the crock pot, and rotating meal plans. I asked for their suggestions and enlisted their help in the kitchen.

I tried everything I could to make dinner as painless as possible for all of us. As they got older and schedules got busier, meal time became even more difficult. On the rare occasions I was able to find the time to try a new recipe that I felt surely would be a hit, invariably either I messed up the meal or someone didn’t like what I made.

After years of stressing myself (and everyone else) out trying to make dinner happen, I had an epiphany. Why was it my responsibility to put a meal on the table in the evening? My husband didn’t seem to worry about whether the kids were fed or not. If he didn’t feel like it was his job to cook, why had I automatically assumed it was mine?

Yes, I had taken on that role from the start of our marriage, but that didn’t mean I had to continue with it. We both worked full time outside of the home. We both hated to cook. There was no reason why I should be the one to make sure it got done. Being the female didn’t mean I was more capable of cooking than anyone else in the house. In fact, one of our sons was a better cook than I was. Not only that, he enjoyed doing it, which truly, I think, is half the battle.

Besides, we no longer had babies or toddlers. We had teenagers. Teenagers who somehow did not starve when home alone. They knew how to make pasta, macaroni and cheese and scrambled eggs — basically everything in my repertoire.

So I called everyone together and announced that from then on things were going to change. If — and that was a big if — I decided to make something for myself to eat I would be happy to make enough for everyone. If they didn’t want what I was making, they needed to figure it out for themselves.

I would make sure there were things in the house to eat, but I would no longer be making a point of preparing a meal specifically for them. They still ask what’s for dinner, but at this point I think it’s out of force of habit. I figure I’ll just keep answering with “I don’t know; what’s Dad making?” or “I don’t know; you tell me.”

After all, give a kid a bowl of spaghetti and they eat for a day. Make them boil their own water and they eat for a lifetime.

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