This Meal Should Be McDonald’s

by Marjorie Brimley
Originally Published: 
LEFT: Marjorie Brimley; RIGHT: Johnnieshin/Getty

The photo on the left is a photo of the dinner my kids ate tonight. It was locally sourced and had plenty of vegetables. I fed it to them and felt proud of the fact that they are eating so well.

But then I started to really think about this meal. I didn’t make it. I didn’t even pay for it. I merely opened up a tab on my computer and ordered from a website. Friends and family donated gift cards to me this winter after my husband died, and I’m still using them to order food. A few hours after I ordered the food, it arrived, and I served it immediately to the kids as they watched television. It even came in a compostable container.

It was the easiest dinner I’ve ever made for my kids. If I’m being honest, it was all I could handle today. I’m exhausted from being a single parent. I just can’t manage to do anything more than push food in front of their faces and throw out the trash afterwards. Even the dishwasher seems like a task too big to handle.

So why should I be patting myself on the back for this meal? It was good food, for sure, but it didn’t involve any work on my part. I didn’t make them sit at the table for a proper meal, and I didn’t make them load the dishes in the dishwasher, since we just threw everything out afterwards.

Why do I feel like this meal is okay, but one that came from McDonald’s would not be? This meal may well have been a Happy Meal. If I had fewer resources, that’s certainly what it would have been.

So let’s be real here: there is no difference between the meal I fed my kids and a Happy Meal. Oh, I know that those of you who like food will think, “Of course there’s a difference! There’s no msg/additives/pesticides in the food you gave your kids.” That’s true, of course. But in terms of the work I am putting in to give my kids a nutritious meal, this one is no different from the mom who goes through the drive-through on her way home.

A year ago, I would have judged parents picking up dinner from McDonald’s. I would have seen a single mom with her gaggle of kids and thought, “why can’t she just put a simple meal with vegetables on the table tonight?”

I know the answer to that question now. She can’t do it because it’s just too damn hard. After an entire day of dealing with work or kids, everyone is exhausted. But for a single mom, knowing that the rest of the evening and the night it is just you, thinking about putting a perfect meal on the table is not just a challenge. Often, it’s an impossibility.

I feel for you, drive-thru mom. I’m there with you, even if my meal tonight looks radically different from the one you are feeding your kids. If my options were more limited, I know I would choose the drive-thru just like you. Maybe someday, when the gift cards run out, I’ll see you there. I’ll catch your eye, and I hope we will exchange smiles, knowing that we’re doing the best we possibly can for our kids.

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