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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Dinnertime Disasters and How to Avoid Them

The spoon clanged against the side of the serving bowl like church bell, as warm, gooey creamed corn splattered onto the dining room table. My brothers and I went silent, and my dad was frozen with the knowledge that we had just stepped on the last nerve of the Lady of the House.

Our plates, filled to the edges with fried chicken, creamed corn, and mashed potatoes, weren’t enough to quell the fighting, the complaining, and the generally obnoxious behavior of kids who didn’t notice their mother spending her entire Sunday afternoon preparing their father’s favorite meal.

She had worked all day, flouring and frying chicken, making sure the potatoes were smooth, and perfectly salted. She had set the table.  I’m sure she hoped her hard work would be appreciated by the ones she loved most. In her mind, we would all mind our manners, use kind words, and profusely compliment her on her outstanding culinary feat.

Instead, we were ourselves; bickering, not saying our pleases and thank yous, complaining about the things we didn’t like.  And then, just as she was spooning her corn onto her plate, someone stepped over the line and the spoon went flying back into its bowl, splashing corn onto the walnut surface below.  The complete lack of appreciation had overwhelmed my typically laid-back mom. With a tearful, and rather loud expression of her thoughts on what had just occurred, she went to her room, leaving behind her plate full of steaming deliciousness.

I vividly remember looking at the final offender, the one who couldn’t hold in a comment to the kid sitting across from him (name omitted to protect the individual), and said as matter-of-factly as a girl of 11 can, “Looks like you’re sleeping on the couch tonight.” I don’t think he finished his plate. In fact, I’m pretty sure none of us did.

The narrative above is one of the most retold stories in my family. We call it The Creamed Corn Incident. Thankfully, my mom snort-laughs when we tell it to her grandkids now—warning them to get along during meal times, or else.

Now that I’m decades past this memorable event and have an eleven year old myself, I find this moment in my mom’s life a little too easy to relate to. Maybe many of you do, as well. How many of you have spent your day on a meal only to have it go unappreciated? Sometimes, nobody complains about what you make, but instead, they bicker, or don’t sit still, or they make sock puppets under the table instead of eating their zucchini (anyone else?).
If you have picky eaters, dinnertime can often be a disaster. At least one person has something to say about what you’ve served, or the way their food is prepared. It’s exhausting and, frankly, irritating to put your best out there only to receive complaints.

Now that I’m thirteen years (gah! Thirteen?!) into this mom gig, I’ve learned a few things along the way that might help, but I’m only going to share two, because I think they’re the most important. Drumroll please……

1.       Cook a meal both you and your spouse like.

I know this seems a little weird, and what about your picky kids? Well, let me share something with you. If my husband likes the meal I cook, he is crazy appreciative. He makes noises and eats seconds and even scrapes the kids’ leftovers onto his own plate. It’s really hard to feel unappreciated when the guy to your right is diving into his plate like it’s manna from heaven. 

Additionally, making a meal you enjoy is critical. Why cook something you don’t want to eat? Let’s face it, those dinosaur-shaped nuggets aren’t cutting it for you anymore. I don’t even think they make them out of organic dinosaurs.

This rule may not keep your kids from fighting, or magically keep the milk in its glass, but the food will be delicious, and someone will appreciate your effort!

2.       Don’t Let Your Expectations Ruin Your Experience

Chefs, our expectations can beat us, can’t they? We hope everyone will love our food and sit dreamily around our table, using perfect etiquette and acting as though The Queen were our dinner guest, but that isn’t our reality. In addition to making food we like, it’s also important to remember to manage our expectations. Our kids are kids, sometimes they scarf down food while it’s still hot, and sometimes they gag down cold green beans*. What was once a favorite is now horrible and disgusting.

Understanding ourselves, and our people, makes it a little easier to prepare for dinnertime. If you make a meal that isn’t a favorite, be ready for the displeasure, so you can adjust your expectations, then celebrate when one someone decides to try “just one bite” of green beans. That’s a win!**

Roll with the punches, Culinary Master, it will get better! Eventually they get hungry and they eat and you won’t even buy the dinosaur nuggets anymore. Until then, Stovetop Magician, keep soldiering on. Make the food you like and don’t cry over spilled milk. You’ve got this!

There you have them, Becky’s Top Two Tips for Enjoying Dinner! Use and abuse them. Let yourself enjoy your meal. Tonight I challenge you to make your favorite dish, sit down with your family, and marvel at the edible masterpiece before you.  

I made Low Country Boil on vacation a few years ago. It was the first time all three of my kids tried, and loved, a new food I'd cooked. I literally cried. Also, I need to learn to use some sort of SnapChat or Insta filter. 

Do you have a Creamed Corn Incident of your own? I’d love to read it in the comments below. Or, if you’ve got an “everyone likes this” recipe, I’d love for you to share that as well. We’re in this thing together!

*Not a single Yurisich child will eat even one green bean. They’ll eat tons of other veggies, but I’m oh-for-three in green beans. Which is sad, because I L-O-V-E them. 

** I  audibly cheer any time a Yurisich kid puts a green bean in its mouth because positive reinforcement.