Kids cooking

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I'm a little bit of a kitchen control freak.

(I see you, co-workers, family members, faithful readers, the butcher at Harry's Supermarket rolling your eyes, with sarcastic looks of shock.)

I love food. I love to cook and I care deeply about the food my family eats. But if I've learned anything in a year-plus more of cooking and parenting during a pandemic, you've got to lower your expectations. And then, lower them a little bit more. Meet me down here, in the bottom basement of expectations where the phrase "screen time" doesn't exist and empty boxes of macaroni and cheese (not the organic kind that makes you feel slightly better) decorate the floor. 

About a month ago, I realized something that maybe many of you have already experienced at this point; I can't do it all. I can't keep baking homemade muffins and banana bread, hiding vegetables in creative "fun" ways that my kid will eat, worrying about my husband's carb intake and my slowly rising cholesterol (probably due to all those muffins) while still figuring out ways to get my boys to eat all those beans I stockpiled last year. I threw in the proverbial kitchen towel and threw away my ban on frozen bags of vegetables. This mom needed a break.

But we also still have to eat — and I'm still the incredibly controlling cook who also has a frugal streak so deeply seared into her from her upbringing that my fingers shake if I dial the phone for take-out more than once a week. So, as a compromise for my own mental health, I give up control once a week — every Thursday to be precise — for "Daddy and David" night. 

On Thursdays, dinner is completely up to the men of the household — so far, their culinary techniques have ranged from boiling hot dogs, learning how to use the air fryer for chicken nuggets and spaghetti and meatballs. This is also a way to start teaching my son how to move around the kitchen; I refuse to raise another boy who thinks mommy does everything. I also just want him to know how to feed himself some day. I sit on the couch and read a magazine, enjoy a glass of wine and listen as daddy tries to explain why they have to wait for the water to boil first.

The meals are fine (I tolerate most of them, to be honest) but the conversation at the table is what is best: "Mommy, isn't this the best hot dog you've ever tasted?" "I think maybe, daddy, we make better spaghetti than mommy." And just the little bit of reprieve is all I need to reset my attitude toward meal planning for the following week. 

If you're a closeted control cook like me — *Hi, my name is Lindsey* — consider giving yourself this gift and truly embrace it, no matter what ends up on the plate once a week. Even if it's a bowl of cereal and another hot dog, at least you're fed. 

Some tips if you're thinking about handing over the tongs:

  • Keep microwave-ready bags of rice, grains and quick-cooking egg noodles on hand, which make it easier for those who may be less used to prepping, planning and executing a meal by 6 p.m. every night.
  • Ground beef, chicken or turkey are easy starts to dinners for those who don't cook often — think tacos, sloppy Joes, meat sauces, meatballs or the good old Hamburger Helper.
  • Don't underestimate lunch for dinner. Keep lunch meats, quality bread and maybe some bacon on hand for make-your-own sandwich nights.
  • Buy boxes of pasta, and then buy some more. Noodles and butter can be made by any home cook who's at least reheated a box of Ramen. 
  • Worried about vegetables? Buy some bagged salad mixes and show your kid how to rip one open. 
  • Set the ground rules: Who is planning the meal? What has to be on the plate; what can't be on the plate? And, consider banning take-out as an option — save that for one of your regular nights in the rotation. 

Lindsey Hollenbaugh can be reached at lhollenbaugh@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6211. On Twitter: @Lhollenbaugh.

Managing Editor of Content Engagement

Lindsey Hollenbaugh is the managing editor of content engagement for The Berkshire Eagle. A native of upstate New York, she has a journalism degree from Ithaca College. She lives in Pittsfield with her husband and son.