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Mediocre Mom Manual: Children, I Have No Idea What’s For Dinner!

I’ve had one of those weeks (months really, but that sounds so pathetic) when life has been so busy I’ve literally had to write down what I’m doing hour-by-hour just so I can ensure I am where I am supposed to be at the right time. Today I’ve already done four errands, attended a few meetings, came home to write for a few hours, and then I have another meeting tonight. And guess what? I have no idea what I’m going to serve for dinner. Again. You’d think that being insanely busy would encourage me to plan a few meals ahead of time or at least make a weekly menu. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong.

I have to admit, out of all the responsibilities of parenthood, the one I loathe most is feeding my children. In fact, parenting could be a much more enjoyable experience if kids were more like pets and you could place a bowl of food and water on the floor (okay, fine, the table) and let them do their thing. In fact, that’s one of the best features of our chickens: I fill their feeder up every few days and sprinkle some tasty food scraps on the ground, and they fill themselves up. They also supplement their fab diet ingesting fat earthworms that wiggle just below the surface of the soil. Even though those suckers are high in protein, I can’t convince my children to try them.

I do not understand how we can live in a society that has a working space station, has mapped the human genome, has figured out how to power vehicles using corn, not to mention has created an electronic device roughly the size of a credit card that can be a phone, computer, iPod, photo album, and wireless internet, but no one—no one—has invented a way to only feed the children once a day (weekly would be even better). They make similar devices for plants for heaven’s sake, why not people? Perhaps a slowly dissolving stick you can jam in a kid’s ear that is activated every time they shower. It could deliver all the essential nutrients a growing kid needs, and possibly even come in a variety of smells. Willy Wonka had a prototype, why isn’t R&D on this?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want the little darlings to starve. But there has to be an easier way to get the job done than actually cutting, assembling, preparing, cooking, and locating food for them seventeen times a day. And be honest, that’s about how often they eat. Breakfast cereal has to be the closest thing to a perfect food. It’s fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. That cup of milk takes care of bones and teeth. And most times, the cereal comes with a toy. A 17.5 oz box of heaven. As long as I have a bit of milk and a box of cereal, we are okay.

In an effort to save time (and my sanity) I decided on cereal for dinner. Cereal for dinner is the new take-out. They actually have entire restaurants dedicated to serving only cereal, so why should I feel guilty about it? I set the table. Three bowls, three spoons, one box of Chex, and…

No milk.

No milk, no milk, no milk. Assessing my cupboards for other options, I found:
No bread, no peanut butter. No juice, no eggs, no cheese.
One soft, wrinkled apple. One slice of shiny, rainbow lunch meat. A can of beer. Food poisoning and under-age alcohol consumption do not a dinner make. I may be mediocre, but even I have limits.

The thought of loading up my children going to the very large supermarket to buy one pathetic gallon of milk when I am already pressed for time (and sanity, have I mentioned that?) made me want to vomit. What’s a desperate mom to do? Order pizza (again)? Frozen waffles? Spaghetti for the hundredth time?

I remember how I thought motherhood would be; me creating steaming plates of Thanksgiving-worthy food every evening while my family sat around the table, calmly discussing their day. My children would compliment the butternut squash risotto, my husband would ask where I learned to cook such succulent pork roast. Dinners would be well rounded and colorful. Desserts would be berry crumbles and plum tarts ala mode.

Yeah, I know. Quit laughing.

Life isn’t like that. Our family’s activities at night frequently prevent us from eating together. Butternut squash risotto never made it to the table, being replaced by my children’s favorites of chicken pot pie, grilled cheese sandwiches, and tomato soup. Dinners are not always well rounded, and many times they aren’t that colorful. My kids have informed me, they hate cooked fruit. My goal, these days,  is just to make sure they didn’t go to bed hungry. How’s that for survival mode?

Despite me and my lack of enthusiasm for cooking dinner, my children are still growing. The doctor has informed me that they have all made forward progress on the height and weight charts. My kids do eat a variety of fruits and veggies, mostly because we grow a lot of them during the spring and summer, and it’s what I put on the table. Now that school has started and our schedules are out of hand once again, I guess I should ante-up and plan a weekly menu.

Do you make dinners for your family on-the-fly or do you plan out the week? What’s your favorite go-to emergency meal? (I’m needing more suggestions!) And, if you know where I could get some once-a-week food sticks for my children, please share!


Rachel Vidoni is a professional writer and blogger and former classroom teacher. She is a mediocre mother to three pretty neat kids. You can follow her humor and family blog at You might not be a better parent after reading her blog, but you will feel like one.






  1. kim

    September 20, 2011 at 6:24 am

    i make a decent dinner for my kids almost every night. i sneak tofu and veggies into their meals when they aren’t looking. i rotate their favorites to be as fair as possible. i try to slowly expand their worlds. but i’m tired of not being able to make the things they don’t like. i miss shrimp creole! when do their tastes get more sophisticated? hmmm, think i’ll try something different tonight. wish me luck.

  2. Kathy

    September 20, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Love this and can completely relate! I am slowly getting a meal plan together in an attempt to get healthier foods into all of us. Tight schedules make it close to impossible to get it all done, even when preparing ahead of time. Our local grocery store closed, which has made it more challenging; even forgetting milk or an egg involves a 20 minute drive in either direction. Last night, the schedule was fairly open and I actually had a plan. This was a first. Kids were all home by 4:45 from activities and I didn’t have a meeting until 7. I actually had an hour to make dinner, if I relied on the kids to pulled things out of the oven. I had the makings for roasted chicken with lemon and garlic (Barefoot Contessa), potatoes, and roasted asparagus. Had the chicken prepared…and then I made the fatal mistake of looking at the dog who had had surgery last week. It is 5:10 and the dog is having an issue where she had surgery…the vet’s office machine says they are closed and to go to another animal hospital. I know they are still there…I run to the car; the kids remind me I forgot the dog. I show up at the office and get the dirtiest look ever from the office manager; can’t blame her. The Vet is wonderful and kind and took wonderful care of my pup. Of course I return home at 6, help kids with homework and run out of time to prepare the nutritious vegetables I had planned. I give up! Do you think anyone would know if I dumped a couple of cans of Dinty Moore in my slow cooker in the morning?

  3. Janet

    September 20, 2011 at 9:11 am

    I only have one small child so larger dinners can last for a few days of leftovers. My go-to fixes?

    Crock-pot meals: There are a number of websites with really easy & kid friendly crock-pot meals. When it gets colder, I make one a week and it lasts at least two nights.

    Giant salad: In the summer I’ll make a giant salad – either a pasta salad or lettuce salad and try to make that last at least two nights.

    Big ol’ pasta dish: On Sundays I’ll make a lasagna or baked ziti – some sort of giant pasta dish which will last at least two nights.

    Casseroles: Dig deep into your childhood memory banks and go retro with some old school casseroles. Tuna noodle is a great one. I also like that Bisquick cheeseburger pie one even though it kind of sounds gross.

    Also, get a rice cooker. You can do more than just steam rice. Throw some rice, beans, lentis, carrots, celery, whatever in there with some spices/seasonings and you’re good to go.

    With planning, I generally only have to make two big meals a week and then we’ll do pizza delivery on fridays.

  4. m.e. johnson

    September 20, 2011 at 11:54 am

    GEM has told you that good food can come in cans. You mean to tell me you can’t fry hamburgers to go with the spaghetti-o? Must you be so important that your children’s dinner is last on the list and considered drudgery? They will remember that. Cooked rice freezes well, in individual fam=sized portions. Breakfast for dinner is okay sometimes. Omelet instead of cold cereal. You ain’t got time to make a friggin’ omelet? Left-over dinner for breakfast, or pie/cake once in a while is fine.

    I used to cook a turkey or ham, slice it up and freeze in portions. You can do 100 things with them, in minutes. To sneak veggies in,dice them very very fine. Oh, I forgot, you don’t have time to do something like that for your dear dear children. Delete.

  5. Rene Syler

    September 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    @m.e. I gotta come to Rachel’s defense here. Two things: I think much of this was tongue in cheek, though I myself have been known to serve up some cereal every now and again. But I can also totally relate to kids and family running in every different direction that by the end of the day you’re so tired you can’t even begin to think about dinner, much less make it. I think the trick honestly is to keep from getting to that place. Of course, that’s easier said than done. In the meantime, as Kathy said, get a crock pot and some Dinty Moore..

  6. Wendy

    September 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    we generally have a few go to favorites that someone once pointed out all seem to come out to under $10, and can be made in one pot in less than 15 minutes.

    sure, i’m a little over homemade chili, baked ziti , taco salad, and chicken enchiladas (sounds impressive, they are all just 4 ingredients…) but the kids like it, so i know they eat it, and by keeping it simple, they learn to cook the basics themselves.

    oh… and thank the heavens for one pot wonders, crock pots, frozen waffles, and other moms who are over the image of a fancy well rounded meal!!!

  7. m.e. johnson

    September 20, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Dear GEM Rene, I don’t think Rachel needs you to defend her. She’s quite capable. Perhaps I should have clarified; I couldn’t possibly mean 365 days a year. I’ve done cereal, the children loved it. Sometimes nobody wants dinner. Or they eat at friends’ houses. Some things older (10-up) ones can forage on their own. Sometimes oh the hell with it – junk food it is. “Must eat healthy every meal every day” is grossly over-rated. Think of how lucky we are to even have such choices. Millions of children do not but a great number of them grow up to be wonderful productive adults.

  8. Rene Syler

    September 20, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    @m.e. of course she didn’t need me to defend her. But I wanted to, so I did. Her post was written in the voice that all her others are.. tongue-in-cheek. No harm, no foul.. and you’re right, we are lucky to have so many choices. Tonight my kids had turkey burgers and tater tots. I had a little energy left over from the day….

  9. Nikki

    September 21, 2011 at 1:13 am

    Rachel, I love the homour you bring to these situations and I love your honesty! Thank you for making me chuckle and nod knowingly more than once.

    I list the days of the week on my food shop list and scribble in some sort of basis for each evening meal: minced beef, chicken, pasta, baked potatoes, frozen stuff… then as long as I have 7 lots of ‘bases’ I know I’ve got something to get us through (I don’t plan and stick to each night, I just get those bases and it helps my brain-space!) I’ll also factor in a ‘don’t know what night’ that’ll leave it open for take out or using up. I aim for 3 ‘easy’ nights (ie the baked pots, frozen stuff, omelette etc) and 3 that require a little more imagination (fresh fish baked in flour or breadcrumbs with sweet potato wedges n spinach or something) and one total no-brainer night.

    HOWEVER, all is flexible and dependent on energy, time, motivation and cereal/ toast/ tinned something can come into play at any time! I don’t beat myself up. Keep it simple, that’s the best way, and if you get inspiration, go with it!

    Great read Rachel! x

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