Families are supposed to have dinner together—a hearty meal with a protein, buttered starches and a vegetable. This is a rule. It's ironclad. When I was growing up, I sat with my parents and siblings in in our bright yellow kitchen with the checkered linoleum floor every single night. We ate browned meats with gravy, casseroles and a host of one-dish wonders I couldn't begin to name, but whose flavors I will never forget.
My fondest memories from childhood revolve around those meals.
When I had a family of my own, I was hell-bent on replicating those dinners. Before my water broke with my first child, we had lined up all the props: A sturdy kitchen table, pots and pans, and a binder full of recipes that even I, a not-so-great cook with horrible kitchen instincts, could manage.
Six years into my motherhood career, however, and I still haven't mastered dinner. Not even close.
It's the timing. I get home at 6 p.m., and by then we are all exhausted. The kids have had long days at school, followed by soccer or dodge ball with the neighbors. Their energy is already flagging, and we still have to do homework and practice the piano, not to mention the time we devote to basic hygiene.
This rushing around to make a picture-perfect, nostalgia-driven dinner after working all day? It's too much pressure.
Every day, I try to beat the clock, but no matter how quickly Rachel Ray says a meal can be prepared, I can't seem to get dinner on the table by 6:30 p.m. On the rare occasions that I walk through the door, kick off my shoes and head straight to the kitchen, I come close. But who wants to ignore her kids to chop some celery? Who wants to punch the clock all day only to come home and punch another one?
I know what you're thinking, and I've tried the slow cooker. It works, but all the food I make in there, whether it's chili, chicken fricassee or pot roast, ends up tasting exactly the same. I can't do that every night or my kids would stop eating.
But my guilt ends today. This rushing around to make a picture-perfect, nostalgia-driven dinner after working all day? It's too much pressure. That's why I, along with Sam Sifton, are making a switch.
Now, the marquee meal in my house will be none other than that cornerstone of any great day: Breakfast.
This is perfect for me and my family. I'm a morning person, up long before my kids, so making breakfast is my jam. It's not a Ritz Carlton buffet, but I can do a decent crepe, a passable waffle and a blueberry pancake in a pinch. Plus, I'm 20 times more likely to be in a good mood in the morning, before the day's assaults have ground down my cheer. I happily agree to make one thing for the picky eater and another for my laid back one.
Plus, there's less pressure, less complicated proteins and less ceremony at breakfast.
It never occurred to me that I needed to shift my vision to what a good family does. Maybe a "good family" has lively, joyful breakfasts and merely survives dinner time. Maybe trying to live up to what my mother, who did not work full-time outside the home, did in the 1970s and 1980s is an unfair bar to expect myself to reach.
Maybe it's time to celebrate my ability to make breakfast. Maybe what a "good family" does is exactly what I've been doing all along.