“What’s for dinner?” or the three most painful words in the English language

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I’m pretty sure those are the three words that I dread hearing the most in my life. Or at least, in my life as an adult. As a mom. See, when you’re growing up and planning on becoming an adult (or relatively “adult-ish”), you assume that things like finding a house and bill paying and giving birth will be the crux of your adulthood…the most painful, yet, relatively fulfilling, parts of your life. (Okay, maybe not the bill paying, but still…) You know there is going to be difficulty in adulthood…hey, that’s where the bill-paying comes in…but you assume it’ll be in the form of dealing with toddlers having meltdowns or in-laws…having meltdowns, stuff like that. You have no idea that one of the most painful parts of adulthood is centered around those three little words. No, not “You’re being audited”, “I need bail”, or “License and registration.” I’m talking about “What’s for dinner?”

I nearly shudder when I hear those words

And for almost twenty-five years I’ve heard them practically every day. Along with “what’s for lunch” from my Hubby. Truly, he is a brave soul for uttering those words because I have threatened to castrate him on more than one occasion after hearing that question. Dude, it’s bad enough everyone in this house thinks I’m in charge of what they eat for dinner every night, you’re going to force me to deal with the lunch question too? What’s next? “What’s for breakfast?” Be an adult and Door Dash your own lunch.

But around one o’clock each day, the questions regarding our dinner plans start rolling in…in the form of texts and not-so-subtle hints that people (mainly Hubby) did not eat a big lunch (he had to figure it out on his own so he didn’t eat) and will be starving for dinner. And heaven forbid anyone figure out what they’re eating on their own. When in doubt, Mom knows “what’s for dinner?” And this stupid question is killing me. I. Am. Exhausted.

Not only do I need to plan and execute a dinner menu seven nights a week, but I also have to shop for it too. “What’s for dinner?” sends me down aisle after aisle in the grocery store, trawling Pinterest for ideas, and signing up for every home meal kit company from Martha Stewart to Snoop Dog. (Oh, wait, he doesn’t have a home meal company…he’s got the wine company.) And then of course comes the packaging up the leftovers that I will throw out a week later when I can’t remember what they’re actually leftover from, cleaning the kitchen, washing the dishes, and basically repeating the whole process until I die a slow and painful death brought on by my brain cells dying from hearing “what’s for dinner?” night after night. But at least if I die I won’t have to hear those three words anymore.

I never thought the question “What’s for dinner?” could actually get more painful than it already was

Until it did.

So I’ve been writing this blog for over eight years now. When I started it, my kids were eight and twelve. I’ve cataloged their adventures in childhood and the misadventures that define adolescence. And all of my own missteps along the way. Including my cooking mishaps. Refer to Mom’s Cooking! Call the Fire Department! or The Bad Mommy Cooks—And Cilantro Almost Kills Everyone if you need a refresher. If being horrible at cooking were an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medalist. Seriously, I don’t even think Gordan Ramsey wants me on his bad cooks show.

Now the kids are sixteen and twenty and have jobs and school and friends and basically these whole other lives that don’t include me or Hubby. And that often means the question of “what’s for dinner” is more complex than ever. Mamas of little kids, this is a whole new world, a whole new ballgame. I seriously thought my life was complicated when I had to come up with a meal that each person would at least take a bite of. Now I need to navigate who will be home and who will be eating with us. Should I make a crockpot meal that we can all eat at our leisure, even if we’re not home together? Or get takeout before they have to work? We could eat at 3:45 and everyone will be home. Or at 9:00 when everyone is back.

Or should we just go out to eat? Yeah, it’s probably easier to just go out to eat. But where will we go to eat? I’m so tired of going out to eat. I should just cook. But how do I cook and make just enough? I’m so used to cooking for four…how do you cook for two? Or three? With the possibility of having to warm up the meal for number four?

Maybe I’ll just eat a bowl of cereal or a block of cheese instead of dealing with the headache of meal planning and prep. I’m not going to tell you how many nights ice cream is my dinner, something that would have only happened if I had a concussion when the kids were little. Because I bent over backward every day to make sure they were getting healthy food at home. At least the bonus of not having the kids home for dinner is the fact that there’s no guilt for not making them a nutritious meal. And no judgment for my own meal choices either. After all, Hubby is shoveling chips in his mouth as we speak.

Life gets weird when the kids are older

Figuring out what’s for dinner is just one of the many challenges Hubby and I have had to face in the past year now that the kids are getting older. We’ve even started a podcast to discuss our lives as nearly empty nesters. No one talks about this period in your life…the real in-between of parenting when they don’t need you to actually survive on a day to day basis (until their car runs out of gas on the Parkway or they can’t figure out how to get their high school transcripts), but they haven’t moved out yet and you don’t think they can make it completely on their own yet. But we intend to with our newfound wisdom and a bit of wit. It’s called The Almost Home Alone podcast, and you can check it out on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.

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