In this age of farm-to-table dinner adoration and making one's own butter and baking powder from scratch, I rise up in defense of the drive-thru, the TV dinner and the semi and fully-prepared dinners from the grocery store. That includes bags o' salad, minced garlic and frozen pizza.
As I return to work full-time at CNN.com, I take this stand for my mother, a single parent just a few decades ago. Not known for her cooking, she sometimes drove me through McDonald's after soccer practice or theater class and served me a Swanson's TV dinner once week.
Many more parents today are the children of parents who did not know how to cook, so I applaud any supermarket effort that makes it easier to eat at home - even if it involves opening a chicken pasta combo package and pre-cut veggies.
"Fast food and TV dinners did serve their purpose on days when we had one thing after the other or there was no time to go to the grocery store or nobody had clean underwear so laundry had to be done," says my mom. "With the time saved, we could still talk about what happened with a kid harassing you at school, without my worrying about burning something-which I did anyhow, every so often."
My mother's own mother had refused to teach her to cook, thinking that it would trap my mother in the home rather than in the world of work where my grandmother thought she should live. That was a radical notion in the 1940s and 1950s, that my mother should have an outside adult life.
Once she married and had me, my mother figured out how to cook a few things - we often had nice arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) with platanos (fried plantains). But it has never been easy for her the way it has for mothers who have cooked from scratch since they were little girls. My mother cooked big batches of stew or other dishes on the weekends and punted on soccer practice and theater class nights.
That's why I cringe when the foodies make speeches in condescending tones about how parents should try harder and commit more time for cooking at home. In some two-parent families with enough money and time and help, please do turn off the electronic devices and try to cook with your children - and eat with them too.
Even those of us with more time or money than our struggling parents have a hard time cooking because we didn't learn how to do it well as children. Dinner prep looks easy in the hands of a pro, can take as little as 20 minutes and tastes delicious. When I'm in charge, it’s harder and takes longer and could involve a TV bribe to keep my kid from amused while I try to cook.
Shortcuts allow me to hear about my kid's day at pre-school, talk about the bugs she saw and the snacks she ate, make sure she's learning to share and not getting into any fights.
"It’s not only cooking time, but shopping for food," says my mom. "For those of us for whom cooking is not an occupation or a hobby, it takes longer. An expert cook could probably make things faster but they have to concentrate."
I'm going to continue to buy the Amy's Pizza and packaged veggies to make sure dinner can be ready in 15 minutes if need be. When I cook, I try to go easy on myself, choosing recipes that are hard to screw up and can be turned into something else the next day. I rarely cook something I know the kid won't eat. And I do try to learn to cook simple good dishes that even parents like me can handle.
Here is a fantastic roast chicken recipe that is hard to screw up. (I often place the bird on the wrong side, and it doesn't matter).
Easy Roast Chicken
Whole fresh chicken (Murray's or Bell and Evans or something tasty)
Use Adobo or salt and pepper it inside and outside like crazy.
(Usually recipes say put the breasts up but I did it with breasts down and it worked - breasts cook faster so it worked it have them downside).
Add vegetables around the chicken in the last 30-45 minutes of cooking to make it a one-pot meal. I usually add cut carrots, quartered onions and cut up roasting potatoes. They soak up the olive oil and chicken juices.
Got a quick-fix meal you serve to your kids? Share it in the comments below.
Previously - Feeding the beast – Adventures in homemade baby food
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