Michelle Martin

What’s for dinner?

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

It doesn’t matter how old my kids get. Maybe it won’t matter when they are all out of the house, even. At some point, every day, someone asks the question: What’s for dinner?

It shouldn’t be a hard question to answer. My husband cooks most nights nowadays, but there have been years-long periods when I’ve done most of the cooking. The older kids even take a turn every now and again. Getting edible food to the table isn’t really the problem.

The hard part is always figuring out what that food should be. What food will fill us all, with something we like enough to actually eat it, without getting too boring?

Chili is good for my husband and me, but the kids don’t really like it. Same with homemade enchiladas, although if we use red sauce instead of green sauce, Teresa will sometimes eat those. Spaghetti works, if you make sure to cook the meatballs separately and keep some out of the sauce for the kid(s) who will eat noodles and meatballs but no gravy.

Grilling in the summer might be the best; even if not everyone wants a burger off the grill more than once a week, we can do hot dogs and sausages, chicken, steak, fish, even vegetables. And most of the time, it’s just as easy to grill more than one thing at a time so everyone gets what they want.

And, of course, there’s always take-out, but somehow, over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we mostly lost our taste for eating lukewarm food unpacked from bags on the kitchen table.

There are too many nights when we’re hungry, we know we need to eat, and we parents know we need to feed the rest of the family, but nothing seems appealing, let alone exciting. And if no one else is excited for dinner, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about making it.

It’s a kind of restlessness or ennui that seems to be bleeding into all areas of life now, and not just in our family. We know we want something different, we know we want things to be different, we want to do something different, we want to be enthusiastic and engaged and working toward a goal.

But what goal? And what to do, to make a difference?

Because I think that’s what we all really want, whether it’s teens trying to figure out how to spend a day off school, young adults deciding what career path they want to follow or, yes, parents trying to decide what to make for dinner.

The answer, many nights, is to offer something that can be customized for particular tastes — like leaving the meatballs out of the spaghetti sauce — and, when there’s time, mashed potatoes.


  • family life