Warning: Mild Ender’s Game spoilers ahead.
When I was in my early teens, I really liked reading girl books, like horse books, Nancy Drew novels, the Little House on the Prairie series, and some fantasy. So when my dad told me I absolutely had to read Ender’s Game, I resisted. For years. His summary was something like this:
There’s this alien race that almost wiped out humanity, so humanity needs to raise a military genius so that if and when they ever come back, we won’t be wiped out. To raise such a military genius, the military trains promising kids in space in a battle school. The book is about one such kid, and he plays battle games, but he’s so good at it that they keep making the game harder and harder for him, stacking the odds against him. It’s like if the game was chess, they would take away his queen at the beginning of the game. Then, when he still wins, they give the opponent two queens and him none. And so on.
This summary still sounded totally not like my thing, so I didn’t read it until I basically had to for a class in high school. And of course I loved it and fell in love with science fiction as a whole and read everything by Orson Scott Card and met my husband through his web site, so yeah. My dad was right.
The reason I’m posting about Ender’s Game today, though, has to do with the dinner game. I mean, even the moms (and dads) who love to cook struggle to come up with something yummy, nutritious, and fast enough to put on the table every single night. It’s not an easy part of being an adult.
But I feel lately like I’m Ender and the odds are increasingly stacked against me. I am pretty good about planning and shopping for meals well ahead of time, and I usually have cooked real meals every night. I can say that there has only been one occasion when we had cereal or sandwiches for dinner. Yeah, we do hot dogs or frozen pizza or fast food on a fairly regular basis, but on the whole, I was pretty decent at the whole dinner thing.
When Jonathon and I got married, I worried about what we would eat. I am very picky about dairy. Basically, anything cultured is a no for me (with the exception of mozzarella on pizza). I don’t eat cheese, yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, even butter (unless it’s in things and not very noticeable). Meanwhile, Jonathon doesn’t eat potatoes or some other vegetables. He doesn’t care for soy sauce. What this meant was that we had to try a lot of new recipes when we were first married. We fell in love with Thai and Indian food together, and we ate a fair amount of Mexican food (I would just leave off the dairy). I joked that we’d be in big trouble if our kids didn’t like spicy food or meat.
Well. Let me tell you.
Lego and Duplo refused to eat anything even slightly spicy for years. They are only recently coming around to Mexican food (and the past few months are actually eating Indian and Thai food without too much complaint, even though they don’t prefer it). But El Guapo is almost completely a vegetarian. He used to eat hot dogs, but now he doesn’t. At least soft, easy to chew chicken is now on his okay-to-eat list, where it wasn’t for a long time. Ground beef is a definite no, as is pepperoni, sausage, pork, roast beef, steak, and any chicken that is too dry or tough for him. Duplo didn’t like rice for a long time, but he’s finally eating it as long as it isn’t plain. Lego doesn’t like tomatoes but will tolerate them in some sauces (not spaghetti sauce, alas).
And that was before Robo joined our family.
Plus, I teach piano until 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, until 6 p.m. on Friday, until 4 p.m. on Wednesday (but I hold cub scout den meetings in my home at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays), and until 4 p.m. on Mondays (but we have Family Home Evening at 7 p.m. on Mondays). Dinner is ALWAYS rushed and almost always late (6:30 to 7:00 p.m.).
Now, here are my restrictions on dinner:
- Must not contain potatoes
- Must not contain wheat
- Must not contain dairy
- Must not contain eggs
- Must not contain nuts of any kind (except coconut)
- Must not be too spicy
- Must contain enough calories if El Guapo chooses not to eat the meat portion
- Must be able to be prepared in one hour, start to finish (almost every day)
- Must not be too expensive (Robo’s allergies require us to buy expensive foods for breakfast and lunch, so I try not to go overboard at dinner)
Some people recommend using my crock pot, and I like the idea of that, but so many crock pot recipes are soups or meat-with-vegetables concoctions that are no-goes for my family. Or they contain dairy. Or wheat.
I remember when I found out what Robo’s allergies were, and I sat down with my list of dinner ideas to see what was still on the list. Black beans and rice: check! Mexican food with corn tortillas or shells: check! Thai and Indian food: check!
There was one category that was almost completely eradicated, and that was the “easy meals” category. No more chicken nuggets (wheat, eggs, dairy). No more frozen pizza. No more hamburgers or hot dogs (buns), macaroni and cheese, omelettes, breakfast for dinner, quick quesadillas, bread-based meals, etc. And almost all fast food or pizza restaurants have nothing to offer that Robo isn’t allergic to. So giving up and ordering in is usually not an option anymore. Even gluten-free pizza crust contains eggs.
Lately, I have been making two meals, one easy one like macaroni and cheese for Jonathon and the older boys and one Robo-friendly one for me and Robo (gluten-free spaghetti, tacos, and stir fry are some favorites). But making two meals, even two easy meals, is a LOT of work, and, worse, it makes a LOT of dishes.
I’m still doing it. My family eats dinner every night. But I have come to hate dinner, to feel like the whole things is rigged, and to put off starting it in the evening, which makes the whole thing later and worse. Ugh. Ender got to confront Graff about the whole thing. Who do I call to complain?