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Monday, May 5, 2014

Sorry-Looking Menus, Impossible Expectations, and Seasons of Life

I guess I kind of had an image in my mind of what Dinners as a Married Couple would look like. It was all wholesome, creative meals with sides with fancy names like couscous, the occasional comfort-food casserole, candles and dim lighting, the sound of forks on plates and laughter, deep conversations and from-scratch and sitting at the table long after we were finished and joy and perfection.

And for a couple of meals, for a couple of months, that was true- with the exception of a couple of flavor flops, some suppers in front of the TV, and some charred food that I may have forgotten about.

This meal was really yummy- Brussels sprouts with pasta and sausage.

Then I started working full-time, and of course, working at Camp has the bonus perk that when there are campers, there's food, and when there's food, we can eat it. The meals in our household changed pretty drastically, and to be honest, I wasn't completely okay with it.

 And I avoided the issue because I was busy and overwhelmed and frankly didn't really want to go into figuring out my feelings. That's a lot of work.

But I've been reclaiming my home and my attitude the past few months, and finally dealing with those niggling annoyances and feelings that have gotten in the way of being a joyful and productive person. And yes, it's work, but I think it's an important work.

So I started actually menu planning. And the image came back- the image of how the "ideal" meal looks. And I looked at my menu, and it looked nothing like that ideal.

Monday's supper is something fast or leftovers, because we have small group at 7. Sunday, Friday, and Saturday are labeled with a big CAMP. That only leaves three suppers that could live up to my ideal... but of course we also sometimes have meals with friends or at church, or go out to eat, or Zeke comes home late and we eat my beautiful meal directly out of the pots and pans while watching a TV show.

My menu looks pretty sad, honestly. And of course, a sorry-looking menu is a problem in itself, because Dinners are Important, and it's the Role of the Wife to Create Beauty in the Home. Because we'd like to have a baby soon, I started feeling extra pressure because What If I Have Children and Still Don't Plan a Full Menu? and Practice Makes Perfect and Children Need Family Meals.

My first solution: force it! I planned lovely, healthful meals for every day of the week, telling myself that we would eat at home and we would have that candle-lit-from-scratch experience because it is my responsibility to do it. Of course, this was a recipe for guilt, being sorely overwhelmed, and not having a clean house or a cheerful attitude but-darn-it-we're-eating-a-lovely-meal-tonight-if-it-kills-me.

My second solution: just don't make a menu! But that led to weeks of Chinese take out and frozen pizza, which made me feel terrible, first because I wasn't measuring up to the image in my head by any stretch of the imagination, and secondly because weeks of Chinese take out and frozen pizza will make you feel physically terrible. It's just the way it is.

Obviously, neither of these worked.

Which left me back at square one- with a sorry-looking menu and impossible expectations.

I had to adjust my expectations. Yes, I only cook a couple of meals a week, and they're simple. We don't eat in front of a crackling fireplace with soft music playing in the background, and we don't hold hands through the entire meal. It doesn't mean that I'm any less of a woman or that I'm not fulfilling my role in the family.

Right now, in this season of life, this is the way it is. This is what's working best for us. Just because we eat away from home more often than not doesn't mean this is what will always work or what we'll always do. It's the season of life. This is reality- not the "perfection" I painted in my mind.

And now that I've embraced the reality, I can see the beauty of it. We're blessed to share a meal with 150 middle schoolers singing rowdy Bible songs on Saturday nights. Eating green beans out of a big pot while cuddling on the couch is actually kind of romantic!

And those special meals- the ones with the candlelight and the actual dining room table and laughter- those are made even more beautiful by the fact that they're not the norm in this season of life. And that's okay.


  1. Enjoyed this post! i just told someone that I was burned out with cooking! Menu planning, grocery shopping, preparing meals night after night . . . it's a struggle at any stage of life! :)

    THanks for linking up for Marriage Monday!


    1. Oh, how I understand what you mean! Some days I feel inspired and creative, and other days I'm back to the same five recipes. Ah, well.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. You shouldn't feel a bit guilty. It's not like your husband was coming home every night wanting a healthy, romantic meal and you weren't providing it. You have to do the best you can with the circumstances you have. And it sounds like you've done exactly that. You're right about seasons of life - and when you have a baby, things will definitely change again!

    1. That's exactly right- there wasn't any reason to feel guilty except my own expectations! I tend to hold myself to pretty impossibly high standards- and that's not realistic at all, nor is it being kind to myself.

      Thanks for stopping by- and thanks for the encouraging comment, too!

  3. So appreciated your article. I've struggled with meal planning and expectations for years, what with working and ideal images in my head. Found Pinterest and all of its wonderful meal planning ideas and got even more stressed. Finally gave myself permission to plan four dinners a week (there's just two of us and we eat lunch at work and we're on our own for breakfast), leaving room for a night out or leftovers for a night or two. Where do these expectations come from?! My meals are also simple but tasty and healthy. How and what you eat does change with the seasons of life. You are a wise wife. :)

    1. (I'm gonna call you Rachel, okay, Anonymous?)

      Pinterest. Such a double edged sword- right? So many wonderful ideas, but it's so easy to overwhelm ourselves! We also eat at work, and breakfast is usually something we can grab quickly (yogurt, hard boiled eggs).

      I've learned to plan a couple of meals a week, but not put a set date on them. That way, if we go out to eat on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, we're still okay, and I don't freak out. =)

      Glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks for stopping by!


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