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Dinnertime is a sticky subject around my house

The most beautiful picture of pb&j ever, from Bon Appétit magazine.

“Mommmmmmm? What’s for dinner?”

The busier my kids get, the fewer answers I have lately. I started the year out strong with a commitment to cook four to five nights a week, and I planned meals. I am a big fan of meal planning! It keeps my grocery list focused and my evening scramble to a minimum. I always asked for input, too. It used to be easy. My kids wanted Mexican food, Italian food or pork of some kind. And they aren’t picky eaters, thank goodness, because I am not much of a cook. But over the last few months, their palettes have changed. Little Son loves anything pasta-based or Mexican. Bodacious loves anything with carbs and vegetables. Little Son does not care for vegetables. Bodacious does not care for anything with tomato sauce. Neither of them likes beef unless it is cleverly disguised as a Five Guys cheeseburger. Only one will eat hotdogs, only one will eat chicken nuggets. One loves macaroni and cheese, but please hold the cheese. The other loves tacos, as long as it doesn’t have onions, tomatoes, lettuce or sour cream. Basically, she would just like a shell and refried beans. And even as I type this out, and it seems entirely untrue, I swear I am not raising persnickety eaters. Their taste buds have evolved, and they don’t align with each other’s very well. Sibling rivalry even at the dinner table. The only thing they agree on consistently is eating breakfast for dinner, popularly known as “brinner” on the internet. My kids will never turn down bacon and eggs!

The kids have commitments most nights of the week so I try to keep cooking and cleaning time to a minimum. I also refuse to be a short order cook. I fix one dinner, and try my best to offer something for everyone. The Hubs is not picky, but he does not care for crock-potted food. “Everything tastes the same, like boiled meat,” he explained. Well, that’s because it is all boiled meat my love. My foodie girlfriend Posh Spice sent me some recipes that she was sure The Hubs would love. Most of them required using fresh garlic, olive oil and a cast iron skillet – BEFORE you even fired up the crock pot. Thanks, but no thanks. The magic of the crock pot is that you can use a crock pot liner, dump everything in, add a half a Shiner Bock beer and walk away for the day. After dinner is slopped into a bowl, I throw the liner full of leftovers into the fridge or the trash can. I wash the crock pot, and I am ready for homework and baths. Having kids means having crock pot meals at my house.

If you don’t like what we are having for dinner, you have two choices: you don’t eat, or you get peanut butter and jelly. Now, The Hubs is a good husband, and will pour a little Stubs barbecue sauce on anything and eat it. Never complains. But it isn’t entirely unusual for me to see my people making pb&j sandwiches at 8 p.m., either.

Now, a pb&j is the world’s simplest thing to make, but it turns out, I don’t make those to suit everyone, either. Apparently, it all starts with the bread. The Hubs claims the bread has to “line up” and will spend an excruciating amount of time matching the humps and lumps of store-bought bread edges. Then, he gets a butter knife – NOT a serrated steak knife, Melanie – to begin the careful, paper-thin schmear of peanut butter on one piece of bread. The peanut butter must be spread evenly, its thickness uniform. The peanut butter must be spread carefully from edge to edge, then top crust to bottom crust. Then, on the other piece of bread, he repeats the same, painful-to-watch process with the jelly. It takes him 10 minutes to make a sandwich. I can’t even.

Y’all. In 10 minutes I make three sandwiches, fill water bottles, slice fruit and dump chips into baggies each school morning. And you know what? My sandwiches taste just the same as his. At least, I think they do. I don’t like pb&j, so I am not actually sure if my non-matching bread, frantically spread with peanut butter that is topped with a blob of low-sugar squeeze jelly, tastes the same. The Hubs says no. I was pretty surprised when expert chefs agreed with him. In February’s Bon Appétit magazine, chefs insisted soft bread was best when spread with peanut butter on one side, preserves on the other. One Portland-based sandwich artist suggested spreading peanut butter on both sides of the bread with jelly in the middle for a more “symmetrical” bite. Some chefs liked to add thin sliced fruit onto the jelly, or crushed peanuts onto creamy peanut butter for more texture. But I asked myself, why wouldn’t you just use crunchy peanut butter and chunky fruit preserves? Apparently, I extend my no-fuss, get ’er done crock pot methodology to sandwiches, too!

I don’t have time or energy for anything else. As we plunge headlong into spring soccer season and dance recital preparations, I will probably not be trying any new recipes or taking cooking lessons. So this week, when I hear, “Mom? What’s for dinner?” I will answer, “Brinner!” with gusto. But The Hubs has to make the toast.

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