Is Breakfast For Dinner Child Abuse?

I cooked hamburgers and hotdogs last night on a George Foreman Grill. It took about 15 seconds. Just an unbelievable, 0 to 60, raw meat to finished product turn around. We could have spent $500 on that sucker and it would have been worth it. Go buy one.

Are you back? Good. I just had to share this, because anything that makes tackling dinner even a little bit easier has to be invested in. Now, I’m not the cook in the house, Mary El is. I’m more of a breakfast food specialist, with a few talents in grilling when necessity dictates. I have a tendency to permanently blacken pans and pots when I try to cook for real. I can also never do dishes up to my wife’s high standard, but this is neither the time nor place.

As far as cooking diner goes, I’m a Tier III cook, with aspirations toward Tier II. Allow me to explain. Tier I are real, actual meals, usually including a main dish, a side dish and even possibly a vegetable. Chicken with mashed potatoes and cream or corn—that’s a Tier I. In our house Mary Ellen cooks everything in Tier I, and does it quite well I might add. Everyone’s happy with a Tier I meal. It’s the way families are supposed to eat, at a table, with utensils.

Tier II is what I did last night. It consists of a relatively satisfying main course with little else (“Anyone want chips?”) and is often eaten with one’s hands. Ordering out for pizza or Chinese is Tier II. Hams and hots. Cold cuts. Fried chicken legs. Breakfast for dinner. Mickey D’s (the meals). All Tier II specialties. Are they a full meal? Kinda, sorta. Most everybody is happy because it tastes good, but lets not peek too far into that calorie and saturated fat count. What qualifies as nourishment is not necessarily nourishing, but c’mon, it’s been a long day and there were two doctor’s appointments and what am I a short-order cook? They’re fed—there are many children who don’t even get that every night. And it’s not like it’s an every day thing. So no guilt. All right, a little guilt, but not much.

Tier III is another story altogether. We’re talking borderline child abuse here. The kind of meals you tell your kids to lie about if anyone asks what they had for dinner last night. The meals that are thrown together when both parents are ill, or the family has been out all day, or the check hasn’t cleared and you have no money to food shop yet, or if Dad is cooking. The clearing out the back of the fridge and cabinets, serving whatever wasn’t good enough to give to the food pantry kind of meal.

Like macaroni and cheese—not the nice homemade kind with the brown on the top, the cheap, no-frills brand that tastes like powdered Velveeta and rocks. Or cereal. Oh, you can convince yourself it’s dinner by reading the side of the box, but we all know it’s self-deception. They might as well be eating a bowl of sugar. It barely belongs at breakfast, much less dinner. Or Value Menu items. Just because you CAN feed a family of five for under ten dollars doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Grilled cheese. Peanut butter on toast. Mixed frozen fish sticks and chicken nuggets with smiley fries. In the microwave. You can identify these meals when you hear questions such as, “Is this all we’re having?” or “Is this dinner or brunch?” or “Can I have dessert first?”

Tier III meal makers (I wouldn’t call them “cooks” per se) often attempt to save a Tier III meal with a solid 8 or 9 dessert, like an Entenmann’s raspberry strudel or chocolate Jell-O pudding. It quiets the din of the troops, but does nothing to actually redeem a Tier III meal. Honestly, if the dessert takes longer to make than the entree, you’re skating on some thin nutritional ice to begin with.

Which gets us back to the reason why we make dinner for our families in the first place. This is a multi-layered question. In a perfect world, we want to present our children with a nutritionally balanced diet, that will give them the energy and brainpower to become the first doctor to cure cancer AND win a seventh game of the World Series. Our Tier I meals are being cooked for the good of our future, our children’s futures and the future of the species. It is the perfect parent in us leading the charge for posterity.

When you cook a Tier II meal, you have much less lofty goals. It is a duty, something you’d be remiss if you didn’t do. It’s done for the same reason kids get up in the morning and go to school—because they hafta. As we’re fond of saying to our kids, it’s the law in New York State, and no, I can barely get you to pick your dirty clothes off the living room floor or stop drawing mustaches on your face with markers, I can safely say that home-schooling is out of the question. Tier II meals, like taxes, visiting with relatives, or going to work so you don’t lose the house, are obligatory.

Tier III meals, on the other hand, smack of desperation. It’s like writing a term paper you forgot about for a book you haven’t read. You’ll get a grade, but it clearly isn’t your best effort. Tier III meals are made to get the kids off your back, so that when they’re hungry an hour later (and they will be!) you can almost say with a straight face, “You already HAD dinner,” and technically you’d be correct. Who cares if you can’t look your kids in the eyes, they’ll live until tomorrow. They’ve been given the bare minimum sustenance, but kids are resilient. Give ’em a Flintstone’s vitamin and they’ll be ready to take on the world. OK, maybe they’ll cure something smaller, like eczema, and maybe they’ll win Game 4 rather than Game 7. But that’s still good. And at least they didn’t go to bed with nothing, like so many kids do. They got a good 500 calories of pure fat, but they’re young, they’ll work it off…

Dear God when is that check going to clear?

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    • Joel Flowers
    • February 11th, 2011

    I once made catsup soup.

  1. Four days a week when I was at college in NY I lived on Grey’s Papaya 2 for $1 hot dogs, those 25 cent cream-filled outmeal cookies and tea. By Thursday I could have used some catsup soup.

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