Winner, Winner, Nacho Dinner

You might not know this about me, but I’m a contestant on a reality cooking show.

The show is called “What’s For Dinner, Mom?”   Here’s the premise:  Each contestant must cook a palatable, nutritious dinner while a screaming toddler hangs on her left leg and a three-legged Australian shepherd counter surfs, occasionally scoring a stick of butter or a hunk of cheese.  The completed dinner is set on the table next to a pair of sweaty shin guards and a dachshund who believes her best chance of getting fed is to just stand on the table and wait. For the final challenge, a husband walks into the scene, lifts the top off a pot, sniffs, and says, “I’ll just have a protein shake tonight.”

The judges are an 8-year-old, a 5-year-old, the toddler, and the dachshund.  Unlike ABC’s The Taste, in which judges decide a contestant’s fate based upon just one bite, this contest has a three-bite rule.  If every judge takes at least three bites, no one shoves a blueberry up his nose during the meal, and the three-legged dog doesn’t barf up the goodies he scavenged from the countertop or the trash, the contestant makes it to the next round.  Actually, all contestants make it to the next round.  Forever.  Or at least until that toddler finally leaves for college.

I’ve been the star of this show for over 22 years.  I’m not quite sure how many rounds I’ve completed, but let’s say I averaged three shows each week.  That’s 26 times 52 times 3, or 3,432 evening meals I’ve prepared in my life.

That’s a lot of lima beans.  It’s vats of spaghetti sauce and enough rice to cover an elephant.  It’s a small mountain of onions chopped, truckloads of quesadillas grilled and ground beef browned. It’s also a lot of last-minute scrambling to figure out what’s for dinner. Once, when my older girl was three, I asked, “Baby doll, what do you think we should cook Daddy for dinner?”  She let out an anguished wail and said, “You can’t cook Daddy!”

It was this English professor’s first lesson in making sure I used precise grammar in front of my children, that it’s as essential as good nutrition.  (And little did I know then that daddy would one day cook his own goose.)

I tried to be a great cook.  Honestly, I tried.  For several years, I attended Ursula’s Cooking School in Atlanta.  Ursula, who started that operation in 1965, used to boast that she’d never repeated a recipe. Unlike my teacher, I’ve repeated recipes, well, repeatedly.

But last Sunday night, I tried something new.  My kid was skeptical when he asked, “What’s for dinner, Mom?” and I asked how he’d like nachos.  He wasn’t sure, he explained, that I would be able to get the cheese right.  He finished three plates, then looked at me and said, “I think that was the best dinner you’ve ever made.”

He’s going off to college, so my run on “What’s for Dinner, Mom?” will end soon.   The toddler who used to hang off my leg now towers over me and sports a hollow leg or two. He and his big sisters are healthy, happy, really great people.  So to my way of thinking, I won that damn reality show.  I won big.

I’ll miss my kid, but I don’t think I’ll miss the cooking show.  In fact, I don’t plan on cooking much after he leaves.  I wouldn’t know how to cook for only one person anyway.  So I’ll probably just have a protein shake.

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