Last night was one of those evenings when I got home late. I had forgotten to get anything out to thaw for dinner. My son had already eaten something (being a teen, he eats pretty much every couple hours) so he was not particularly interested in having anything else for a late dinner. That left my husband and I to do that dance of roaming around opening cupboards, the fridge, and the freezer trying to determine what to eat. As if something perfect would magically appear before our eyes, cooked and ready.
Eventually he decided on a pre-made chicken pot pie. When he realized the instructions indicated it would take an hour to heat in the oven, he opted for the microwave option. Not as good, but 8 minutes is better than 60. I took out a bag of pre-cooked-pre-cut, pre-seasoned chicken breast pieces, warmed them up, added some veggies, threw them in a soft tortilla and called it a wrap.
As we sat down for our ready-in-10-minutes, far-from-gourmet-but-still-food dinner, I thought about what my mother would have done in this same situation years ago. Mom did not work outside the home, but she was a busy lady. She took care of a big old farm house with three acres of land, four kids, a working and traveling hubby, and a big messy dog (along with various other animals at some points in our history). She also did volunteer work. So I’m quite sure there were nights when she had to come up with something quick to feed her herd. But of course in those days there was no pre-cooked, pre-cut cheater chicken. The only prepared frozen meals came along later – they were “TV Dinners”, and still needed to be heated in the oven. There was of course no microwave. I do remember as a teen, mom started stocking frozen pizzas which were a wonderful new treat available from the store… but those were intended more for late-night snacking with friends than for a family dinner.
There are very few fast “cheater” meals I remember from my youth. On the occasions Mom and Dad would be going out in the evening, before the babysitter came over mom would make what became a beloved combination of creamed corn and pieces of hotdog. It took probably less than 5 minutes to make. And sometimes on a weekend, Dad would make pancakes for supper which we all thought was fascinating and fun. But that’s about it. I guess if mom needed something quick, she would pull out a meal she’d had the foresight and time to have made previously and frozen – although it still needed to be thawed, and cooked by stove or oven. No quick zap in the nuker. And I don’t know about you other RW’s out there, but I’m happy if I can manage to make one dinner meal a day, let alone extras to store in the freezer to make my life easier in the future. As great an idea as that is, it just isn’t going to happen.
What about the earlier generations? I wonder what my grandmother must have done when time and energy were limited. Granted, in those days, people of means often had a cook or housekeeper to assist, and it was that person’s job to make sure meals were ready. How lovely would that be today? It would be heavenly to have someone else do my grocery shopping, meal planning, and food prep. No such luck. And even back then, not everyone could afford this luxury… so what options did they have? Sandwiches? Left overs? Soup? Things that had to be heated up on a heavy, slow to warm stove? I’m guessing “quick and easy” was not in their vocabulary regarding meals. Nor did they have the option to pick up the phone and within 30 minutes have someone deliver a meal to their doorstep. I think if I came home after a long day, and had to figure out how to reheat some mutton chops after lighting my gas oven or getting a fire going in my pot-bellied stove, I’d decide to go hungry. Just not worth the effort.
So the next time we opt for a Cheater Meal, and I reach for some sort of pre-made, packaged food and open the door of the magic instant heating appliance, I will pause and think of the women who went before me…they toiled for hours to provide a meal for their family, rather than simply pushing a couple of buttons to make it happen. I appreciate and respect them for their efforts day in and day out. And rather than complain about the lack of flavor or worry about the possible health consequences of my “fake” food, I will pause mid-chew and be thankful that in our crazy, fast–paced world, some days I have the option to cheat.