I have a love-hate relationship with lunch. I love to eat. It is the what & how of it that I hate. The deciding on what, and the prep of whatever it is, feels like drudgery to me. Yeah, I know, wah wah, first world problems. Even worse, I have a fully equipped kitchen at work, so there’s nothing to prevent me (aside from time, energy and desire) to make myself a real meal. Yet I routinely fall back on my usuals, alternating between salad (the big ugh of morning prep), and “diet” freezer meals… you know, the ones that proclaim to be low in calorie, yet are loaded with sodium, and all end up pretty much tasting the same after being microwaved. OR, devoid of any other good ideas, I might grab some carrot sticks and pre-made hummus, throw together some cheater chicken and lettuce in a tortilla shell and call it a wrap. You see why I’m bored.
The other morning I was rummaging around in my freezer trying to select my boxed fare du jour, considering if instead I should put some rotisserie chicken pieces (prepared by the grocery store) on a pre-cut bag salad, and I thought about how sad it is that I complain not only about the options I have, but about the convenience. Oh, geez, I’m going to have to go to the kitchen, follow simple instructions, and wait 7 minutes until my hot meal is ready. Or warm up some chicken someone else roasted for me. What a chore.
We are surrounded by prepared foods and time-and-energy-cutting ingredients. A few weeks ago when my hubby and I were out of town, but our 18-year old stayed home, I prepped some items to make his fairly basic meal cooking skills easier. I actually bought a packet of pre-cooked bacon. 10-seconds in the microwave, and it actually tastes not horrible. I could see, hear and feel my mother (God rest her soul) shaking her head aghast at not only the craziness of the pre-cooked and packaged item, but at the cost to have that convenience.
I thought about what mom would have done years ago when she was tight on time or energy but needed to make a meal happen. 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 were no already prepped by someone else, pre-cut ingredients. 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. As for our lunches we took to school, they were almost always a sandwich (Fluffernutters for me) or a combination of foods that could survive not being refrigerated and didn’t need heating. All made by mom.
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 prep time, and desire, 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, many could not 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 I dole out some pre-prepped food or open the door of the magic instant heating appliance to warm up leftovers in under 3 minutes, I will pause and think of the women who went before me…they toiled for hours to provide every meal for their family, rather than simply pushing a couple of buttons to make lunch happen. I will endeavor to stop my bellyaching about my food boredom and will be thankful that in our crazy, fast–paced world, I have the option of convenience.