The other day I yelled at my poor husband because he told me he doesn’t care what’s for dinner and I should decide. On the surface that might seem unreasonable. I’m sure that having an 8-month old who still wakes up multiple times per night had something to do with it as well. But what my well-intentioned husband doesn’t understand is that having to be the one to figure out what everyone will eat every day for every meal of the day is exhausting. Every once in a while I suffer from dinner decision fatigue.
Making dinner is physically tiring
Like many stay-at-home-moms I am in charge of feeding my family. I do the meal planning for the week. I do the grocery shopping. If I have the energy and the time I even look through coupons or weekly flyers. I do the meal prep on the weekend for things that need to be marinated, separated, frozen or defrosted. I cook breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners. I clear the table and clean the floor after breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners. I do the dishes and clean the kitchen when I get the chance. On top of it all I am an all-you-can-drink breastmilk buffet for my baby.
I’d say that more than 50% of the work I do as a domestic-management-engineer is eating-related. Cooking and cleaning is physically tiring. With two young kids at home the hour before dinnertime is usually the most hectic time of the day. I don’t get to clean as I go and by the end of the day the kitchen is a disaster. Sometimes I get stressed out when the kids won’t go to bed because I know that there’s a giant pile of dishes in the sink waiting for me after their bedtime. Often in the evenings I do the bare minimum which means that the next day starts with a semi dirty kitchen and I have to play catch up.
Deciding on dinner is emotionally tiring
It isn’t only the physical aspect of it. There is a lot of mental and emotional energy being spent on feeding duties. Many of the kitchen decisions happen outside of the kitchen. Every day a dozen questions go through my mind: what food do we have? What’s ready to go? What’s in the freezer? What’s in the fridge? What are we missing in case I have the chance to stop at the store? What’s about to expire that we should probably cook asap? Do I need to pack a snack for this outing? What’s for dinner? Feeding the family means making shopping lists and going to grocery stores and looking up recipes (something I do enjoy but don’t always have much time for). With so many mental check lists, decision fatigue becomes real.
Even when Husband helps out with clean up and Lulu’s “jobs” are to set the table and to help unload the dishwasher, it’s still up to me to let them know whether we need bowls or plates, forks or spoons, whether the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty. To call them to wash up for dinner and come to the kitchen when dinner’s almost ready. Seeing your family appreciate and enjoy the meal you’ve made is one of the greatest joys of being a parent and partner. I’m happy that I can count on Husband to appreciate all the work I do preparing meals. Lulu’s occasional and spontaneous “Wow I love chicken! Thank you for making delicious dinner mommy!” warms my heart. But preparing meals can be a pretty thankless job too. Like many mom-jobs, it often feels like I am stuck on a hamster wheel, every day I cook, feed, clean. Cook, feed, clean. Cook, feed, clean. Over and over, day in and day out. For all that work, it’s never “done”.
Between the planning and the shopping and the doing, sometimes it’s nice not to worry about it. Not caring what the family will eat is a luxury that I rarely enjoy. Every once in a while when someone asks “what’s for dinner?” I want to be able to say “I don’t care. You figure it out” and just have food magically appear when it’s time to eat.