A while ago I got the anxious dinnertime feeling that comes when there’s nothing good on the menu.
I opened the refrigerator and saw that we did, however, have plenty of leftovers. As I started heating them up I began to feel guilty. Guilty that I didn’t have something planned for dinner that would look great on an instagram photo. Guilty that the family would have to eat things they’d already had this week. Guilty that all of the leftovers didn’t necessarily “go together.” Guilty enough to even consider ordering pizza instead of serving leftovers.
Then I had a moment. A major life moment. One that I truly believe will change the way I think about things for as long as I live. I suppose if I was going to hashtag this post I would give it the popular #firstworldproblems, but I don’t even want to validate that phenomenon by calling leftovers a problem.
In my epiphany I realized that there’s no problem with leftovers. There’s a problem with the fact we have a derogatory word for food that was not prepared today. Right now. Minutes before we served it to our families. Particularly if it’s for family members who didn’t help cook and who’ll probably forget to say thank you.
I love good food just as much as the next person, and I’m not pretending rice tastes amazing microwaved. Still, this is what I learned.
1. We think we need to like everything.
Sometime somewhere we let this little lie creep in to our culture. The lie that says “it’s okay not to do something if you don’t like it.” Well in that case… I won’t get up in the morning, cook dinner every single night, or pay my bills. It is a self-entitled mindset that thinks one should only do what is pleasing.
I understand that food is largely enjoyable, but does that mean a meal is a failure if we don’t like it? When my friend’s children were very young she told her husband that he could expect one thing from dinner: that it be edible. If it tasted good, well, even better. Tasting good was not, however, something he should expect daily. If leftovers are nutritious and provide sustenance to the body then don’t look at the cook and snub your nose because they don’t taste as good as they did two days ago.
2. Do we “deserve” better?
My husband’s work had a sales competition and the winner was to receive a tablet. He knew the rules, he sold the most, he came home with the tablet. There were rules and guidelines and, if they had refused to give him the prize, he could have said “But I won, I deserve it!” I’m sorry to say that life doesn’t have rules like that. You work hard so you think you deserve a BMW. Guess what? People in Eastern Europe work hard and still go home hungry to be welcomed by families in one room apartments who are also hungry. Just admit it, you want a Lexus because you want one. That’s okay. Just don’t go acting like it’s an injustice if you have to drive a Ford.
Do our kids think they “deserve” better than frozen lasagne from last week? If so, they need to be taught that food – thought it may grow on trees – doesn’t end up in the house for free.
3. Is waste is better than monotony?
Can we honestly say that it’s better to waste food than it is for our meals to be monotonous? Oh, “Better to throw out half a crockpot of chili than to eat it two days in a row. I need variety.” All I have to say is today’s generation wouldn’t have lasted one month in the wilderness, seeing as how they only had manna to eat. Every day. For 40 years. 40 years, people. The home conversation went like this, What’s for breakfast? Manna. Oh okay, and lunch? Well, just some manna. Alright. What about dinner? Just because I really love you… manna! By the way, they did think they deserved more than just manna. And then they ate so much quail they choked on it.
4. Banish the term.
While my children are still young and before they become jaded, I am going to banish the word leftovers. Do you know what I’m going to call it instead? Food. Unless it’s rancid or moldy, it’s just food. Whether it is fresh, a day old, or coming out of the freezer, it’s food. It’s dinner. It’s all you’re going to get unless you want to go grow your own.
5. Teach children about reality.
My oldest is not yet 3 so, I get it, I haven’t had direct experience teaching children about food and where it comes from. In fact, my kids don’t even complain when they get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch 5 days a week. Perhaps that’s why I feel so strongly about it. They eat, get full, and are happy. What is happening in our society that changes that attitude so quickly?
The reality is that food is grown, harvested, shipped to produce markets or grocery stores, and then bought with hard-earned money. Kids need to know that food is expensive and wasting food is costly. Throwing away perfectly good food because you ate it already this week is wasteful. Even if you aren’t hurting for money – and I hope you aren’t – we shouldn’t let our kids learn to be wasteful. Because who knows? Knowing how to properly steward your resources might be the difference between life and death. History has proven this time and again.
Starving people will eat out of the dumpster. They’ll eat cardboard. Some people go days without food or drink. Don’t let your kids give you the “it’s not like you can send this food to Africa, anyway” crap. With that kind of attitude, we’re lucky people can’t just send our dinner to Africa. I wonder what starving people would call perfectly good food that is just not very appetizing? Oh, wait…
I know food can be extremely enjoyable. It is a pleasure to cook a meal that everyone in the family enjoys! I’m not suggesting we serve plain pasta with ketchup each night to prove a point. I am – however – trying to say this: a stomach full of plain pasta with ketchup is still a full stomach. And that’s more than a lot of people have.
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Does your family hate leftovers? How do you handle it when your kids complain?
PS – If you hated this post you definitely don’t want to watch this short First World Problems Aren’t Problems video. Note: the purpose of this post is not to suggest that leftovers rival fresh food in nutritional value, but rather to address the issue of “snobbery” towards leftovers.
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