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Ah, geez, it's dinnertime again?
But we just had dinner last night!
Every once in a while, I wonder if Don Gorske is on to something.
Gorske, a retired corrections officer from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, garnered an odd degree of fame in the early aughts for his eating habits, as featured in the Morgan Spurlock documentary Super Size Me1. Starting in May 1972, Gorske has eaten McDonald’s Big Macs—usually two per day—every day. That’s more than 32,000 of the fast-food chain’s signature burgers over the course of a half-century, something that still gains him occasional media appearances and a dubious-yet-likely-untouchable spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Now, of course, there’s a few predictable reactions one can have when learning of Gorske’s strange streak.
First: this man is deranged; who would want to do this to themselves?
Second: this man must have an incredibly unique physiology to have survived off a diet comprised almost exclusively of Big Macs and Coca-Cola for more than 50 years with no apparent health issues as a result.
Then there’s my third reaction.
You know, at least he doesn’t have to think about what’s for dinner each night.
I’m tired of thinking up dinner ideas.
This may come as a startling admission, given the context in which you’re reading it, but it’s true.
I share recipes on this newsletter on a weekly basis—the vast majority of which I’ve developed myself—and I’ve done so for more than three years running. I love coming up with new ideas in food; it’s genuinely fun for me, and an absolute delight when those ideas turn out good. I have no desire to stop doing so, and I’ve got plenty more ideas brewing.
But that’s only one meal a week.
Do you know how many meals there are in a week??
There’s like… [counting on fingers, scowling] I don’t even know! But there’s a lot!
Coming up with a whole week’s worth of meals for a family of four… well, it’s a process.
On the weekends in which we’ve got our act together enough to prep food for the week ahead, the assemblage is daunting. I’ll prep eight adult lunches—four each for my wife and I, allowing for one day where we’re likely to eat lunch out. My son, thankfully, eats lunch at his school’s cafeteria, but my daughter does not; that’s another four lunches. (We only have four lunch containers, so the fifth has to be made Thursday night.) Then the kids require snacks—two items per snack sitting, times one snack sitting a day for him and two for her; that’s thirty snacks. If we’re really feeling saucy, we might even do snack and breakfast prep for the adults.
That’s an ambitious amount of prep, but it’s mostly mindless; peanut butter sandwiches and baby carrots and borderline-assembly-line production and it’s done. It might take a few hours, but not a lot of thought; I can zone out while doing it.
We haven’t even gotten to dinners, though.
Invariably, each Saturday morning, we’ll clean up after breakfast and start thinking about the chores and errands ahead of us. At some point in this planning, I’ll freeze up, stuck in my weekly lament:
What the hell do we want to do for dinners this week?
It shouldn’t be a hard question.
But somehow, it is.
We’ve made plenty of good weeknight dinners over the years—things that have hit all the buttons: easy prep, not too much cleanup, plausible for the kids to enjoy, etc.—but when it comes time to make a grocery list for the week, I’m transformed into Guy Pearce’s character in Memento (2000), a bewildered amnesiac just looking for answers.
“We could do something with, uh… chicken?”
“Maybe… a sheet pan… dish?”
“I wish it were soup weather already. I have soup ideas.”
(I only have soup ideas when it’s not soup weather.)
“Oh, I saw a recipe the other day on Instagram. I forgot what it was. It looked good, though.”
“What about, like, a…” [voice trailing off] “… potato…”
“I’m going to do some googling.”
“Okay, here we go: according to Wikipedia, ‘Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for an organism. Food is usually of plant, animal, or fungal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals.’”
“So… yeah, something like that sounds good?”
Eventually, after an hour or so of teeth-pulling brainstorming, I’ll have come up with enough of a list to work with: a couple things that we know we can get the kids to eat (pastas, baked salmon), something we’ll try to get them to eat the night we feel like having an argument, and then a couple more things that we won’t even bother asking them to try.
(Those are their mac and cheese and hot dog nights.)
Occasionally, something will be a rousing hit; two weeks ago, I made tacos—simple, inauthentic, grocery store Tex-Mex tacos—and everyone enjoyed them. A few nights ago, owing to our position in peak tomato season, I made BLTs, and it was such a good idea that the kids cheered when I told them.
On nights like those, I’ll muse aloud, “we have to remember to do this more often”. And yet, by the time the dishwasher’s been loaded, I’ll have forgotten again, and be doomed to start pushing the rock from the bottom of the hill once again.
“What do you want to do for dinner tonight?”
“Well… we could just pick up McDonald’s on the way home…”
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
Now, then. This post has been a Trojan Horse of sorts. What I actually want to do here is solicit your most reliable go-to weeknight dinners.
Longtime readers know I’ve made this solicitation before, but, well, it’s been a while, and there’s a whole lot more of you than there used to be! So it’s time once again.
Comments aren’t usually open to everyone—that’s a benefit normally reserved for paying subscribers—but I’d like to hear what you have to say.
I’m biased, sure, but The Action Cookbook Newsletter has the best comments section on the internet, and you’re missing out if you’re not a part of it. If you’re on the free list, or if this post got forwarded to you somehow, consider upgrading today! It’s only $5/month, or $50/year, and it’ll pay off immediately—I’ve got a great lineup of stuff planned out for this Friday’s weekend-prep newsletter, and you’re going to want to go into Labor Day Weekend with your best food forward. Join now!