“I know what you’re thinking about,” my daughter said, snapping me out of a moment of reverie at the kitchen table. “You’re thinking about what’s for dinner.”
I was. Of course I was. Even though we were eating breakfast at the time and dinner was still ten hours away, I was mentally turning over the contents of the fridge, wondering what we had. Wondering if I could get a third night out of that chicken curry by adding another can of chickpeas. Thinking, perhaps I could do it with naan instead of rice, in a nod to variety. Or would I discover too late for a supermarket dash that we’re out of naan and I’d have to try and sell “curry with pasta shells” as some kind of Indian-Italian fusion?
Of the many, many domestic tasks involved in family life, dinner is surely the most demanding, certainly the most repetitious. As the novelist Karl Ove Knausgård observed, dinner comes around every night, yet always manages to be a surprise.
How can it be 5.30pm again?! How can I be staring down yet another kilo-pack of lean mince, thawing in a sink of hot water because I forgot to take it out of the freezer before work, trying to decide if it wants to become meatballs or kofta or burgers or just sort of cooked-mince-with-canned-tomatoes tipped on it.
Knausgård’s six-volume novel is called My Struggle, which I can only assume is a direct reference to the job of turning out nutritious, varied, non-ruinously-expensive meals that cater to the very specific and individual culinary predilections of every child in the house. I’ve not actually finished the first volume, even though I’ve been reading it for three years, because dinner is also very much My Struggle.
Listen: Meg joins the This Glorious Mess podcast to talk about her struggle with family dinners.