Wednesday, March 09, 2005


You’ve heard it before. Grandpa or some old Uncle scowling at the dinner table and saying, "You’ve just never been hungry enough or you would eat it." As much of a cliché as that remark is, it is true.

When I was a kid, these were the rules.

No one was allowed to eat meat without an accompaniment of bread, potatoes, pasta, or rice.
No one was allowed to leave the table until they had cleaned up their plate.
No seconds were allowed until all first helpings were cleaned up.
No one was allowed to taste anything prior to it coming to the table; and
If anything served was new and you didn’t know if you would like it, you still had to try it. (a tablespoon of sauerkraut for you and you and you).

And everyone, even the little kids, were expected to do the math. Everyone was expected to be able to accurately calculate how much chicken or salad they could extract from the bowl or platter and still leave fair and equal portions for everyone else at the table. And everyone was expected to know prior to dinner exactly how much he/she could eat so that nothing would be wasted. Bread crusts had to be eaten if you expected to have dessert.

I fully understand why these were the rules. When I was a child living in a household with a limited budget and eleven hungry mouths to feed, food was a precious resource that could not be squandered. Rules like this had to exist in order that everyone could eat. But amazingly, without even realizing it, I insisted on these same rules for my children, and even more amazing these are still the rules that my children are passing on to their offspring. MD (middle daughter) just told me recently that none of the kids are allowed to eat meat without sandwiching it between bread or eating it with some other similar accompaniment.

But rules are different for different households and I realized that the day Hub and I invited a young man for a barbecue. Hub did up some really tasty rib steaks. When I delivered a platter six gigantic steaks to the table, the young man took 2 dinner-plate-size-steaks which of course completely filled his plate. Not a speck of space left for potatoes or salad or vegetables. I stared at him in disbelief. I was certain that even if he hadn’t eaten for a week, he would still be unable to eat all that steak. I felt I must speak up.

"Joey Boy," I said, "I want you to put one of those steaks back. It’s not that I care how many you eat. If you can eat two, eat two. And if you can eat three, eat three. And if you can eat more than that, Hub will cook more. But in the meantime, I want you to eat one at a time." He looked hurt, but he slid one of the steaks off of his plate and back onto the serving platter.
Now at twenty years of age, Joey Boy was such a pleasant and polite boy, I just couldn’t understand why he would have done such a thing. It seemed like a rather rude move to me.

When I brought it to his attention he was obviously embarrassed, but so was I for having to say anything about it. Later he confessed to me that ever since the beginning of time, his mother arranged each plate at the stove and then set them on the table. That was dinner. There were never any seconds.

So here was a young man who found it unusual to sit down to a meal with great groaning platters of food in the middle of the table and the freedom to help himself to as much as he liked. Here was a boy that couldn’t do the math because in the past he had never done the math. So when this kind of opportunity presented itself, he took full advantage of it.

I was sorry I had to bring it to his attention, but in the end, I was glad I did. Because after one steak, he was stuffed. He couldn’t eat another bite. And believe me, I would have been one cranky lady if I had been forced to chuck a premium dinner-plate-size-steak in the garbage that was virtually untouched. And of course that’s exactly what I would have been forced to do if I hadn’t spoken up.

And finally, the most important rule of all in this household and listen carefully cause this is ultra-important. If anything is really good, exceptionally good --- never express surprise. Because I am a good cook and surprise is therefore NOT a complement to a consistently good cook. But a mundane reaction is.

So now after this spiel, the question is…Do you have any weird dinnertime rules at your house?


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