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Ground Beef and Corn Casserole: A Cooking Tale

For years I have been the main meal prep person in our house. I have never really enjoyed cooking, it was more of a means to an end. Dinner was the beginning of the end of most days and by the time that part of the day would roll around, my energy level was shot and I was in “git-R-done” mode. In my early years as a stay at home dad, there was very little planning that went into my meals and that was partly because I didn’t have any time in my day for planning and partly because I simply didn’t prioritize.

When I decided it was time to make dinner, around 6:00pm each night, I would simply look in the fridge, freezer and pantry and decide on a recipe based on the food that we had on hand. As we talked about in our book, Zag Zig Parenting, I would have dinner on the table by 6:30 and hopefully Kori would be there in time to eat and if not, her plate could be found in the microwave to heat up when she got home.

I had learned over the years, to constantly stock those things that I knew my kids would eat and that were nutritious enough to serve on a weekly basis. My meals usually revolved around chicken, ground beef, pasta, vegetables and eggs. This left me with many options and by the time my kids were in their teens, I think I had tried just about every combination of those foods listed above. Our rule was that the kids had to at least try whatever meal I had made before they could make themselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or something else. They all knew that this was going to be all I was going to cook for them that night and they most fell in line with our rule.

I do need to take a minute and say that my wife is an amazing cook and she really does enjoy cooking when she has the time. With her busy work and travel schedule, weekday meals weren’t an option for her. She would on occasion make a big Sunday afternoon or evening meal as well as holidays. Holidays were her special time in the kitchen. Menus were planned out, shopping lists were handed out and my job was to make sure she had everything she needed. After that, Kori would go to town whether it was a turkey, a ham, a beef tenderloin or crab legs, and everything turned out amazing. There would be so many side dishes the table would be full of food. Of course there were always desserts to come along after the meal as well. No one ever walked away hungry and there were no thoughts of PB&J sandwiches being made. I came to treasure those meals because they were so good and also the fact that for that whole day, I didn’t have to think about what I would be feeding my kids!

Ok, now that the proper credit has been given, back to the day to day grind of meal prep. You know how my wife made lists and planned ahead? Well she did her best to express her opinion that I should do the same with meals to make things easier on myself at dinner time. Well, I quickly dismissed that amazing idea thinking that it would be too time consuming to sit down and plan the week out and prepare my own shopping list and meal plan. Not the smartest decision on my part!

For several more years, I struggled through dinners and I can say none of my family ever went hungry but also that my meals never got much better. I would occasionally try new recipes that ended with mixed results. If I came up with something that the majority of the family enjoyed, it would join the rotation of meals. Most times my new concoctions were met with “It’s ok,” or “To be honest dad, I really don’t like it,” or “It’s kind of bland.” I could go on but you get the picture, I had some harsh critics.

One night when we had all the kids home but Kori was out of town, I was extremely challenged to get a meal together as we had a really busy night ahead of us. I still hadn’t embraced the “planning ahead “ for meals and the places I go for my meal prep were more bare than usual. I came up with my plan and went with it because what else was I going to do. 20 minutes later the kids were all getting hungry waiting for dinner when I brought it to the table. I can honestly say, I don’t remember what all was in my casserole that I prepared to serve my children but I was satisfied with the end result. Years later my son would refer to it as “ground beef and corn…that was it dish!” They also all can remember my reaction to not enjoying my new casserole and apparently I didn’t give a parent of the year response. I think they all ate PB&J while I ate my “masterpiece.”

The moral of this whole story is plan ahead when you cook. If there is anything you can learn from my failures as a chef, is take the time and make a plan. Have what you need to make each meal. Know how long it will take to prepare. You can take care of so many variables when you just plan ahead. I would say I am certainly not great at it by any means, but I have come a long way from where I used to be. There is a jar of jelly in the fridge and a jar of peanut butter in the pantry, but now they are mostly consumed for lunches or as an afternoon snack. I do enjoy a good PB&J now and then.

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