I’m all for nutritious meals prepared with fresh ingredients. I cook them almost every night. But I also know that I can get so caught up in preparing a meal for my family that I sometimes miss the most important thing: connection. And then I remember my dad, Bob Stains, Sr., who had the right idea: spend time with the kids.
Dad was a courageous guy who raised my sister and me as a single parent in the 1950s, when there were few models for parenting solo, especially for men. When he came home from work, he always cooked dinner and we always ate together. I know now that he had choices: he could spend a lot of time cooking, or he could spend time with us. I’m happy that he most often chose us.
But a gourmet cook he was not. Hey, it was the 50s and 60s, after all: canned vegetables, leatherized roast beef and instant mashed potatoes ruled the table. But our favorite meal, in addition to ham steak fried in tomato soup (I’m not kidding) was dad’s signature dish: a freshly-opened can of Dinty Moore’s Beef Stew. It was a complete meal, it tasted good and best of all, it was quick to cook.
On Dinty Moore nights we knew that Dad would spend more time than usual with us at the table: talking, playing games, maybe teaching us how to draw a chipmunk face or make sailor hats from the newspaper. We were more hungry for his time and attention than we were for perfectly prepared food. Dad knew this.
So now, every once in a while, I have to remind myself of his example and remember that family time together is more important than what’s on the table. I’m not abandoning my passion for cooking well and I don’t think I’ll be heating up Dinty Moore any time soon. But when, because of the demands of our hectic lives I have to choose how I spend my meal time, I hope I choose as Dad did: for conversation, connection and family.