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What’s for Dinner? Tackling Jewish Guilt at the Dinner Table

A Jewish mother buys her son a red shirt and a blue shirt. He puts on the red shirt. “What, you didn’t like the blue one?” We all know this classic stereotype of Jewish guilt. But, today’s Jewish mom guilt comes in a different form. We don’t make others feel guilty — we are busy enough making ourselves feel guilty about not living up to our own ideals, often for our children. For me, the new guilt manifests itself, when I’m so busy working and taking care of the house that I forget to plan a nutritious dinner. On a recent evening, I had to resort to a mall food court dinner consisting of Hi-C and French fries.

While all parenting responsibilities are powerful, it is the food that I serve my kids that brings the guilt on — that evening, it clung to me like the smell of the food court. I don’t feel that bad about mismatched socks, wrinkled clothes, or a toy bomb in the living room, but when I serve a beige meal, it tears me apart. I know that so much of basic health comes from proper nutrition and that Judaism values proper eating so much that there are volumes of rules telling us what we can and can’t eat. I keep telling myself there is only so much I can do, but the potential guilt of yet another Easy Mac or pizza delivery is daunting.

What brought me up was an e-mail I received from our Chabad rabbi. In his weekly email, he discussed guilt. It can be a motivator to do something you usually would not do, he said. Guilt also can make you think twice about doing something wrong or inappropriate. Based on his advice, this mom’s Jewish guilt has been transformed into action. While I can’t promise that we won’t ever hit the food court again, I can try to be a bit more organized to avoid another meal melt-down. The motivator has forced me to plan an entire week’s worth of food each Sunday and stock pile certain staples such as canned tuna, frozen fruits and vegetables and whole wheat pasta. Since we only buy kosher food, I know I can’t always rely on quick and easy options such as grilled chicken at fast food restaurants and pre-packaged inexpensive prepared meals.

Here are my goals to fight the Jewish mom guilt:

1) Keep a white board and plan all meals (not just dinner and not just main dishes).

2) Think big picture: One meat meal, one chicken meal, one fish meal, two dairy meals. The rest can be creative.

3) Cook certain meals in bulk. When I make meatballs, I tend to cook double servings and freeze the rest for another meal at another time.

4) Ask grandma to cook a meal for you. My mother has never said no when I call and say the family is coming over for dinner. (Is this Jewish grandma guilt?)

5) Do not feel bad about the prepared section of most super markets. Wegman’s kosher stuffed cabbage is in fact delicious and reasonably healthy.

6) Buy more socks!! It is probably better to cook more than do more laundry.

Since I know most working parents struggle with the dinner time scramble, I am always looking for tips to get better at meal planning. What are some ways other parents plan nutritious meals in advance? Are there certain meals that freeze really well that can be simply heated up? Are there any packaged kosher or vegetarian frozen meals that are actually tasty and nutritious?

Aliza Sherman, JD is a Tax Lawyer and Mother of two small children who enjoys cooking kosher meals for her family.

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