Making rules, then breaking rules

My mom and I were talking this weekend about the ‘rules’ people follow around food and meals. Most people have a lot of them, whether conscious or unconscious. We can eat this type of food, but never that type of food. In our family, we buy this brand, but never that brand. You can sit on this side of the table, but never in that seat over there. It sounds arbitrary and somewhat ridiculous, but if you really stop and think about the food and meal patterns in your home, you’re probably following way more ‘rules’ than you realize.

I remember a mix of meal time and food rules growing up – my parents weren’t very strict, but there were still certain things we always did. Maybe some of these were in effect in your childhood home too?

Meal time related:

We all had seats that we usually sat in, out of habit. It would be weird to take someone else’s seat!

We all said our special German prayer together, holding hands around the table.

You had to try everything and clean your plate.

Keep your napkins in your lapkins ๐Ÿ™‚

No elbows on the table!

Don’t start eating until your elders begin (I think this was only at my grandparents’ home).

Wait to be excused.

Everyone helped clear the table and clean up.

Food related:

We didn’t buy sugary cereal.

We didn’t buy soda.

We made most things from scratch.

Local, fresh food was better than processed food.

Women were usually the head chefs, but my dad often made the pancakes and waffles.

Susan (my step-mom) usually cooked at high temps, so we all kept an eye out for flaming food and did our part to put out fires ๐Ÿ™‚

We expected dessert. At least a little something sweet!

I’m not saying that any of these rules were inherently good or bad – they just, were. And each rule shaped us, for better or worse. Some of the rules have moved to our new family lives, and some have been left behind.

One of theย rules in my current household is that I’m usually in charge of all things food related. Unless it involves the grill, then M. takes over. So stereotypical, right? Well, I’m happy to report that since our second child was born, M. has been doing more of the grocery shopping, and is moving into the kitchen, little by little. In order to break a rule, it helps for everyone involved to get on board – I have to remember to step back and let other people cook, including the kids!

What rules are you following in your home, related to cooking and eating? How many of them are rooted in your own childhood? Are there any rules that you’re ready to break?ย 


7 thoughts on “Making rules, then breaking rules

  1. My husband and I were talking about all the weird food rules/traditions which surround the holidays. For example, his family hates cranberries, but always serves some form of the berry on Thanksgiving because that’s just what you do. My family, on the other hand, made this particular sugar cookie recipe at Christmas for years. It was “Uncle Dave’s favorite.” The truth was, that “Uncle Dave” hadn’t been around for Christmas in 15 years, and it was a bland, dry recipe which made over 12 dozen cookies which nobody ate. How ridiculous. Another rule my family has is that you always set the table with fork, knife and spoon. Even if you’re having soup. It would be like wearing mismatched socks to only put out spoons!

  2. As I told Elise by phone, I have slowly stepped away from buying packaged foods including soups, broths, rice mixes, even things like Thai Kitchen seasoning packages. I used to buy a lot of cans and jars and boxes to fill the pantry and always be prepared for a quick meal. The exception to the rule is canned tomatoes and enchilada sauce and of course condiments. Of course!
    These days, I cook very simply and not very adventurously. I love reading cookbooks and Saveur magazine, but will not be whipping up a complicated cake or tackling Mexican or Asian dinners that have more than a few ingredients. I know I’m missing out on some taste treats, but the current habits are strong for now.
    I have to confess that most nights we eat in front of the DVD/Netflix monster. I’m aiming to have a few nights at the table each week. As LK and I are home alone together a lot, we talk all day long–breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. I guess the TV gives us a shared activity that isn’t talking.
    We also used to have people over for dinner all the time, as well as being invited out a lot. Since we moved to the north end of the Olympic Peninsula 3.5 years ago, that has virtually stopped. Maybe we got worn out with entertaining or maybe we’ve just been taking a break. I hope to revive the company-for-dinner pattern soon. (We do have family and friends come for weekend visits pretty regularly so get to share meals then.)
    Thanks for the food for thought, Elise!

    • There’s nothing wrong with simplicity as a habit though, right? Especially if that style of cooking makes you feel good and nourished. Same with the evening movies – you’re still connecting…

      You did have a lot of really wonderful casual dinner parties over the years – in Seattle and Boise. I especially remember meals in the Highlands in Seattle – going down to the water with a huge picnic dinner around 4th of July! You and Larry and A.D. should put together a cookbook of all the delicious meals over the years. Or if you send me some of the recipes, I’ll put the cookbook together for you. So many good memories…

  3. I would like to think we have rules, but they seem more like guidelines…One rule is no television on during meals. I recall in The Family Dinner she suggests having special nights where you do eat in front of the TV, and discuss what you’re watching, and we’ve done that a few times for a special treat. I don’t remember many rules around mealtimes from my childhood…sit down dinners didn’t happen consistently–That’s something I feel is so important now that I have my own family. We all sit down together to eat…I’m usually the last one to sit down, but we do all sit down together, eventually.

    Your questions about rules made me think of the book “Fifty Dangerous Things”–>#42 is “Break the Recipe Rule Book” We’ve broken that rule! #39 is “Cook Something in the Dishwasher”…now there’s an interesting cooking rule to break ; O Not sure if we’ll attempt that one, though!

    • Oh, I have to get that book! What in the world could I cook in the dishwasher?

      Don’t know if my friend Angela is reading comments, but she has a pretty amazing story involving a ferret and a dishwasher… (the ferret is still alive and well).

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