I handed my two-year-old twins their plastic plates—the purple ones with the three sections so no food touches another kind of food. To my son, mixing items would be on par with the zombie apocalypse. It’s also convenient they’re the same color. No fighting over who gets blue and who gets green. Everyone gets purple.
At least we sidestepped that crisis today.
Still, they complained about the tiny pieces of cucumber I tried to sneak in. During the witching hour frenzy, I overcooked the burgers, and sad patties of meat were poked, prodded, and eventually ignored.They only ate a few pieces of potatoes. Potatoes are a plant, though, right? I count that as a dinnertime win.
My husband and I eventually sat down with our own plates, and before we could take a bite, the kids announced they were done. They squirmed in their chairs at the table for a few more minutes, although not by choice. I was determined to get everyone in their seats together at least long enough for us to say a quick mealtime prayer—a goal I used to think was realistic.
My daughter kept taking my husband’s fork and threw a tantrum when she couldn’t have it. Missing her nap earlier this afternoon only made her strong will stronger. She and my husband left the table. My six-month-old grabbed his bowl of puréed sweet potatoes while I wasn’t looking and slathered himself in them. I divvied out more food for my toddler son, the baby started screaming because he was still hungry, and I tried to hold back my own tears.
As soon as I could, I retreated to my room for a few minutes of solitude. Some days you just have to give yourself a time out. There are dirty dishes on the counter and splotches of ketchup all over the table. A thin layer of sweet potato puree coats a good portion of the floor underneath my baby’s high chair. The salads I made for my husband and me sit undisturbed in the midst of the chaos. Maybe we’ll get to them when the kids go to bed—although by that time, I’ll definitely be craving a big ‘ol slice of chocolate cake.
It’s easy to throw in the towel—to think this day in, day out chaos isn’t worth it. Some days, we do need moments of quiet at the table. Occasionally, my husband and I set the table for two after the kids are in bed. I pull out the linen napkins, and we pour ourselves a glass of wine. The silence is beautiful, almost startling when there’s so much noise in our home now.
But I want us to do this family dinner thing more often than not. I’ve seen the value of it from the other side. Looking back on my own childhood, it was around the table I learned to hold a conversation and what it looked like to bring others into our home. I learned what really good home-cooked food tasted like and saw my dad load the dishwasher every single night. Of course there were fights and disagreements and spills and tantrums then, just like there were tonight. Yet the daily routine of meeting together every evening for food, laughter, tears, and conversation forged our family.
So we’ll put the leftovers back in the fridge and save them for tomorrow. Dinner tonight was a disaster, and maybe tomorrow will be, too.
But maybe, by God's grace, over time—over weeks and months and years—the practice of sitting together, looking each other in the eyes, talking, laughing, crying, telling stories, and sharing a meal will add up to more than a sinkful of dishes and bowls of uneaten salad.
Maybe it’s these messes that actually forge our family.
Sheet Pan Balsamic Pork Chops with Roasted Vegetables
Yields 2 servings*
My husband and I originally ate this dish for a quiet, late dinner after the kids went to bed. It was the perfect mini date-night-in. However, you can easily double the recipe to serve a family of four when you want to spend an evening around the table together. Add a salad, rice, or baguette to round out the meal!
For the marinade
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard (I used whole grain Dijon mustard)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 pound bone-in pork chops, about 1-inch thick each (typically 2 pork chops)
For the vegetables
8 ounces zucchini, ends trimmed and diced into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces yellow squash, ends trimmed and diced into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeds removed, and diced to 1-inch pieces
1 medium red onion, halved and cut into 1-inch chunks (it’s fine if the chunks to fall apart a bit)
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼-½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I always like a little extra pepper)
Chopped fresh rosemary for garnish
Add all the marinade ingredients except the pork to a zip-top bag and seal. Shake well to mix everything together. Add the pork chops, and marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
About an hour before you’re ready to cook the rest of the meal, take the pork out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. On a large sheet pan, toss together the zucchini, yellow squash, bell pepper, red onion, oil, salt, and pepper. Roast the vegetable for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven, toss them with a spatula, and push them aside to make room for the pork.
Remove the pork from the zip-top bag, and shake off any excess dripping marinade. Add the pork to the sheet pan with the vegetables, and return the pan to the oven. Cook for about 15-17 more minutes, turning the pork over halfway through. The pork is done when the internal temperature is 145 degrees. (If you don’t already have a digital meat thermometer, I highly suggest getting one. You can buy one for about $10 on Amazon. It’ll make cooking meat so much easier, and you won’t have to worry about dishes going from perfectly cooked to dried out!)
Let the pork rest for about 5-10 minutes before serving. Transfer everything to plates or a serving dish, and garnish with chopped fresh rosemary. Enjoy!
*You can easily double this recipe to serve four people. However, make sure you use two sheet pans instead of adding more to one pan. When you crowd the pan, the vegetables steam instead of roast, and you won’t get the same depth of flavor.