15 Realistic Recipes to Feed Your Family in an Apocalypse

The pandemic continues, Oregon is on fire along with the rest of the West, and even though the fire a couple miles from our house is now 75% contained (THANK YOU, FIREFIGHTERS!), my brain is broken. Just totally kaput. Zero percent battery, and I forgot where I put my brain charger. 

I was feeling badly about this, as though my inability to get anything done is proof that I’m a lazy sack who doesn’t deserve the air I breathe, even though that air is currently full of smoke and so dense we could chew it. But then several friends reminded me that our brains and our bodies are reacting exactly as they were built to do. There are fires in our forests. Visibility is shot due to opaque air. We’ve been at a heightened state of emergency for six months. OF COURSE WE’RE EXPERIENCING MENTAL SHUT DOWN. Our bodies are priming us to fight or flee. Our brains don’t need to form complete sentences right now. They don’t need to do anything other than basic survival. 

Nevertheless, because I am a frickin’ heroI made three new recipes for dinner this week. And because I know you, too, sometimes need dinner ideas, I shall graciously share them with you.

When my darling children whom I love more than life itself asked what was for dinner, I made:

1) Why Do You Ask Hard Questions?

Ingredients: Plastic container of smooshed limited edition powdered pumpkin donuts from the grocery store bakery section.

Instructions: Eat 4 of the 6 while doom scrolling Facebook for forest fire updates and leave everyone else to fend for themselves. If they want limited edition powdered pumpkin donuts from the grocery store bakery section, they can fight you for the 2 that are left.

2) It’s Like You Don’t Remember Where the Cereal Is

Ingredients: Five boxes cereal from Grocery Outlet (or other discount grocery store) that sounded Not Horrible, all open, all stale, and one half-gallon expired nonfat milk.

Instructions: Tell the humans in your house There Is, Too, Plenty of Food and you are ABSOLUTELY NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, buying more cereal until they finish what they already opened. They will eat Lean Cuisine Vermont White Cheddar mac and cheese they microwave themselves — leaving every bit of trash from those meals on the counter directly above the garbage can — except for the one child who (incorrectly) thinks the Hostess Twinkies cereal is awesome. Also, you will, too, buy more cereal before those boxes are finished because you’re a sucker and that’s how you roll.

3) IDK, What Are You Making Me?

Ingredients: Nothing.

Instructions: None needed, because no one is making me anything. I’m on my own. Am currently choosing between frost-bitten green tea ice cream and the dregs of the pretzel bag. It is what it is.

And, because sometimes we need more than just three recipe ideas, I asked my friends what they’ve made for their families this week, as well. Here are their contributions to your dinner table:

4) For the parent of teens: The last three days, I’m like, “Here’s some granola bars and beef jerky. I’ll be in the living room eating a bag of chips and stress scrolling on FB.” — Heidi

5) For the health conscious parent: Find a protein. Find a carb. Eat something that actually grew in a tree or in the ground. — Aj

6) For the parent of toddlers: i’ve prepared “my toddler will only eat four things and i’ve given up here are some chicken nuggets for the third time this week at least you’re putting protein in your body” so many times i’d go so far as to say it’s my specialty. note: do not recommend this recipe to sanctimommies. they will judge you and instead tell you to make “eat what i make or starve” and then judge you more. — Laney

7) For the parent diligently preparing her children for the future: My favorite thing for dinner is whatever leftover thing that isn’t growing something on it you find for yourself and microwave for yourself and clean up for yourself. I do cook on occasion, but every. dang. night? No, thank you.  How will they ever survive if they don’t practice discerning which leftovers are still edible and which might leave them on the bathroom floor for the night? The time is NOW. #lifeskills — Hillary

8) Illusion Pasta
Ingredients: A seemingly full container of left over pasta and sauce from dinner two nights ago.

Instructions: See Illusion Pasta in fridge and declare it to be ‘left over night’ because there was plenty from the prior meal to feed everyone. At dinner time, open the Illusion Pasta container only to discover the middle child DUG ALL THE PASTA OUT OF THE MIDDLE and there’s maybe a half a cup left just clinging to the sides so it still *looks* full when you see it in the fridge. Declare everyone to be on their own and go eat a bag of Doritos in the living room with a bad Netflix show.  Note: You can use your favorite pasta, sauce, and child assistant and substitute your own chip flavor as needed. — Andrea

9) For the parent who wants to ensure her children have a well rounded diet with all the food groups: 

Ingredients: Popcorn contains all the food groups.

Instructions: Put popcorn in air popper and melt a stick of butter. Considered both carb and vegetable, popcorn also has protein and fiber! It’s a whole grain. Success, you’ve included all of the food groups in one meal. Plus, since fat is good for you now, make sure to melt a whole stick and salt vigorously. Repeat as needed until full. — Maryl

10) I Don’t Got This Tonight: I made I Don’t Got This Tonight, and when it arrived it looked suspiciously like Subway. — Tamara

11) Grilled Pizza Cheese Sandwiches: Was able to scrounge expired pepperoni and half jar of grocery store sauce to make “grilled pizza cheese sandwiches” for lunch. Kids dubious there is enough food in house for dinner. Husband tells them “I work tonight, Mom will probably order you a surprise for dinner.” Follow me on Pinterest for more tips. — Stephanie

12) Go Make Pancakes: I dont know? Go make pancakes. I taught you to make pancakes didn’t I?” This is valid any time of the day. — Jenniffer

13) Surprise Dinner: On more than one occassion I’ve announced tonight’s the night for Surprise Dinner(tm) as in “Surprise! There is no dinner!” It’s usually as big a hit as you can imagine. — Beth

14) Highbrow Foody Dinner: I’m usually all foody and health conscious but Wednesday dinner was rocky road ice cream and Pinot gris. — Jenny

15) For parents who care about their kids’ education: 

Ingredients: Frozen corndogs, frozen chimichungas and burritos, frozen fish sticks.

Directions: read what the box says and do it. For young kids it can count as homeschooling – reading with a comprehension test. Pass food is good, fail it sucks but you have to eat it anyways. Helps spure on good reading skills. — Chrissy

Please feel free to add your own favorite dinner recipes in the comments. 

ALSO, let’s be gentle with ourselves. We’re doing the best we can, and we’re not alone, friends.

Waving in the dark, waiting for dawn,

 

 

 

P.S. When I said my three recipes were “new,” that was an alternative fact. I’ve actually made those recipes for my family thousands of times.

P.P.S. Maryl Kunkel, who gave us her coveted popcorn recipe,  is running for Newberg City Council. If you live in my hometown, VOTE FOR MARYL

P.P.P.S. I know it probably doesn’t need to be said, but just because this post is lighthearted doesn’t mean we’re not also grieving with the many thousands in Oregon and beyond who are currently displaced and have lost homes and businesses. You’re in our hearts! I just wanted folks to know that being at a minimum functioning level is OK right now. And I know as a mama we tend to judge ourselves so harshly. Let’s not do that right now. Let’s choose to be kind to ourselves, instead. We’re doing the best we can. 

 

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
16 comments
  1. Beth, it’s been a long time since you popped up in my inbox. I’m hoping you are all safe. Sending a tiny beam of waving light from the other side of the world. Xo

  2. We’ve turned to peanut butter and jelly more nights than I can count. Comfort food. No actual cooking. Less than two minutes and ready to serve. No dishes. I find that matches the energy level I have available to prepare supper!

  3. “You guys! We are having hotel breakfast for supper! Like at the hotel!”….on the dining table are three empty bowls, a few half-full cereal boxes, yoghurt and a few apples. And they think it’s freakin’ amazing – not ’cause they don’t have cereal, yoghurt or apples almost every day, but because presented on the table, with the exciting announcement that it’s hotel fare, it’s a fancy ass meal they hardly ever get. Also? Graham crackers are “oooh look! Camping cookies!” (they’re on to me there, the passion is waning). And if I let the 5 yr old make a sandwich out of it, he’ll literally eat anything: cracker, hummus, a few honey roasted peanuts, a slice of pickle and top cracker – down the hatch and a “Mommy, have you ever had hummus and pickle pie?”

  4. I tried a liquid diet:
    dumped butterscotch chips and half & half in a cup, nuked it,
    then huddled in a deep chair to doomscroll while slurping.

    Also, did you know there are Lindor truffles with 70% cocoa shells?
    One can stay alert for fire danger waaay into the night with those lil nuggets.

    P.S. By the way, I NEEDED THIS POST!!! THANK YOU Beth and all. Validation.

  5. Two fail-safe recipes from my week:
    1) Husband finds me crying on my bed and asks what the plan is and I say “there is no plan” and he makes everyone scrambled eggs and toast.
    2)Enough Indian takeout for three days of dinner. Day 1: Eat takeout focusing mostly on fried appetizers and naan which will not be good the next day. Day 2: Curry and rice, but leave a little bit. Day 3: Mix curry, rice and cheese and put between tortilla for what we call a “currydilla”.

    The children will be happier with plain rice anyway, so we just fire up the ol’ rice cooker. Sometimes throw on some Yumm sauce to make it fancy.

    Today my husband fried some stuff and said it would be fine we’d just not eat treats later. I said speak for yourself. This is a no-diet cookies every day week. Making cookie dough briefly distracts the goblins, and they fill up on it (packed with protein and carbohydrates) and then when they refuse dinner I’m not that worried they’ll wake me in the night screaming they’re hungry.

  6. Dare I say it…? Burgers…from a fast food drive thru. With fries and a soda. Or some milk shake like creation. A fast food breakfast works good too. Some sausage and egg creation with a great big diet cola! You get out of the house and see the world in all its smokey glory AND know in your heart that you have “provided” food and sustenance for your kids.

    Thanks to Covid and smoke my family and I have now sampled the culinary offerings of a wide variety of different of fast and franchised foods. Who knew that so many diverse gourmet goodies were available without even getting out of your car! Or cooking! Or grocery shopping! This is a secret that has been kept from moms every where. I think it’s part of a plot to keep women slaving in the kitchen to create so called “healthy food” and “family meals.”

    If your kids home school education now includes what the AQI (air quality index for those of you not living in smoke-n-fire country) means and what level allows outside play, then chances are good you’re probably spending too much time indoors. Do that for long enough and the kids forget about the outside world (short attention spans) and don’t Want to go out. Imagine if Covid and the fires were over and your kids were still in the house all day! Aaargh! So what better parenting tool than to kill two birds with one breath of bad air. Thus, the wonder and the power of the American drive thru food dispenserarium.

    Make the kids get in the car by telling them no food or milkshakes unless they come along. Now you’ve “gotten the kids out of the house.” One parenting star for you. Then while you drive you discuss the horrid air quality and the science of what it can do to your lungs…science. A second parenting star for you. At the drive thru let them pick whatever they want…learning to make choices. A third parenting star for you. Drive to a nearby parking lot with shade and stay in the car…learning travel skills. A fourth parenting star for you. Eat along with your kids…feeding children AND taking care of your own needs. Which takes you to SIX parenting stars! All from one simple activity. If you actually make the kids take all the food wrappers out of the car once you’re home then you can earn even more stars, but don’t ask too much of yourself right now.

  7. Pretty sure my kids ate bananas with peanut butter on it for dinner. With a side of shredded cheese and sliced bell peppers and a handful of almonds and raisins. The adults had nachos, because we are sane humans who find comfort in melted cheese, unlike the 8 year old who we sometimes tell “you will eat a three bites of that pizza/mac&cheese/quesadilla/waffledgrilledcheesesandwich or you won’t get any ice cream.”

  8. “Sanctimommies” – I love it. My oldest daughter was a very picky toddler/pre-schooler and – at 13 – will still not eat fruit that has not been through the apple sauce factory. She can make a cupful of cooked vegetables last about an hour (she thinks I will get bored, leave the room so she can tip it in the food waste). Sadly, she was just preparing us for child number 2 who takes fussiness to a whole different level. We did have a week’s holiday at my parents’ house where she ate almost nothing and made herself ill. Since then, I make a batch of soup the day before we go anywhere and put it in the freezer when we arrive at our destination.
    Why is starving a child into submission considered OK or likely to lead to life-long healthy eating habits?
    I once attended a talk by a child psychologist, celebrity expert on childraising. She was great, so wise, humorous, compassionate – several hundred parents sat rapt. Then, in the Q&A, a parent asked how she could get her child to eat more fruit and vegetables. “Simple,” the guru replied, “Don’t keep cookies or cake in the house then the child will be forced to eat fruit.” You could feel a change in the atmosphere of the hall as the bubble burst and she lost our unquestioning trust.
    On the plus side, we think our children might have great careers ahead of them as wine tasters…
    Keep safe, keep stocked up with snacks 🙂

    1. My daughter has a variety of compounding factors leading her to be a very picky eater…we started seeing a child nutritionist who basically told us the same thing: “When she gets hungry enough, she’ll eat.” I told her that philosophy was what landed us at a nutritionist in the first place because we tried that strategy and she didn’t gain weight or grow taller for a whole year, and she’s small to begin with. Solidarity, mama.

      1. Oh boy. Yup. “When she gets hungry enough, she’ll eat” landed us with a Failure To Thrive and a G-tube for three years. She was also small to begin with (malnutrition in orphanages will do that), and so psychiatrically damaged that she’d rather starve herself and dehydrate herself than eat or drink with Mama (she ate for therapists sometimes). Wooof, I feel ya. More solidarity. <3

  9. If asked, my children (now 22 and 18) will tell people that their favorite meal that I make is noodles and cheese. This is always embarrassing. Because the next question is almost always “Oh what’s in it?” or “how do you make that?”
    It’s literally boiled noodles (from a bag), topped with shredded cheese (also from a bag). Born of desperation when I was a harried, tired,school teacher single mom.
    I swear I make other real dinners! But I still get requests for this.

    1. One of our favorites is chips and cheese—tortilla chips with shredded cheese from a bag sprinkled on top. Then microwaved until the cheese melts. Totally delicious and totally unauthentic nachos. Veg and protein there!

  10. You forgot Door Dash Desperation: that’s become my specialty.

  11. I live in central Mexico (where our COVID numbers are still rising), with a disabled husband. We are still huddled inside because we are in the high-risk category (over 70, my DH has diabetes, a dicey ticker, and bad lungs). I hate cooking, fixing or even thinking about what to have for dinner. So my favorite go-to recipe is KFC because it is the one place we can order from online without having to actually speak with a live person on the phone who never understands us and hangs up on us. We call it Spanish-less Chicken.

  12. I just told my husband: I am not making dinner tonight. I did make salmon burritos/tacos last night with actual fresh veggies.

    Tonight is creepy lit whatever you find and I think I’ll pour myself some bourbon.

  13. I asked my daughter to thaw some hamburger five days ago, and she thawed all the hamburger. We’ve had meatloaf so many times I’ve lost count. The other daughter was sick of meatloaf and made spaghetti last night. The boy is wanting meatloaf tonight. It all sounds like too much, so I will probably remind my husband that he is always saying how much he loves to cook when he gets home from working 12 hours today. The first person to suggest a bonfire I plan on smacking with meatloaf. I too live in Oregon. I never want to be around smoke for any reason ever again.

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