Eat and Run

It's a common weekday refrain in our house: "What about dinner?"

On the surface, it's a simple question. But like examining the back of a soup can, the ingredients can be a little more complex.

Begin by understanding that in our house, like many in Northeast Ohio, the query has very little to do with its 1950s sitcom cousin, "Honey, what's for dinner?" That implied a level of certainty about dinner. It was happening. The real mystery was what might be waiting on the table: meatloaf, steak, fried chicken, spaghetti.

No, our more modern quandary doesn't make any assumptions. Dinner itself is a question.

Like many others, we're a dual-income household. My wife and I frequently work late. She has a 45-minute commute with our daughters every day. And by the time either of us gets home, one of the three kids usually has to be at practice or class or wherever within a half-hour or less. So, dinner • um, right. You start to run through the mental checklist of questions: When was the last time we went shopping? What's left in the fridge? Will the kids really eat that? Can it be made in time for everyone to get where they need go? Wouldn't it just be easier to pick something up?

Often, that's the McTrump card. And not just for us.

Thirty-five percent of an American's total food energy consumption is provided by the "food away-from-home sector," according to the USDA's most recent food intake surveys. That's up more than 20 percentage points from the same figures 30 years ago.

Think about that for a second. Every man, woman and child in America consumes the equivalent of one meal a day from a restaurant, fast-food joint or carryout place. And because those meals are often higher in calorie count, salt, fat and other dietary no-nos, they also contribute disproportionately to our growing disproportion.

So, what about dinner? At our house, that's meant cooking bigger meals on the weekends so we can reheat leftovers during the week, using the slow cooker, or making quick-and-easy soup and salad combos. But it also still means nights with Styrofoam containers, pizza boxes and plastic utensils.

So, if you have to ask the question, at least we can offer some fresh answers: 30 places to spice things up when you're left with, "Takeout. It's what's for dinner."

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