This notoriously cheap and tasty dish, loved by undergraduates and toddlers everywhere besides Berkeley, has re-branded itself, smacking the word SMART across its boxes, in addition to a promise to provide a helping of either vegetables, fiber or omega 3. I’m naturally drawn to all things cheap, easy, and tasty, but then add words SMART and well, you had me at cheap.
Kraft Dinner is a formidable favorite of mine left over from my student days, when hitting two food groups in one meal for 99 cents was only trumped by the cheap beer at J.J. Rossi’s every Tuesday night. And to this day, KD (as it is affectionately known to all who consume it) is a runaway favorite when nursing a hangover. Try it, and thank me later.
But MOST importantly, it is liked by all three of my children, and that has only ever happened with chocolate and root beer, naturally making me suspicious of its nutritional content. Since it takes about 3 minutes to whip up a lunch of KD, from a time management aspect alone I want to love the stuff. I could really use a break from my children complaining about the healthy food I give them – There are too many seeds in this bread! Why doesn’t this peanut butter taste like peanut butter? Can’t you put sugar instead of a banana in my smoothie?
I get a fair bit of flack every day for toiling over their meals. It is crazy to want to provide your kids with a healthy diet, after all. Drives. Me. Insane.
So sue me – I got a bit excited by the SMART marketing. I purposely avoided reading the labels – I suspected the fine print would only reveal a dish that was still, for the most part, unhealthy. I even got creative and bought all three different boxes and combined them into one dish, so my kids would get a serving of vegetables, fiber, and omega 3 in one, painfully orange, highly processed blob.
No surprise, they loved it. Licked their bowls clean. Why don’t you make this for us all the time?
Unable to stand the suspense any longer, I grabbed the box and read the fine print. The vegetable serving they promise amounts to half a serving of vegetables (my ten-year old is supposed to have 6 servings a day), and it comes by way of a cauliflower powder. It’s hard to imagine, all chemistry aside, how many nutrients can be left of the cauliflower once it has been processed into a fine blend of dust and mixed with processed cheese.
As I peeled carrots, I told them sadly, KD would remain in the “seldom consumed” category. Damn you, Kraft Dinner, I really wanted to invite you into my life again. Parting is such sweet sorrow – so, until the next hangover.
With disdain, I noticed the bowl of red, foil-wrapped hearts at the grocery store check-out. My craving for chocolate was quickly suffused by my distaste for the upcoming excuse of a holiday. The one that involves copious amounts of red and cupid. I can’t say ‘Valentine’s Day’ without using the sneering tone that Seinfeld reserved for greeting his unwelcome acquaintance, Newman: Hello, Valentine’s Day.
It’s not that I’m anti-romance. My inherent condescension is because Valentine’s Day is the least romantic day of the year, and so it’s with a curled lip and a prolonged eye-roll I greet the buckets of red roses adorning storefronts – at a mere double the normal cost. As you know from my rant from last year, I have very little time for anyone who succumbs to this artificial excuse to buy a box of heart-shaped candy – unless it’s for your kid. Ah, there’s the rub. I just had a light bulb moment. I’ll get back to that in a moment.
With such unabridged and full-throttled cynicism, you might think I am either a jilted lover, or single. Or suffered a debilitating embarrassment one February 14th. Which I’m not, and haven’t, respectively, unless I’ve put such an incident in the back recesses of my mind, never to be thought of again, which is entirely possible.
Reflecting on Valentine’s past, I have some surprisingly beautiful (can I say heart-warming?) memories. In elementary school, which really was its heyday, since it involved chocolate with absolutely no guilt, my brown paper bag overflowed with heart-shaped Mickey and Holly Hobby valentines (and this at a time when giving each kid in the class a valentine wasn’t mandatory, merely encouraged). I would return from school to find a valentine, personally penned by my dad, and attached to an extra-large KitKat bar – only he knew the way to my heart was a mixture of handwritten adjectives and chocolate. In high school I received enough candy grams delivered to my classrooms to signal I was firmly in the middle of the popularity pack: not quite head table material, but permitted to enter the cafeteria, at least. In university, there was always a boyfriend to take me out to dinner, and not all of them were convicts. Losers notwithstanding, my dance card was full, and when you’re twenty this is important.
The evidence speaks for itself: at one time in my life, I had a childlike anticipation for Valentine’s Day that has been replaced with scorn. What’s happened in the interim, besides twenty years of marriage? Note I didn’t say wedded bliss, because those two words should simply never appear side by side.
Any parent knows an upcoming event – fabricated by Hallmark or otherwise – means one thing: a longer list of errands. To the groceries and laundry and cooking add a box of valentines for each child, chocolates to go with them (parents new to kindergarten, take note, we don’t only give cards these days), and then either 24 cupcakes or a fruit platter, depending on the teacher. The sight of that longer than normal list makes me cranky, but what makes me insanely mad is returning with my hard-purchased boxes of valentines only to learn that Spiderman cards won’t cut it for any of my girls, neither will Dora the Explorer, Barbie, or horses.
So when my youngest child insisted on making her cards this year, and this sentiment was readily and strangely agreed upon by her sisters, who rarely agree on anything, I could only do one thing. Hightail it to the local craft store.
Lo and behold, I’m back to the rub. It is my kids who have restored my faith in Valentine’s Day. As I toiled over our dinner (salmon, undercooked) and dessert (chocolate cake, which refused to leave its cozy pan so it was more like chocolate clump), my kids whistled away, cutting and pasting pink and red doilies. Besides the “stop copying me!” complaints, it was like a Norman Rockwell painting unfolding before my eyes.
Of course there’s a price to pay for being a regular Martha Stewart, to the tune of one thousand percent more than I would have spent on a box of SpongeBob valentines. But the value of not having to return the errant box of valentines to the store? Priceless.
Family harmony goes a long way. Building on the enthusiasm of my kids, I’m not hating Valentine’s Day this year; but I’m still opposed to the proliferation of florist rape and anything red velvet.