When the countdown to our youngest son’s move to Texas loomed, I doubled down on feeding him home-cooked meals.
I worried that he’d soon be subsisting on fast food takeout augmented with chicken nuggets, scrambled eggs, toast, and macaroni and cheese – the only foods I’d seen him prepare.
So, when the three of us sat down to slow-cooker simmered chicken over rice, I was amused to hear Sam say, “Now, this is a classic Mom meal.”
“What other dinners are classic Mom meals?” I asked.
He quickly rattled off a list: spicy chicken sausage navy bean soup, dirty rice, hamburger soup and Mississippi pot roast.
The next night I made sloppy joes.
“Oh yeah, sloppy joes are definitely a classic,” Sam said.
Intrigued, I quizzed his three older brothers to see if I could identify the ingredients of a “classic Mom meal.”
Ethan and Alex love my white chili–filled with chicken, onions, beans, sour cream and jalapenos.
“And the potato soup I ask for on my birthday,” Ethan added. “And beef stew.”
Soups and stews emerged as a theme, when Zach listed, “Post-Thanksgiving turkey noodle soup.”
They all mentioned my meatloaf and Hungarian goulash, so ground beef is a key ingredient. Most of the dinners they recalled are basic and quick and easy to prepare – vital for busy families.
This got me thinking about the meals my mom used to serve.
Mom loved clipping recipes, but she was born during the Great Depression, so thrift was always on her mind. Casseroles with cream of mushroom soup and canned vegetables loomed large. Ditto canned or frozen vegetables on the side.
My siblings enjoyed a dish she called hamburger fluff. It included ground beef, tomatoes and rice and was always served in her big yellow Pyrex mixing bowl. I’m morally opposed to any main dish with fluff in the name, so I was not a fan.
Pot roast or pork roast made regular appearances on Sunday afternoons. She used McCormick Bag n’ Season, putting the meat, carrots and potatoes in the bag and cooking it in the oven on low while we were at church. The house smelled heavenly when we arrived home.
By the time I had kids to cook for nutrition and taste buds had evolved. Now, we know the importance of fresh produce and lean protein. Additionally, Americans have embraced global foods and flavors. We don’t have to rely on Season All and black pepper to enhance recipes.
Slow cookers have been around since 1971, but Mom never used one. However, that simple appliance was a lifesaver for me. Even now, I use it weekly. While friends have embraced Instant Pots and air fryers, I cling to the simplicity of putting goulash ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning and coming home to a delicious meal after work.
In the month since we’ve been empty-nesters, Derek and I have tried a couple of cook-and-eat meals from the grocery store. They failed to impress.
“This just doesn’t taste the same,” he said, after sampling store-prepared pork chops.
Maybe the most important ingredient in a “classic Mom meal,” is that it’s homemade and filled with love for the family it feeds.
Diet cola sloppy joes
1 pound extra lean ground beef
1 medium onion
1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup diet cola
⅔ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dry mustard
Brown beef and onion in large skillet. Drain well. Stir in remaining ingredients as listed. Mix well. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.
Serve on hamburger buns topped with shredded cheese and diced onion.
Note: This is supposed to serve six, but I always double it for our family.
Cindy Hval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available locally at Auntie’s Bookstore, Barnes & Noble locations and on Amazon.