How much effort should I put into teen's vegetarian phase? XP in Blended Families - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 17 Old 04-30-2015, 05:46 PM - Thread Starter
 
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How much effort should I put into teen's vegetarian phase? XP in Blended Families

Full disclosure: I am totally overwhelmed right now by numerous things that are going on with my special-needs twins, who are weeks away from the end of high school. I'm not sleeping. I am having to consciously will myself to get out of bed and start the day, most mornings, and must remind myself throughout the day not to cry over nothing, like that first month after giving birth. (Today, PMS just might be adding to it.) I mean to post about these bigger issues, but they seem so complicated that I can't find the time to put them into words properly.

So the fact that my almost-16-y-o- step-son's new diet feels like a no-win situation for me (or - worse - annoys me) is, I recognize, mostly about me. I realize he's doing nothing wrong by experimenting with vegetarianism.

At best, it's been a challenge the past few months to cook dinner for our family of 6 and keep up with evening housework in general. I drive kids around from approximately 3-6pm. Then, either the twins' tutor works with them at the dining room table (open to the kitchen) from 6 or 7pm, sometimes as late as 9:30pm; and/or I tutor them myself, often until 10pm. So unless I prepare dinner before 3 (and I'm just not always that "together"), I'm making it during tutoring or while doing the tutoring. Plus, I have a 7-y-o who wants and deserves more attention from me than he's getting, right now.

I've always aimed for one meatless meal per week. But my husband doesn't like even that; and the twins (who are athletes) crave their meat, the other days. I dread the thought of starting to make (and do the clean-up after making) two meals, most nights, so my step-son gets adequate protein. But the alternatives don't work:

A) I can be the insensitive stepmonster who doesn't care about him, his nutrition or his chosen diet; making him figure out adding nuts, cheese or beans to our side dishes.

B) I can let my husband do more of the cooking. Tonight, for example, he announced he was making dinner (despite me having already planned and shopped for a meal the rest of us really love). He made calzones, specifically so we'd all have our own individual, customized ones and DSS's would have no meat. That was nice (and gave me the time to post this). But DH works from home and is generally busy around dinner time. Eventually, he would resent cooking dinner regularly.

Also, I'm just annoyed:

> DSS lives with us full-time and, the past few years he's gotten to where he scarcely speaks to me. Unless DH insists, he'll often skip meals rather than eat with me or eat something I cook (even before the vegetarianism). He didn't even tell me about his dietary change; nor bother to decline meat when I've offered to serve it to him, recently. I thought his taking it, not touching it, then dumping it in the trash after dinner was simply part of his general hostility toward me. I'm annoyed by the underlying message that, all along, I've actually been the rude one, with my insensitivity to his dietary preferences; and now I need to get with the program and cook special things just for a kid who can't be bothered to speak to me...and if I won't, I'm a jerk.

> While I respect vegetarianism in principle, it's hard for me not to see this as another phase of the same picky eating he's done all along. When younger, he binged on junk food and made excuses for not eating healthy things, by claiming he only liked name-brand or "exotic" things. "I would eat lunch, if you bought Lunchables. Not the store-brand knock offs. I only like Lunchables," or, "I would eat fruit, but only exotic kinds." So, I'd call his bluff, ask what kind he liked and buy it, but he still wouldn't eat it.

When he revealed his vegetarianism to DH a couple nights ago, DSS said it was to be healthier, not because he has a principled objection to meat. So, why can't he eat - say - the brown rice stir fry I made (before his vegetarian reveal) and leave the chunks of skinless, boneless, baked chicken on his plate? (I.e., the stir-fry was not drenched in animal fat.) But, no. He won't eat anything that meat has touched. So far, this has resulted in DH taking him out to dinner twice, since he announced he was a vegetarian and then making individualized calzones, tonight. Not exactly a precedent I'm excited about maintaining.

And meanwhile, despite this health-food kick, he's not concerned about skipping meals, chugging Red Bull and Monster, nor the cheese, lard, butter or sugar content of meat-free things he enjoys eating.

I feel like the vegetarianism is only partly sincere and at least partly for attention. And, as the stepmom, I feel snarky and mean saying it. Again, I'm feeling snarky in general, about things that have nothing to do with DSS.

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#2 of 17 Old 04-30-2015, 09:44 PM
 
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We've had every combination in our family, but mostly we have had 1-2 vegetarians, and the rest not. The difference is that I've always cooked a lot of meatless stuff, for various cost / health / environmental reasons. But still, over the years I've had lots of experience at compromises and flexibly accommodating both types of preferences.

I'd suggest three things.

First ... Meat In Last. When you cook things with meat ingredients (stir-fry, casserole, etc.) cook the meat in a separate pan from the rest and just let the carnivores add it to their plates at serving time. Or let veggie-kid serve himself from the main pot before you stir the meat in. See if you can find two or three recipes the whole family likes that work easily for you like this.

Next ... Have prefab meat substitutes like veggie-ground-round, tofurkey, baked beans, refried beans, veggie burgers available in the freezer or cupboard and substitute it in for the chicken breast or whatever. Although I've been vegetarian for many years and think there are better ways to cook meat-free, this is a short cut that is worth having available if you need to cook the old meaty way.

Finally ... Get him engaged in cooking, planning and deciding how to shop for meat substitutes. If you're serving pork chops, he should know what's available for him to sub in, and how to quickly and efficiently warm it up for himself in the microwave or on the stove. He should be able to give you input on what to shop for, what he likes the taste and texture of, what is convenient enough for him.

Good luck!

ETA: Unless he's overweight, cheese/butter/other fats are actually fine, especially since he'll likely not be getting as much protein as he used to. Fats are nice concentrated sources of the crazy amount of calories that teenaged boys need. A high carb diet (which is what he would essentially be on if he limited his fats) isn't ideal for various reasons. Too many fats may be bad if you're in your 40's, overweight, sedentary and have borderline cholesterol, but they're fine for most 15-year-old boys! Especially the vegetarian ones.

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#3 of 17 Old 04-30-2015, 11:31 PM
 
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I think Miranda made some great suggestions on easy ways to accommodate him without actually doing very much. Having pre-fabed vegetarian protein sources that HE can substitute in will really simplify things. No more going out. It's time for a Black Bean Burger!


Try to get your DH on board with encouraging his son to prepare some of his own foods.


Once the school year ends, having all 3 older boys take over cooking dinner for the whole family one night would make a lot of sense. (Both my DDs are required to make a meal for the family once a week). This serves 2 purposes -- 1- it really cuts down on how much you need to do, 2 - it's time for them to learn to fend for themselves. Even if each kid makes the same dish every week, they will learn to cook their favorite dish (which is a good skill).


I don't think you are evil for being annoyed. As soon as I started reading your post, I wondered how much of his new food plan was attention seeking because his step brothers are graduating. None the less, buying some Boca Burgers won't hurt anything.
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but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#4 of 17 Old 05-01-2015, 12:09 AM
 
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I think you need to get some help! No wonder you aren't sleeping and are just generally overwhelmed. While the tutoring and daily activities are taking up a lot of your time, try to get some help from the rest of the family during this stressful period. It could even be your 7 year old helping you prep a meal - cutting, washing, etc. Also you should really involve the 15 yo veg. in cooking too. If he is determined to be vegetarian, what does he like / want to eat? Maybe you can make him pick out some dishes that he likes to eat that he will also help with and then you can do as others have mentioned add meat last or serve it on the side.

As far as good vegetarian food, I don't know if your family likes Indian food, but it is often vegetarian and also super healthy. I have included a website that I use all the time, it's really authentic. It does involve a fair amount of prepping - lots of cutting, and requires certain spices (though once you buy them all they will last for a while). This lady looks just my MIL by the way. http://www.manjulaskitchen.com/

We aren't veg, but usually eat meat free meals at least half the week.

It sounds like he is just going through a typical teen experimentation and rebellion stage. It may have a lot to do with stress related to school or friends, or what's going on at home since it does seem a bit crazy right now for you guys.

Just try not to take it personally. He's just a kid.

But seriously Momma take some time for yourself - soon.
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#5 of 17 Old 05-01-2015, 04:51 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by moominmamma View Post
ETA: Unless he's overweight, cheese/butter/other fats are actually fine, especially since he'll likely not be getting as much protein as he used to. Fats are nice concentrated sources of the crazy amount of calories that teenaged boys need. A high carb diet (which is what he would essentially be on if he limited his fats) isn't ideal for various reasons. Too many fats may be bad if you're in your 40's, overweight, sedentary and have borderline cholesterol, but they're fine for most 15-year-old boys! Especially the vegetarian ones.
Thank you for the helpful suggestions about how to adjust!

Just to clarify, no, I'm not worried about him getting fat if he consumes cheese and butter. It was hard for me to understand him refusing to eat healthy things I've made recently, where one could just move the meat chunks to the side of the plate; if he doesn't mind eating junk food (deep-dish, extra-cheese pizza from a restaurant or cookies and pastries from the school cafeteria) that are cooked or smothered in animal fat.

But adding meat last solves the problem, I guess. And if there's hypocricy in his "health" diet, that's really his business. He is a teenager. Everything he does needn't make perfect sense. I guess it's just easy for me, right now, to feel annoyed with any seemingly nonsensical behavior from a kid I'm responsible for, who doesn't talk to me.

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#6 of 17 Old 05-01-2015, 06:12 AM
 
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Just wanted to say that I read your post, have SO BTDT both with the veggie issue and the hostile step-kid issue, and will be back to post but have to get to work!

Great food suggestions so far, that's how I'd handle it too!

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#7 of 17 Old 05-01-2015, 08:01 AM
 
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What about having his dad taking him grocery shopping this weekend and put the two of them in charge of his stash of Boca Burgers (or whatever he wants)?


I'm thinking that if you pick up the stuff, it won't be the *right* stuff.

but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#8 of 17 Old 05-01-2015, 02:00 PM
 
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Bless your heart! There are some great suggestions here that I appreciate as well. Two out of four members of our family are GF and DF which makes meal prep very challenging. A friend just told me about emeals and I am going to sign up this week. Apparently you can pick various specialties ie veggie only, clean eating, paleo, etc and they will send you recipes for dinner meals that actually taste good. Maybe that would help if you had a meal plan each week? Then if you could get a few of the family members to pitch in a few nights a week, you could have a break? I feel for you momma! Praying that some of these solutions help you organize the planning and maybe get some time to yourself.

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#9 of 17 Old 05-01-2015, 02:59 PM
 
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We have a crazy household of a blend of one vegetarian, one must-have-meat-almost-every-night-but-will-be-ok-occasionally-with-tons-of-cheese-meal, one trying to be GF/DF (but not so strict with DF), and other non-picky people.

On the nights the veggie daughter is home, I make meat, a starch (potatoes, rice, occasionally pasta), several sides of veggies, and salad stuff. We have ducks/chickens, so usually have hard-boiled eggs for salad. Veggie daughter will occasionally have a meat substitute, but usually just eats the other stuff sans meat.

I will also make a one-dish meal that includes meat (dirty rice, for example) but just take out part of it before adding the meat.

I decided to be vegetarian at age 13, and my mom bought me a book (Laurel's Kitchen) and she tried to just do what I do now, accommodate me the best she could. Back then there weren't all the veggie subs there are now.

I totally get though, where you're coming from with the step-kid thing. I had two step-daughters for 5 years. I had a very tough time with one of them. Our personalities just clashed; she was the "baby" and was treated as such--she was the same age as one of my kids, but the standards for her behaviour were so much lower than any of my kids, and it was REALLY REALLY hard.

Food issues were crazy too...this child was very very picky, and we ended up talking about the difference between "not preferring" a certain food and "loathing" something. Loathing I get. "Not my favorite", suck it up. :P She ultimately got WAY better about food and a lot of other things, like cleaning up after herself. I don't think she ever was really taught how to put things away (big sister and parents always did it for her), but she really did do a big turn-around after a while.

Ultimately their mother and I parted ways, and I had both kids with me for a year and a half (their mother had some things to work out, and I agreed to keep the kids so they could stay with their step-siblings). Ironically, I think I did better as a step-parent once I was single, LOL. I really tried to connect with her, but it was so stressful. I do still keep in touch with the one SD, but haven't talked to the other for years.

I do think, though, that both my ex-partner and her DD suffer from depression/BPD/NPD, so there were underlying issues beyond just our clashing personalities.

Wow, sorry so long-winded. Anyway, things will work out in the end.

(I love Linda's idea of Dad going to help pick out stuff, that way you're out of the loop--brilliant)
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#10 of 17 Old 05-02-2015, 04:59 AM
 
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When I was a teenager I decided to not eat meat. It was more of an experiment. My mom didn't respect my decision and roller her eyes telling people that it was a phase. So I became defiant about it trying to prove her wrong. I most likely would have gone back to eating it if she was respectful about my decision. It continued so long that I came to a point that the thought of eating meat grossed me out. I still don't eat meat 20 years later.
It sounds like it isn't really about the meat though. It seems like the overall picture. I hope you can get some rest soon.
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#11 of 17 Old 05-03-2015, 06:36 AM
 
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I think many teens are walking contradictions. It's kind of part of the life phase. So to take a stand on one thing but be inconsistent sounds a little normal. They're trying to figure themselves out, so they put a flag out and rally behind it and it is "the truth!" No one can challenge!

I agree with others about just making meat alternatives available--there are soooo many to choose from nowadays, you don't even have to think about combining grains and beans anymore---and then just emotionally 'lettting go' of the whole thing. Attaching your energy to influencing him is partly what fuels the sense of rebellion (if that is even what it is). So by lovingly detaching, you take your part away from it. Easier said than done, I know, but something to think about.

 









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#12 of 17 Old 05-03-2015, 04:11 PM
 
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I'm going to take a guess, based on the tiny sampling of information about your household's food habits, that you and your step son have very different dietary preferences and dietary needs, and that any attempt on your part to acomodate his vegetarianism is going to fail simply because he likes and needs such different foods than you do. You gave brown-rice stir-fry and baked chicken-breast as an example of one of the "healthy" meals you prepared. I have no doubt that it met your needs, but I'm assuming that it was low fat, and with brown rice in it it was definitely high-fibre, so it probably didn't meet the dietary needs of a growing teenage boy, and not everybody likes brown rice (meaning, many people absolutely loathe the stuff).

I suspect that the most peaceful (or the least strife-filled) way forward is for your step-son to have autonomy about his food. That might even mean that he gets his own pans and dishes and that any he doesn't wash get set aside in his own dishpan until he gets around to cleaning them. He'll no doubt make very different food choices than you do, and will probably pay less attention to the nutritional details than you do, but he's a different person with different dietary needs and tastes, and he has to learn how to feed himself sooner or later, so why not start now?
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#13 of 17 Old 05-03-2015, 04:45 PM
 
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He's 16. Time to learn to cook.

Make it fun, bond with him, expect him to clean up after himself, praise him when he does. Share your food with him if he asks for it and sample his. Ask and expect his creativity and effort in all meal planning up to that reasonable point where it is a help to everyone.
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#14 of 17 Old 05-06-2015, 10:01 AM - Thread Starter
 
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How things are evolving...

Thank you all, for so many good suggestions re accommodating a vegetarian and guiding him to accommodate himself.

I'm consciously trying to sleep better; got some nice endorphins from the half-marathon (...and am past the PMS...) and my perspective is improving.

Two nights ago was the first time I made dinner, since DSS told DH he's a vegetarian. Prior to that, DH has either taken him out or jumped in to cook - either customized things like the calzones, or vegetarian for everyone. DSS has loved this, spending more time than usual in the common spaces of our home, chatting with DH, often about food and cooking. He eagerly predicts that the longer DH practices vegetarian cooking, the sooner he'll join DSS and become one. DSS's mom is also experimenting with vegetarianism... A few mornings, DSS has convinced DH to get up at 5am to work out together.

On one hand, exercise and healthy eating is a much preferable way for DSS to bid for DH's attention than destructive things he's done in the past. And wanting attention is understandable. DH worked out of state most of this school year. DSS's mom lives out of state. He's been stuck with a stepmom he doesn't like and 3 step-/half-brothers who get to have their mom around, every day. DSS may even fantasize that he and both his parents are on a health kick together, leaving out the rest of us; that he's found a way to shift his biological family back to the center of the picture. I can't resent any of that.

So, the real problem is not DSS's diet, nor the attention-seeking, only the divisive element of it...and whether DH will let it continue to be divisive.

By the time I cooked dinner 2 nights ago, DH was happy to be relieved of duty. I made a 1-dish meal that's been popular with all 6 of us before, and set some aside for DSS before adding meat to the rest of the dish. I had stepped out of the room when everyone began serving themselves and returned to find "my" 3 kids around the table with full plates and DSS and DH sitting there with nothing in front of them, glaring. DSS had assumed there was nothing for him to eat and DH had decided not to eat, if DSS "couldn't".

I felt so unfairly judged and sided-against by my partner! I pointed out that in the 8 years we've all lived together, I've never done anything that would lead a reasonable person to imagine that I'd feed everyone except DSS. So why would he and DH jump to that conclusion - and sit there with such sour faces, making everyone else feel guilty for eating in front of them - without even bothering to look inside the second pot I had warming on the stove?

DSS still didn't eat, but DH did. Yesterday, DH asked me out to lunch and he brought up that DSS is obviously using his new diet for attention and that it's not sustainable for us to plan meals as though DSS's preferences matter more than everyone else's. On his own, DH decided to do what people here have suggested: take DSS to the grocery to pick out meat alternatives which he can make himself, when he doesn't like what the rest of us are eating. DH assumes the vegetarianism won't last long, once DSS starts putting effort into his own meals. (Not that I mind if the phase lasts, as long as it's handled reasonably.)

Last night, my twins both received a major award during Honors Night at school. The ceremony dragged on until 9pm, by which time our 7-y-o was coming unglued. DH suggested a late, celebratory dinner at a steak house the twins love, with buckets of raw peanuts on the table, where little kids are welcome to throw the shells on the floor. DSS was livid - more so, when I reminded him how huge and mouth-watering their veggies tend to be, how many varieties they offer and that their "Vegetarian Plate" is any 4 sides you want: veggies, starches and salads. I asked if he was open to eating fish and he growled, "I CAN'T eat that!" (like he's ever discussed his new diet with me; or as though it's a strict medical mandate I should know about, rather than a choice. His mother, for example, is eating fish but not meat). He refused to order anything, snacking on peanuts and buttered yeast rolls (which was, of course, much healthier than a salad, I guess), fuming and not talking to us.

When DH ordered a side salad and nothing else, I thought he was pouting along with DSS and I felt angry that that evening couldn't just be about the twins. Then I decided not to help make the night about DSS's diet. If a grown man and an almost-16-y-o choose not to eat dinner, why do I need to concern myself with it? I smiled, toasted the twins, chatted and enjoyed myself - and so did DH. He completely ignored DSS's pouting and was lots of fun. Later, he told me he ordered a meatless salad hoping DSS would follow his lead and order one (and chose a little salad because, after all, it was almost 10pm by the time we ate).

I know it's hard for DH, when he feels torn between one of his kids and anyone else - and he and I have a number of things to work through, now that he's back at home full-time - but I hold out hope that he'll figure out how to support DSS's diet without blaming me for failing to become DSS's short-order cook. DSS can get attention through working out with DH and getting more involved in meal prep. The attention doesn't have to be from making the entire family modify our cooking, eating and dining out habits, to prioritize his.
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#15 of 17 Old 05-06-2015, 01:19 PM
 
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BRAVO for seeing all the complexities of this. Divisive - yes. You as cook are being played to some extent in this drama, even by your husband when he doesn't seem to have his wits about him.

Provocation is an invitation you are free to decline.

Usually another avenue will be found when provocation does not work and in this case it sounds as though your husband is generally doing a good job of directing the step-son toward healthier outlets. Proper honest communication among all may follow in time if you take the high road and continually model the behavior you want to see in your family.

Kudos to you
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YOu know, my family is half vegetarian and half meat eating. We go out to eat all the time! WE've never ever found a restaurant that couldn't somehow figure out a vegetarian option!! Now we've not had a vegan in the house, so if he is cheese and eggless that IS more of a challenge, but I've never heard of that kind of behavior. Salad, rolls, grilled cheese even all work in a restaurant.

Wishing you continued strength through this!

 









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lauren is offline  
#17 of 17 Old 05-07-2015, 09:56 AM
 
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Originally Posted by rachelsmama View Post
I'm going to take a guess, based on the tiny sampling of information about your household's food habits, that you and your step son have very different dietary preferences and dietary needs, and that any attempt on your part to acomodate his vegetarianism is going to fail simply because he likes and needs such different foods than you do. You gave brown-rice stir-fry and baked chicken-breast as an example of one of the "healthy" meals you prepared. I have no doubt that it met your needs, but I'm assuming that it was low fat, and with brown rice in it it was definitely high-fibre, so it probably didn't meet the dietary needs of a growing teenage boy, and not everybody likes brown rice (meaning, many people absolutely loathe the stuff).

I suspect that the most peaceful (or the least strife-filled) way forward is for your step-son to have autonomy about his food. That might even mean that he gets his own pans and dishes and that any he doesn't wash get set aside in his own dishpan until he gets around to cleaning them. He'll no doubt make very different food choices than you do, and will probably pay less attention to the nutritional details than you do, but he's a different person with different dietary needs and tastes, and he has to learn how to feed himself sooner or later, so why not start now?
I am skeptical this could work. Based on information offered it's obvious this child has real issues (divisiveness noted by others). Additionally as pointed out by Farmer, many of these relationships end estranged. It is obvious V-M invests countless hours preparing nutritionally balanced meals for the family (kudos most nights I barely have time to hit the drive through).

Don't get me started on how draining it would for a parent to finish dinner, clean the dishes/pans and have to see the DS's dishes/pans cluttering the kitchen.

It sounds as though V-M has provided an good model for meals and there is just something wrong with the DS and the un-supportive husband.

Although, I do agree that V-M should make all three of the teens and the husband get off their ungrateful behinds and make a meal each per week. They may never appreciate how many hours are spent daily cleaning, doing laundry, planning/cooking meals and doing dishes... but at least it would give V-M a little break.
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