There are distinct moments in my life that I can recollect with such clarity that I often wonder if I left a piece of me there to continue to replay that scene. One such time was a cool fall evening as I approached the menu in a taco bell drive through. Buckled behind me were my seven excited children along with a couple neighbor kids all buckled in rows of our 15 passenger van. With one ear I listened to their requests and the other, I waited for the small speaker to invite me to order. Instead it told me;
“I’ll be with you in just a moment.”
I sighed a breath of relief grateful for the additional time to figure out what we wanted. Having a large family, it was pretty customary to allow my kids to choose for themselves and just give them a dollar limit for their order. Some days it would be a 2 dollar day and on really good days a 5 dollar day. Going out to fast food was not something we did a lot of and there many reasons why. The biggest one was budget. It cost a lot to take a family out to eat. but also, I loved family time around the table at home. I knew I could prepare food at home that was healthier and more cost effective than fast food. I also loved the time I got to spend with my family preparing meals. It gave me not only the opportunity to teach them important skills but also to share conversation and spend time being with them.
I declared to my kids that today was going to be a $2 day. The van erupted in excited pandemonium. Not exactly the response I was expecting but then I noticed the new menu to the side, the “value” menu. These items were reduced in price and most of the items listed were the ones my kids were most accustomed to ordering. Tacos, burritos and nachos were all 49 cents each. My children grew up knowing the value of a dollar and rarely spent it on sodas, so for their 2 dollars, they could each get 4 food items. Even the little cinnamon sugar crispy things were on there, so a few of them even chose to have dessert. The little speaker invited me to order, and so I did.
By the time we left the Pick up window we had bags of food. after all there were 10 of us and for $20 we were able to get 10 cups of water and 10 tacos, 20 bean burritos, 5 cinnamon crisps and 5 nachos and a myriad of hot sauce packets to add to our enjoyment.
We drove home and as we did I began to wonder if this should become part of our budgeting plan. If we replace one meal a week with a taco bell super value menu meal, I think we could save some money. As I parked the van in the driveway the sliding door flew open and everyone ran for the front door, then to the kitchen table. Once there, they distributed the food, unwrapped it, devoured what they could then promptly exited through the back door to play. It was like a whirlwind. I think the only conversation that took place was the discussion of who had what food. No one mentioned if they liked it, I don’t even know if they took the time to taste it. Perhaps this is why they call it fast food, because everyone eats it so fast.
It was then that I began to consider what a 49 cent taco really cost me. It cost me time preparing the food with my kids. It cost me a house filled with the aroma of a home cooked meal simmering on the stove. It cost me the added nutrition that I could provide by selecting what went into the food I served and what didn’t. It cost me sitting down to a table that one of my children had carefully prepared on behalf of the family. That to me was like setting the stage for the most important scene of the day to play out; Family dinner hour. Here is where our connections were made. We learned about each others challenges, and victory’s. We would plan for family adventures and even dream of places we wanted to go one day, or camping trips we wanted to take. We would talk about anything and everything. In the spring, it was often around the dinner table that we would decide what we wanted to grow in our garden. And it was around that same table that we would all savor the bounty of our harvest. I decided then and there as I was gathering the pile of wrappers and half eaten 49 cent items. That I would never consider giving up a meal a week even if I had thought for a moment that it might save me something. The cost was simply too great.