The effects of the downturn in the economy are far-reaching, sending me way deep in to my kitchen in a way I never even saw coming. And I’m not really happy about it. But I’m managing.

My kids, 10 and 12 years old, started back to school on Tuesday and, after a summer in which both of them grew and matured some, I’m realizing that now more than ever I need to feed them better. Really good, healthy, well balanced meals. A bowl of pasta with butter and cheese will not cut it. Nor will a few slices of pizza. They need that plus some protein plus a vegetable. I know. I’m educated. My mother made homemade granola for me and my brother when we were their ages. And she made us drink protein powder milkshakes every morning before school with raw egg in them. She also made us the best deep fried boneless chicken breasts coated in honey and bread crumbs, in the Fry Daddy. Okay, not so healthy, but really amazing tasting.

And it’s not that my kids are poorly fed. At least not when my husband is cooking. They love almost everything that their stepfather makes for them. The variety, the wackiness, the dishes created just for them. It’s the same way he cooks for me. Like having a personal chef, without having to pay monetarily. But the man owns a restaurant. A popular one. And one that, in this economy, is very busy because it is priced right, and is fresh and healthy. He’s been working a lot of nights. Days too. So he’s not around to feed us. He’s feeding our whole town instead.

So, I have to step up to the stove and cook for myself and, more importantly, the kids. I’m not a good cook. And I don’t really enjoy cooking. One of the (many) reasons I married my second husband is that he is a phenomenal cook. But it’s my parental duty. And it does make for some comedy.

Last week, when my kids returned home from a two week vacation with their father, I made them their favorite meal. Flank steak marinated in teriyaki with home-made twice baked potatoes. They love those two things. And I threw in an easy stir-fried coleslaw cabbage dish that my cousin concocted and put on her blog. I loved the concoction, my daughter loved it but my son did not. This frequently happens: one kid likes a dish and the other does not. Broccoli for the boy but not for the girl. Sweet potatoes for her but not for him.

But I cooked the flank steak on the grill and not only did I torch it but I also had to yank it off the grill in places where it was stuck. Really stuck. I trimmed off the burnt outside of the steak and served it to the kids and they were happy. They told me it was really good. They can be so kind.

Monday night was the night before the first day of school. And again, I wanted to make something special and healthy. My husband had made an Indian spiced skirt steak over the weekend that everybody loved and the steak was still on special at Publix. So I figured I would make that (yes, red meat again), some jasmine rice and my “famous” stir-fried zucchini. But this time, I wanted to get the steak just right. So I called my husband at work and he gave me explicit instructions (rub with oil, spices, cook 5 minutes on one side and 3 on the other). But the meat still got torched. I was so bummed. Yet again I had to cut the burnt outside off of the steak but skirt steak is so thin to begin with that there really was not a whole lot of meat. But there was plenty of rice and zucchini. And the kids still ate it.

On Tuesday night, after the first day of school, my husband was working again. Still wanting to provide well balanced meals for my children, I stopped at the store to pick up chicken, cauliflower (another favorite) and pizza crust for a cheesy bread recipe. I had decided to BAKE the chicken. A novel idea in our South Florida house where we grill almost all of our meats. But I’m done with the grill. (It doesn’t like me. It’s old. Somehow though, it works wonders for my husband.) And I was feeling nostalgic, thinking back to all of my first days of school. I wanted to make Shake and Bake. My mom used to make it. And it looks pretty hard to screw up. And I remembered the commercials where the kids say “And we helped!”? And maybe mine would.

My husband called me two minutes after I left the grocery store with all of the ingredients and told me that he didn’t have to work and was going out to dinner with a friend but would be happy to cook for me and the kids before he went out. What??? I told him I had just bought ingredients for dinner and when he asked me what I was making I sheepishly said “Shake and Bake”. I was embarrassed. My husband is the Chicken King. Not only does he own a restaurant but the specialty of that restaurant is rotisserie chicken. He guffawed so loudly that I had to hold the phone away from my ear.

So, he went out for his Mexican food with a healthy side of Margaritas. I made my retro housewife Shake and Bake chicken dinner. My daughter helped. Nothing was burned. And both kids loved it. They had seconds and thirds of the chicken. Ate all of the roasted cauliflower and multiple pieces of cheesy bread. I think I’ve found my cooking niche. I’ll definitely make Shake and Bake again. If I have to. Or I could just get take-out from my husband’s restaurant. Everyone else does.