I have an emotional connection to Shake & Bake.
I know it’s just a package of seasoning and breadcrumbs and is probably chock full of GMOs and preservatives and sodium and whatever else Sanctimommies say I shouldn’t eat or feed my kids but – it lives in a special place inside my heart.
When I was a little girl (my whole life, actually) both of my parents worked outside the home. My mother worked as an outside sales representative and would drive all day visiting customers and leads in her territory. My father worked for the City and would commute 1.5+ hours each way in LA traffic (he still does this by the way, 29 years total. don’t ask me how his brain hasn’t turned to scrambled eggs yet). He would leave before we woke up in the AM and he wouldn’t return until the evening (or later). So most of the time, mom was operating solo.
She would wake us up, dress us, feed us, pack lunches, get herself ready for work and drop us off at school before starting her day. She would pick us up from our Grandma’s house around 5PM every evening and we would head home so she could start dinner. The woman cooked every night. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes she would cruise through McDonalds on the way to a cheerleading practice and she loved to order Pizzamania on Fridays (or days my dad would be working extra late) – but most of the time, we ate a home cooked meal at the table.
I have ribbed my mother endlessly throughout the years, because she would usually make the same 5-7 dinners on a rotation. Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Ground Beef Tacos, Crock Pot Roast with Veggies and Potatoes cooked in the beef drippings, Pizzamania, Shake & Bake – AND REPEAT.
She would always say that she couldn’t cook. Even though everything she made always tasted good, we believed her.
It wasn’t until I became a working mother myself, that I finally understood.
I understood the love and dedication that went into that Shake & Bake Dinner. I understood the beauty of it’s simplicity, and convenience. I understood the pressure she must have felt to prepare a meal for her family, no matter how tired, frustrated or stressed she was. I understood that after toggling back and forth between mother and professional woman for the past 12+ hours with little to no help, it probably felt amazing to be able to rip open a packet of Shake & Bake and have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. I have to shake my head at 9 year old me, at wonder why it didn’t occur to me then. She wasn’t a bad cook. She was a good mother.
So the other day, while grocery shopping for my own growing family, I happened to come across a box of Shake & Bake. Overcome with nostalgia, I threw it in my cart and went home. Later that evening, I ripped open the packet and dumped its contents into a large Ziploc bag, then threw in a few chicken breasts – and shook. I shook out the day’s little annoyances, I shook just as my mother had almost two decades prior, I just shook. Then I put on a pot of plain white rice and opened a bag of frozen green beans – just as she did.
As the smell of that juicy, delicious chicken baking filled my kitchen I began to feel my eyes well up with tears. Tears of happiness, tears from happy memories of a childhood spent eating dinner with my family at the kitchen table, but mostly – tears of gratitude for mother for teaching me that even on the days when you’re tired, stressed, overworked and overwhelmed – you’re still superwoman. Sometimes all you need is a packet of Shake & Bake.