The Dad Cooks: Cowboy Beans

[Cue Mission Impossible theme.]

Your mission, whether you want it or not, is to make lunch for the kids (and feel free to have some of it yourself). This task sounds simple, but there are complicating factors that require a highly specialized set of skills to navigate.

First, you are not at your headquarters. Rather, you will be en route there at 1200 hours; expect to arrive by 1215.

Second, everyone involved in this operation, yourself included, will be, to one degree or another,  hot, tired, and hungry.

Third, time is critical. Other ops that must occur this afternoon are dependent upon the timely completion of this one. You must keep in mind not only the time required to make lunch, but also to consume it, and then to get the kids their nap.

Oh, and there’s one more wrinkle: there is a mobile car detailing service scheduled to clean the van today. I think they’re coming at 1300 hours. You must have all the crap and all the carseats out of the van so they can turn the vehicle into something a little less like a rolling garbage scow.

That’s it! Good luck and Godspeed. Your baby’s diaper will self-destruct in ten seconds.

[End theme music.]

That was the situation I faced when I pulled in to the driveway yesterday at lunchtime. Although it wasn’t what I wanted — and, Lord knows, it wasn’t the healthiest choice — cowboy beans offered an alternative to the sandwiches we’d had for the past couple of days. Best of all, it was something I could step away from while it cooked, which I knew would prove necessary.

Cowboy Beans

Once you get the kids in from the car, dig around for a big skillet while you judge which child needs attention first, based on who’s crying loudest. The baby wins! He’s hungry. Before you can make a bottle, though, he’ll need to be changed out of that poopy diaper.

You’ll need one hand for wiping him which only leaves your other hand left to control all four of his limbs. His feet will have to be pulled up to wipe his bottom but that leaves his hands free to — yep, he’s got his fingers in it. No, don’t put your hand in your mouth! Just hold still while I get your fingers clean. Which, of course, gives you a chance to get your feet into the mess. Leggo the wipe. No, don’t try to roll over! Stop twisting your hips! Just — here, hold the clean diaper. Alright. Let’s get you cleaned up. Man, you got this all over you (please, God, let there be enough wipes left). Okay, let’s get a new diaper on ya. Why is it wet? Oh, you were chewing on it. That’s no problem. There we are, good as new.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, gotta get lunch started and clean out the van.

Go to the fridge and get out the ground beef that was supposed to be made into burgers two nights ago. Mash it up some in the skillet and turn the heat to medium. Actually, since you don’t know exactly how long it will be before you’re back to it, turn it down a little bit.


If you take this moment to head towards the van so you can begin cleaning it out, you’ll be just in time to watch your middle child slip and fall, striking the the bottom of her chin hard on the table. She’ll be okay but needs to be held for a few minutes. It looks like her foot slipped on a doll’s outfit that was left out. As she calms down, deliver a homily on how keeping the toys picked up will prevent such accidents. Then watch your step as you go to clean out the van.

All the toys, games, cookware, and swimsuits still in the back from Memorial Day at the grandparents’ house must come in first. Just put them down in the front room. Now you can get the stroller out and load it up with all the shoes and clothes and baby wearing devices. Push it inside and then go mash around on the ground beef while you check on the kids.

Your oldest child is not downstairs. This is fine for now because it means she’s upstairs where there’s little for her to mess with and she’s not bothering, or being bothered by, her siblings. Your tired middle child has collapsed on the couch but isn’t quite out. Great. The baby, though, is still crying. You didn’t feed him!

Make him a bottle from the breast milk your wife left you. Turn the stove even lower and go feed the baby. While that’s happening, your middle child will recover enough to get up off the couch. She will then retreat into the bathroom where the noises she makes will highlight just how poor a choice it is to serve cowboy beans for lunch. But you’re committed now.

Place the fed baby in the Pack ’n Play (or whatever baby jail you use to keep him safe from his sisters’ affection) and head back to either the kitchen or the van. It doesn’t matter which because you will discover that your middle child is no longer in the bathroom. She is now sitting by the front door in the middle of a mess she is making from the stuff you’ve unloaded from the van.

I turn my back for two minutes and you start up a drug lab?!
I turn my back for two minutes and you start up a drug lab?!

She needs something to do. Put her at the table and give her the closest object that will write and the first piece of paper you see. Turn the stove back up until it’s just shy of medium and stir the ground beef up again.

Go check on your eldest child. She is upstairs, carefully stacking up the empty hangers from her closet. She tells you she is hanging up her laundry. Weird… but not a problem. Assure her she can put away all the laundry she wants, then go back downstairs to the kitchen.

The ground beef is done. Next come the beans. After you open up a can of baked beans and pour it into the skillet, go to the van and remove all the carseats.


Back inside, the beans need just a little bit of mustard and a big glob of ketchup. You know that fancy ketchup that’s so good on the homemade fries your wife makes? Don’t use that stuff. The cheap-o grocery store generic brand is what you want here.

Oh, that may be too much...
Oh, that may be too much…


While you’re mixing that in, both girls will be pestering you and/or the baby. They’ll need something besides cowboy beans to eat, anyway, so offer them some food to keep them occupied while you’re finishing up. Do they want some applesauce or cottage cheese? When they each give you different answers just give them the rest of the sliced watermelon that’s in the fridge. With the girls occupied you can move the now-fussing baby back out of the Pack ‘n Play and let him roam free.

The cowboy beans are nearly done and now require closer attention. Add brown sugar, a scoop at a time, until you have “enough.” Determine “enough” by stirring each scoop in and giving it a minute to cook, then taste the result. You want it to be pretty sweet but not like candy. Somebody’s spilled their drink; snap at the wrong kid and give them some paper towels to clean the mess up with (try to ignore it when they wring the wet paper towel out onto the floor, you’ve got other things to worry about right now).


Cowboy beans also need some heat, at least a little bit to add another note to the flavor. If you have a jar of jalapeño slices, chopping up just three or four slices and adding a splash of juice is all you need to give it that extra dimension. Stir it in while you’re adding the brown sugar; you want to find that balance between heat and sweet while in the tasting stage. If you keep the jalapeño pieces pretty big, you can pick them out for anyone who doesn’t want a hot bite. Obviously, you can add more if you want to turn up the heat.

Unfortunately, if I so much as breathe the word “jalapeño” softly over the skillet my girls will claim the beans are “too spicy.” Oh well, the jar was all the way in the back of the fridge anyway.

Let that cook for just a bit more while you make one last check of the van to remove any soiled clothes or fast food kids’ meal toys that are worth saving. Then serve the cowboy beans to your kids who are now full of watermelon.

Lunch is served... finally!
Lunch is served… finally!

Scrape together a bowl with the jalapeño bites you removed from the children’s servings. You can use it to help revive the car detailing guy after he’s seen the inside of your vehicle. (“Leave the papers that are up behind the sun visors; that’s where we file our bills. Everything else can go. Unless you find a little white shoe. Oh, and don’t forget this stain on the ceiling. I don’t know how they got so much ice cream up there…”)


3 tired, hungry children

1 pound of ground beef that’s probably still good

1 bottle of organic, locally-sourced breast milk

1 big can of baked beans

1 messy minivan

A “tiny” squirt of mustard

1 Pack ‘n Play

About a tablespoon of ketchup, or more

3 carseats

Several scoops of brown sugar — oh, no that was one too many!

Sliced watermelon

3 or 4 jalapeño slices, chopped (not really optional)

Cooking time: about four times longer than it should have been.

3 thoughts on “The Dad Cooks: Cowboy Beans”

  1. Wow!
    Did Cowboy Beans have a place in your family menu before you traveled to southwestern states?
    Putting away laundry: that was a great idea on her part! She wouldn’t have done it if it was your idea. 🙂

    1. Yes, Cowboy Beans predate our travels this year.

      And RU wasn’t so much putting away laundry as she was removing all the empty hangers from her closet. Since that meant she wasn’t really making a mess or hurting herself or others, I was thrilled. All I needed was for all my children to simultaneously not need anything from me for about ten straight minutes. I’ll take what I can get.

  2. Sharing this with my wife. With five grown children, we can laugh about it now. The Dads of our 13 grandchildren may not find it as funny as we do, now. But I’m sending it to them, anyway, with the suggestion: “Take notes.”

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