Great tips for making family dinner a success! March 02 2012
These are some great tips from The Happiest Mom on a subject I tend to stress out about the most: DINNER!
- Keep it simple. Let’s face it – for busy moms, cooking shows are about 90% entertainment. Sure, that Alton Brown recipe looks amazing, but what the heck are Grains of Paradise and do they even carry them at my local supermarket? While I’m all about introducing my kids to new flavors, I’m also a realist: they like familiar foods best. My mom served some variation of pot roast, baked chicken, and spaghetti weekly for years, and we all ate without complaint (even if I did occasionally hide lima beans in my napkin). Following her example, I save more experimental dishes for weekends, holidays, and days that I happen to be feeling adventurous and un-frazzled, and the rest of the time we rotate the same 8-10 basic meals. I’ve got those meals committed to memory, I know they’re wholesome, and the kids will eat them: win, win, win
- Embrace the process. You know what makes me grumpy? When I spend an hour or more in the kitchen making a meal, put it on the table with a flourish…and within five minutes everybody is begging to leave the table. All that work for five minutes? What’s the point? At least, it used to make me grumpy, until I decided to make a “kitchen hour” a regular, enjoyable part of my nightly routine. When I make a point to listen to good music or an interesting podcast, chat with the kids, and maybe enjoy a nice glass of Malbec while I cook, it starts to feel like a pleasant nightly routine instead of drudgery. My mom was too busy to spend a lot of time puttering in the kitchen, but you could tell she cooked just as much for herself as for us.
- Learn a few techniques. If you didn’t grow up in the kitchen, you may find yourself avoiding intimidating – but ultimately, super easy – cooking methods like poaching a chicken breast or roasting veggies. But having a small arsenal of cooking techniques at your disposal will make planning and cooking your meals so much easier. Just pick one or two each month to focus on, and keep working on them until they start to feel like second nature (you’ll know when they’re committed to memory, because you won’t feel like obsessively checking the cookbook every thirty seconds to make sure you’re doing it right.) After all, as my mom showed me, if you know how to roast a chicken or make a basic sauce, you’ll always be able to pull off a meal.
- Forget about 100% healthy and homemade. Yes, we all love fresh, organic, locally-sourced produce, but store-brand frozen green beans are way better than no green beans at all. It’s too easy to burn out (not to mention run out of money!) when I try to make every meal a culinary masterpiece created with only the healthiest ingredients. I’ve noticed that when I allow a few shortcuts and less-than-optimal treats, it makes getting a meal on the table so much easier that I’m more likely to stick to it, night after night. I remember that my mom always made mashed potatoes from a box because with her busy life, she just didn’t have time for peeling and mashing. I prefer real potatoes and am willing to put in the time to mash (though I just buy the thin-skinned ones and don’t bother to peel!) but I can get on board with the overall philosophy: maybe it won’t win me any gourmet cooking awards, but serving up some refrigerated crescent rolls with an otherwise wholesome, homemade meal beats a last-minute “I just can’t DO THIS ANYMORE!” run to the drive-thru any day.
- Serve bread and focus on your own plate. Nothing wrecks mealtime like obsessing over how much your kids are or aren’t eating. Of course you want them to eat the veggies you’ve lovingly prepared, but is it worth a fight? Come up with some laid-back table rules – say, they have to try a bite of each food – but if they aren’t having it, don’t let it ruin your meal. I give my mom major props for never giving into dinnertime drama or trying to control our eating habits, and I think it’s a big part of the reason I don’t have major food hangups today, even though I went through a very picky phase as a child. Make sure there’s something at each meal that they will eat (bread, rice, fruit, cheese, etc) and focus on enjoying your own meal rather than trying to control theirs – or worse, offering to jump up and make an alternative. Most kids will eventually outgrow pickiness…especially if they see other people enjoying the Brussels Sprouts while they’re eating yet another plate of brown rice.