“Some people have the skill set but can’t get out of their jobs in time to cook,” said Jenny Rosenstrach, author of “Dinner: A Love Story” (Harper Collins, $27.99) and the blog of the same name. “Other people have no idea how to cook and rely on store-bought things regularly, and feel bad about it. Other people feel so much pressure from the conversation about food that’s going on right now: It can’t just be dinner, everything has to be sourced and sustainable and local and organic. And some people have all three issues.
“It’s this perfect storm of problems and insecurities that shouldn’t be there.”
Exactly how do you get food on the table in a timely fashion? How do kids become adventurous, not picky, eaters? How can conversation be easy, and table manners and chores seem routine? What are the rules governing dessert? Here are suggestions to make dinner a meal you want to come home to.
1. Hatch a plan
The first obstacle is planning a meal and getting it on the table before your children turn into hunger-crazed monsters.
For Rosenstrach, the answer is to have a menu for the day or the week and prepare as much as possible ahead of time. She also suggests pushing dinner back until 7 p.m. or later in the evening (after fortifying the kids with a healthful snack, such as chips and salsa) so everyone can sit down together.
“Think about dinner in the morning, even if it’s just a couple of seconds to decide what you’re going to make, or chop an onion, or set a pot of water on the stove,” Rosenstrach said. “Just get the momentum going. Get all the ingredients out and put them on the counter. Somehow all those little things take five times as long at night, or at least it feels that way.”
Two years ago, Jennifer Folsom of Alexandria came up with a way to make the planning and preparation easier. She recruited three neighborhood moms, Carrie Van Brocklin, Gina Almeida and Ofa McGinley, to join her in what they call the “Bus Stop Meal Swap.”
Each mom takes one day a week and cooks for the four families (20 people in all). Then, when the four moms pick up their children at the bus stop in the afternoon, the day’s assigned cook distributes the food in reusable bags and containers.
“I only go to the store once a week and only cook once a week,” McGinley said. “It saves a lot of money, time and gas, and it’s less cleaning.”
2. Conquering picky eaters
Before Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss, owners of the Web site Meal Makeover Moms, wrote “No Whine With Dinner” (M3 Press, $24.95), they did an informal survey to find out what parents thought was the top obstacle to having a pleasant family dinner. “Picky eaters” was the answer from 61 percent of the more than 600 responses.