Anatomy of a Week

I’m going to try not to turn this blog into The Sporting Life, but — what can I say? It’s where I’m at right now. The girls’ spring games and practices are threatening to take over dinner. Now, I’m not in any way shape or form complaining about this (Rule #49 always and 4-ever!), but it occurred to me that even though my work life ends at 3:00 on many days, I’m not coming home to dinner until about the same time that many of you are coming home from the office. Sports or no sports. So I thought it might be helpful to see how the upcoming week of family dinners might play out.

Monday: Chicken Chili
There’s a game tonight that ends at 7:30, which means we will all walk in the door at 7:45. I think the girls could probably wait a half hour while I put a quick dinner together, but since I’m working from home today I’m going to do my best to cook something later this afternoon. Reheating it will take just about as long as it takes the girls to untie their cleats, remove all their gear, and then not put any of it away in their bags meant solely for this purpose. The plan is to sit down before 8:00.

Tuesday: Burgers with Bulghur Salad and Roasted Ramps (above)
I’ll walk in the door around 6:45 which means I’ll have a good 45 minutes to get something together. I’m thinking it will be basic burgers with caramelized onions, some kind of salad made with the batch of bulghur made on the weekend, and roasted ramps that Andy picked up at the farmer’s market yesterday. Andy has been lobbying to toss those roasted ramps into a pile of spaghetti with Parm, toasted bread crumbs (and perhaps an egg stirred in at the end) but I’m a little pasta’d out these days. Plus, going that direction means making something separate for Phoebe since she doesn’t like pasta, so I think I know who’s gonna win this one. But ramps will be on the menu no matter what because they’ll be wilted if we wait one more day.

Wednesday: Black Bean Tacos
Another game. Dinner won’t be until 7:45, but I’ll be home from work around 5:30, so will try to prepare the bean filling for this one before I have to drop off Abby at her field at 6:00. The good thing about beans is that you can cook them, turn off the stove, then let them sit until the post-game reheat. As anyone who has been following this blog (or who has a pulse for that matter) knows, there is no easier meal than a black bean quesadilla or taco. My friend Elena brought me a big hunk of tangy Queso Fresco from a Mexican market last week and it was just the kind of ingredient that instantly upgrades the entire meal. (Unless you are Abby and consider it blasphemy to add any cheese to a taco that’s not Cabot’s Extra Sharp Cheddar.) For filling: I’ll cook some garlic in olive oil in a skillet then add two cans of (drained) beans, chopped scallions, a teaspoon of cumin, a little water, and smush it with my fork until it looks about right. When it’s time to sit, add the filling to corn tortillas with some radishes, sliced avocado, sour cream, crumbled queso fresco (if you have it) and you are set. In less than 20 minutes, no less! Five minutes if you’ve already made the filling.

Thursday: Meatballs from the Freezer/Eggs for Mom and Dad
Abby and I will be home from soccer at 6:45, but Andy will pick up Phoebe at her practice so they won’t be home til 7:30. I’ll aim to have dinner ready when they come home — not because Phoebe will be starving, but because we will be dealing with deadline pressure on the other end of the meal: American Idol. (Elimination night is a big deal for the girls and it has become increasingly crucial that they watch it live.) So what’s for dinner? Last week I made a big batch of Great Grandma Turano’s Meatballs for a friend dealing with a sick kid (he’s going to be OK, don’t worry) and I set aside about a dozen of them for my freezer. Even though that’s not enough to feed the four of us, it’s enough for two little people which is better: Having their dinner already solved gives me permission to cook the grown-ups something else entirely — something the girls would never allow in the airspace on or around their dinner plates. Which is to say, we can make ourselves eggs. I love an omelet for dinner — especially for an end-of-the-week dinner because it’s one of those excellent repository recipes for wilting vegetables on their last legs. I’ll post an omelet recipe soon, but for those of you afraid of the flipping and breaking, I’d like to remind you that scrambled eggs serve the same purpose without the same pressure. (FYI, book owners: My favorite omelet recipe is on page 114. There’s a good frittata recipe on page 117, too.) Anyway, to summarize: Girls will get freezer meatballs, grown-ups will get omelets. Two totally different dinners, but only one is actually being cooked that night for those of you keeping score. (I always am.)

Friday
No activities. Dinner with my friend Liz’s family. We have no idea what the plan is, and after a week of nothing but planning, I really like it that way.

PS: Today, my friend Shauna Ahern, aka the sensational Gluten-Free Girl, and her husband Danny are coming out with their latest book Gluten Free Every Day and would like for it to spark a national conversation about Family Dinner. Naturally, we here at DALS are down with that — check it out if you get a chance.

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19 Comments

Sara

Love seeing your thought process for the week. My question is when do the girls eat lunch and what kind of snack strategy (if any) do you employ to get you from noonish until 7:30-8:00 on those soccer nights? As a high school teacher, my issue is I’ve been assigned a lunch from 10:50-11:20 which is okay if you have breakfast at 6:30, but sets you up for dinner about 4:00…not good. As my son gets older and after school activities increase, wondering how we bridge that afternoon gap without resorting to a mega snack at 4 and then dinner later with the family…essentially 2 dinners and not good for my pants fitting :)

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Daina

These are my favorite posts! I love understanding how you deconstruct and plan dinners on a weekly basis. I do the same thing (I learned from you and this blog) but it helps to have inspiration.

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Jenny

Sara: That’s a really good question and one that I plan to go into at length in the future, but they eat lunch at noon (the normal stuff — sandwiches, leftover pasta, fruit, baby carrots, crackers/chips) and have a fairly substantial after school snack around 3:45. Though not necessarily always healthy. (Working on that.) Today for instance, one of the girls had a Trader Joe’s hash brown (which is basically a giant french fry) along with a sliced Fuji apple with cheddar cheese. The other had an oatmeal raisin cookie and cleaned me out of my berry supply for the week. (Blackberries & Strawberries.) PS: Chicken Chili is bubbling on the stovetop. Did it.

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Sarah

After completing the survey, I just wanted to say, THIS. More of this kind of post, please! I don’t even have a family, but I have my own hectic evening schedule, and when you lay it all out with time constraints, it makes family dinner– or me and my boyfriend eating something other than Annie’s mac and cheese with spinach salad at a reasonable hour vs. homemade meal at 9:15pm– soooo much more of a viable option. Keep ‘em coming!

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Colleen

I have the same question as Sara and would love to hear more from you about it in the future. Our current strategy is the reverse of yours – school gets out at 2:55, and my husband and I are usually home from work between 4-4:30 because we go in at 7 a.m. So we have a quick, early dinner together at 5 (generally something I make over the weekend or while telecommuting) before heading out to activities. Then the kids have snacks on the way home at 8 p.m. (usually TJ’s almonds/dried cherries or cereal bars). Downside is that dinner feels rushed and uber-early, but we can’t really wait till later to eat – kids need to be in bed by 8:30 because they get up at 6. But we’re always looking for more ideas/inspiration, so please keep these posts coming!

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Kim

Not that you need a pep talk, but when I was growing up we always ate dinner at about 8 pm. My mom worked full time in a demanding banking position and that was as early as she could swing it. I always thought it was weird when I would visit friends and they would eat at 5 or 6. I look back at me and my sibs and we turned out OK. It makes me feel much less guilty about our current 7:00-7:30 family dinners. The “richness” is worth it!

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Maria Tadic

That’s so great that you have everything planned out. Although it is a lot of work, it probably makes things go much smoother throughout the week!

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Dana

My favorite kind of post. Plz keep them coming :-) i plan ahead as well on sundays for the week ahead. We are usually home by 6pm and dinner needs to be on the table within 15 minutes for my very hungry 4 year old. One of the strategies that help is flipping dinner and lunch. I grew up on the mediterrenean tradition of lunch being the main meal of the day and dinner is the lighter affair. We packed for lunch today stuffed grape leaves, stuffed zucchinis and braised leg of lamb in lemony sauce that i cooked on the weekend. Dinner on the other hand was a quick fennel/potato soup, chedder cheese toasts and simple green salad

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Beth

Thanks for an interesting post — I am also juggling sports for two kids (tennis), my husband’s work schedule, picky eaters, and having dinner together as a family.

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Tracy

Love to see more weekly menus/plans in the future please! We have a boy and girl doing totally different activities so we often have to divide and conquer, then meet up at the house for dinner. Whoever gets there first gets started, so it’s nice to leave out instructions for the one who’s more *ahem* kitchen challenged.

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Stacey

Jenny- I love this! Spring sports are just about to undo me so reading that I am not alone and getting some good practical tips is great! Also, I have to tell you, I only recently discovered your blog and I am just loving it! So much in fact that I bought and am half way through your book. My husband was very confused that I was “reading a cookbook in bed?!” last night… I told him it was so much more than that! Thanks for all.

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jenny

Update: It’s Jenny. It’s Tuesday night. I ended up making the fettucini with ramps tonight and also a lone burger for my pasta-hater. On the side for all diners: a mixed green salad with grape tomatoes, feta, and a vinaigrette I made over the weekend. No bulghur anywhere to be seen. We ate at 7:30.

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Zelda

@Sara: A full, balanced meal will satisfy you for longer than a sandwich or other ‘snacks’. When my kids ate packed lunches, I would cook a few extra portions of the evening meal, and they would eat that at lunchtime (eg, sliced seared beef with soy, scallion and ginger dressing, sesame-tossed noodles, steamed greens – all OK at room temp, as is roast chicken, poached chicken, teriyaki salmon, Japanese vinegared rice, all types of veg, etc, etc..) They might have a sweet snack at 4ish (cakes or pastries, toast with Nutella, a glass of milk – the French have this tradition, ‘le goûter’, it’s a nice daily indulgence), and we sit down to dinner between 8-9pm.

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Zelda

@Kim: I never knew that’s the norm for kids to eat so early. Does that mean they eat a separate meal before the adults? In Europe (with the exception of the UK, perhaps), most families eat together after 7.30pm.

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Ellen W

Jenny – I’m curious, what time do your girls go to bed and when do they have to be up in the morning? We tend to go the early dinner route (5 or 5:30) when we have evening activities so the boys can be in bed by 8:30. They are almost 4 and 7, so we’re trying for them to get 10-11 hours of sleep at night.

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Jenny

Update: Last night (Wednesday) we had the black bean tacos as planned, but work went longer than I thought so I had to make them after the game (not before as hoped.) We didn’t sit down until 8:10. Abby convinced the babysitter to make some Trader Joe’s shrimp shumai from the freezer before she left for her game — even though she didn’t eat them — so she snacked on them while dinner was being made. She didn’t eat a whole lot of her actual dinner, but she went through the motions. We all sat down to “Idol” at around 8:30 and let them watch until 9:30.

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