The Dinner Doula

Last year I went to lunch with my friend and writer Lori at Sam’s, a Jewish Deli in the Garment District. At the time I was her editor at Cookie and the goal of the lunch was to come up with story ideas for the next few issues. She is that friend you just want to follow around with a pad of paper and pencil — she’s always reading or writing something interesting and I’m always the one on the other end of the conversation saying things like “…and it’s called ‘Stuff White People Like’ or ‘Things White People Like?'” or “…and you spell Safran Foer…how?”  She is the friend who sends me the stories in obscure journals and websites that she knows I will love (and that everyone will be talking about). When she sat down at this lunch, though, she looked forlorn. After some small talk, her face turned slightly ashen, she leaned forward and whispered to me…

“Can I confess something to you?”

“Of course! Anything! What’s the matter?”

She went on. “Do you know the one thing that I feel the most guilty about as a mother?”

I was a little frightened. She had two kids, at the time ages 5 and 2. What could be so bad?

Too ashamed to look at me, she gazed into her matzoh brei and dropped her bomb. “I have never cooked a meal from scratch for my children.”

My first thought was So that’s how she gets to read the entire New York Times every day! All that psychic energy that I use to think about, shop for, and produce dinner, she channels towards…intellectual pursuits! My second thought, which I vocalized, was “Is that all????”

She told me that aside from the occasional homemade scrambled eggs, her kitchen was a virtual shrine to Annie’s Mac & Cheese and her freezer resembled the frozen food aisle of her local Whole Foods. Her husband was the main cook in the house, but wasn’t able to get home from work in time to cook for the kids, who ate on the early end. Her son, the older one, had always been a picky eater, and though her youngest started out well, she was showing signs of following in her brother’s footsteps. Needless to say, since she is a mother, she blamed herself and her lack of culinary skills entirely for their picky eating.

I wanted to help her. My first thought was to give her some easy recipes that her kids might like. But then it occurred to me that this has nothing to do with the kids. One of my biggest pet peeves in the family food world is reading recipes that say in the lead-in “And your kids will love it too!!!” How on earth do they know my kids will love it? Anyone who knows anything about kids knows that no one can really know anything about other people’s kids. I find that’s a rule that often applies to more than food.

No, the problem here was not the picky eating — the problem was that Lori was seeing each plate of pasta and peas as a maternal report card. And in her mind, she was a Straight-F student. It wasn’t the kid that needed help, it was mom. She needed hand-holding, support…and, eventually some information. You know how you hire a Doula to help mom so that mom can help baby? That’s what we decided Lori needed. So I became her Doula and we came up with a six-week boot camp program for her. The result, “My Dinner Doula” is in Real Simple‘s special issue, Family, which I hope you’ll pick up on the newsstand this month. (It’s a good issue and I’m not just saying that because I wrote for it.) I also wanted to share with you this sausage-and-apple kebab recipe from the story — her kids didn’t eat it enthusiastically but mom scored a small triumph because it was easy and because she made it with her own two hands. And that was the point.

Sausage and Apple Kebabs

18 ounces fully cooked chicken sausage links or kielbasa (you can find cooked sausage in packages in the meat section of the supermarket)
2 apples (preferably Fuji or Braeburn, which hold their shape in the oven)
¼ cup maple syrup
8 small wooden skewers, soaked for 15 minutes.

Heat oven to 400°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Cut the sausage on the diagonal into small chunks. Core and cut the apples into chunks. Thread the sausage and apples on to skewers and place on baking sheet. Brush the skewers with 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup and roast for 10 minutes. Brush with the remaining tablespoons of maple syrup and continue to roast until the apples are tender but still hold their shape, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Photos by Anna Williams for Real Simple.

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Kathy - Panini Happy

I love the concept of a Dinner Doula – I should try this with a few of my friends who would love to cook for their kids but are so daunted by the kitchen. I’ve thrown out a few ideas and approaches that have worked well in our house but maybe a bootcamp is in order! I’ll test the waters by sharing the Real Simple article. 🙂


What a great friend you are, Jenny. I loved this article! I have had a few friends wonder how I manage to get dinner on the table too and I should really stop saying, “It’s so easy!” because how can it be easy to someone who has never done it before? That just defeats them on the spot and that helpful. I should give them a few recipes instead. Like Gwyneth alluded to, just have a few back pocket recipes that you know and love and it grows from there. And it really does. I rely on my backpocket dinners about once a week and rotate them in and out every few weeks (salmon tacos, teriyaki chicken, etc). What a great article, loved every word! Now if my darn book would just get here…


Well, I’m pretty sure *my* kids would devour this. We are big fans of the chicken apple sausage with peppers and balsamic.
The best part about this recipe is I don’t need to print it. I’ll just do it and the thought required will be minimal. Genius and lovely.
Thanks again.


Love the article…just got my cookbook in the mail today. The cookbook feels like a “literary dinner doula.” Can’t wait to start trying it out!

Trish O

my book came in the mail today as well. So glad as I am out of ideas (and here it is the best of our farmers market). I dont think my kids will eat this (they have a thing about syrup and meat right now. Not just together just in general. but i will keep on keeping on


OMG – you are such a rock star. How feasible is it to honestly do this with 2 working parents and a 3 year old? I am feeling more and more optimistic each day thx to you!


Visiting via the Real Simple Family article…so glad I read that today! What a great thing to do for your friend. I have a somewhat picky protein 3 yr. old that I’m working on and a 7 yr. old that eats like a little foodie. I am a true lover of family dinner time and we eat together every night. I try to make most of the meals as “from scratch” as possible and LOVE finding new blogs, like this one, to inspire me. Great work!


Ran in to TJ’s on my way home (5 min).
Prepped this (10 min).
Cooked this (20 min).
Family devoured this (lickety split).

After my three year old ate a skewer and a half (sans skewer of course), she told me, “Mom, you’re such a good cooker.” So… THANK YOU!

Meal Plan Mom (Brenda)

What a terrific idea! I’ve often thought of hosting a series of cooking classes for my friends but wasn’t sure how to go about it. They can’t believe that I truly do cook from scratch as much as I do…and I’m usually in the kitchen less than a half hour each night so nothing too bad!

Love the idea..thanks!

Don't forget the mama

I just had to write and let you know how much I enjoyed this Real Simple article. (I’m discovering it a bit late.) My four year old has said to me several times, “I like it. Oh wait. I do not.” I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I could cook for my young children that they would in fact eat. I realized that it’s also really important to cook what I want to eat to stay healthy (physically and mentally) so I transitioned to making that a priority. What’s finally starting to happen is they will look up from their Trader Joe’s mac and cheese and say, “Hey, can I try the risotto?” I recently made crostini smeared with goat cheese and topped with (garden fresh) cherry tomatoes roasted in garlic, rosemary and olive oil. I had no expectation of them eating any as they had declared on prior occasions their dislike of goat cheese but my two girls succumbed to the aromas and (after scraping off the tomatoes) each consumed about 5 servings with gusto… they then giddily took on the role of assembling some more. Baby steps.