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Making Family Mealtime Work for You

Creating this ritual in an age of overbooked kids is no mean feat. Here's how one mom does it.

By Helen Schulman
Pot on a stoveCoral Von Zumwalt
As for home-cooked meals, what I do is “procure” and “arrange.” I buy precut fruit and vegetables on my way home from work, even though they are a ridiculous waste of money, because when I actually do cook, it means even more time apart: I’m away in the kitchen and the kids are in the living room watching TV. I try to whip up something fast enough (quesadillas, organic mac and cheese) to be able to sit down with the kids so they can eat at a decent hour and still have time for a shower. Or when we’ve really had a long day, I order in: Chinese, Cuban, Cuban-Chinese. I have a glass of wine, and we talk sports and pop culture and the election. I try to dry tears and soothe preadolescent angst. Later, when the kids are asleep, I’ll eat my own meal with their father; sometimes we just pour ourselves some dry cereal and milk.


So here’s my question: Does it count as a family dinner if only one parent is home and that parent ordered in?


When we bustle in after school and after dark, my children sniff the air in the hallways of our building. Some of our neighbors are cooking supper, and often delicious smells travel up the central stairwell. “Mmm,” the kids say, before we walk into our airless apartment with its cold stove. Sure, it would be nice for my children to associate the rich aroma of simmering stews and roasts with coming home to their own house, as I did when I was young. But how is this possible when I’m running all over town to pick them up? And, honestly, they don’t seem to be suffering too much―they eat reasonably nutritious meals, meals bought and plated with love. Most of the family-dinner frustration seems to be mine alone.


So what if my son has his Proustian Mom-moment whenever he inhales as he walks by our local Chinese restaurant? I have made a fragile, pragmatic peace with what we have. At least when I call in the order, I do it with devotion. And, this way, for the rest of his life―be it in the fraternity house, his bachelor pad, or his family’s home, as he frantically tries to feed his own growing offspring―when he opens that front door, smiles at the delivery person, and smells the chicken and broccoli in brown sauce, the kid will think of me.

Read More About:Kids & Parenting

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