Their European dinner hour is a relatively new accommodation. When the kids were little, the family either dined out or ate convenience foods at home. But neither option was very healthy, so Mary took a cooking class to learn basic techniques, including roasting, frying, and braising (“I didn’t even know how to follow a recipe”), and she now plans dinner every morning before work. She’ll go to a recipe site and search for entrées that contain the ingredients she has on hand. “I might have some leftover coconut milk that I want to use up and some chicken,” she says. (Mary keeps a freezer full of staples, like chicken breasts and flank steak.) Later, when she’s on the road for her job (as a compensation investigator for an insurance company), she picks up other items that she needs.
Dinner preparation begins in earnest around 5:45, when Mary arrives home with the kids in tow. The girls help stir and chop, then have a light snack, often cheese and an apple, before their dad takes them to swim practice at 7 p.m. four nights a week. (They do their homework during the after-care program at school.)
When everyone is home again at 9:15, Claire sets the table and Mary finishes up dinner. Then someone fetches Amigo, the family’s bright yellow parakeet, who needs some company after a day spent alone. One of the girls rings a triangle to signify that dinner is ready and they all sit down together―with Amigo happily joining them.