five moms pull it off.

By Real Simple
Updated February 04, 2009
Coral Von Zumwalt

Mary found a way to ensure that her family’s evening meal goes off without a hitch: The foursome eats at the romantic hour of 9:30 p.m. “I’ve gotten some criticism for this,” Mary admits, “but my girls have swim practice at night, and my husband often works late. This is the only way we can all eat together, and that’s important to us.” Fortunately, her daughters, Austin and Claire, don’t have to be at school at the crack of dawn, so they can sleep until 8:15.

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.