What's Cooking?

Finding your dinner groove is extra challenging when you're a working mom.

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Dinnertime can be tough for working moms. I'm lucky—my husband is a personal chef and he takes care of all the grocery shopping and cooking in our house. Before we had my son, we would sit down to dinner after work and catch up on our day. It wasn't necessarily fancy, but we always sat at our kitchen table and poured a glass of wine and chatted. After my son was born, my husband still made dinner every night (including a Thanksgiving feast less than three weeks after our son was born.) For him, it seemed the ritual of making dinner helped remind him of life pre-baby; for me, the act of sitting down to eat at the same time each night helped anchor the willy-nillyness of having a newborn in the house.

After I went back to work, it took a while to get into a dinner groove. Initially we tried eating right when I got home before my son's 6:30 p.m. bath and 7 p.m. bedtime, but squeezing dinner, bath and bedtime into one hour—and being exhausted myself—never really felt like it was working. (Plus, I had to skip my dinner glass of wine because I was still breastfeeding my son during the night.) When my son started sleeping through the night, we began eating after he went down. I would get home from work at 6 p.m. and my husband would make dinner while I did the bath/bedtime routine. By the time I finished putting my son down at 7 p.m., dinner was ready—complete with a glass of wine. That worked for almost a solid year (heaven!) until my son's routine shifted to a later bedtime. By this time, we had also discovered that he was a picky eater, but that seeing other people eat seemed to make him want to try new things. So, we recently started 'family dinner' where we all eat together. Dinner is once again at 6 p.m., and while it's nice to have some semblance of a family sit-down, most of the meal is spent telling my son, "Please, just try one more bite," or "Chew what's in your mouth, please," or "No, you can't watch Elmo."

The family dinner is the big idea behind Jenny Rosenstrach's new book, Dinner: A Love Story, which is based on her blog of the same name. The book chronicles the evolution of her own family dinner—from being a newlywed to the working mom of two (adorable) girls. I rarely read cookbooks from cover to cover, but after receiving an advance copy at work two weeks ago, it has been my book of choice every night I'm awake enough to read. Jenny firmly believes in the importance of a nightly family dinner around the table, and I feel the same way. I grew up with a family dinner every night, and while we were never a family that had long drawn-out meals or debated the latest political candidates, it was a nightly ritual that anchored my day—even when I didn't want to connect, like, in any way, with, gag me with a spoon, my family.

In fact, I was so inspired by the book, I decided to tackle one of the recipes myself. This is huge considering that (a) I don't like to cook and (b) I haven't cooked a family meal since, um, ever. So who better to test out Jenny's theory that anyone (even a cooking newbie like me) can make family dinner a reality? If I can do it, you can too, so to speak. I went with Baked Sausages With Apples and Potatoes because I liked the idea of sausage and apples in the same dish, it involved cutting food into chunks (totally doable, even for a newbie) and I could throw it in the oven and get something else done while it cooked.

I was home by 6 p.m. and the dish was in the oven by 6:30 p.m. (Full disclosure: I had a bit of a head start—my husband had gone shopping the day before so all the ingredients were on hand.) My son couldn't wait until 7:15 p.m. to eat, so we didn't exactly have the all-accounted-for family meal I'd hoped for. But, while the sausage and potatoes roasted, I sat down with my son while he ate pasta with pesto (when your son is 2 ½ that counts as a family dinner, too, right?), then gave him a bath and read four books before bed. By 8:15 p.m., I was at the table with my husband, a home cooked meal on my plate and a beer in my glass. I was starving by then, so it was extra delicious, and I even had leftovers to bring for lunch the next day. (Thanks, Jenny!) Will every meal go as smoothly? Probably not. But it's important to me that I make family dinner a priority—and (fingers crossed) someday it will be important to my son, too.