Guest Post: Meagan Francis on Happiness in the Kitchen

Guest Post: Meagan Francis on Happiness in the Kitchen

Yes, I’ve got two guest posts in a row. Sorry, but I warned you things were going to be a little light around here this month… That blasted cookbook!

The good thing about not having time to blog much myself is that I can invite some of my favorite people to do it for me. Today it’s Meagan Francis, who’s another of my writer idols.

Meagan blogs at The Happiest Mom, and just thinking about being a happy mom makes me, well, happy. Sometimes I have trouble taking pleasure in this motherhood gig (hello, drama queen picky eater!), but Meagan manages to smile while mothering five children. Yes, five. Her newest book, The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood, is all about that happiness thing. Thank god, she’s willing to tell us all exactly how it’s done. Seriously, I need a little help sometimes.

Today she’s visiting Words to Eat By to share some of her tricks for maintaining her equilibrium while trying to feed a family of seven. I hope you’re taking notes, because this is good stuff…

I love food: smelling it, looking at it, creating it, and especially eating it. But as a mom, it is not always easy to keep my enthusiasm about getting dinner on the table night after night. Yet, we all have to eat, and it’s important to me that we eat real food the vast majority of the time instead of hitting the drive-thru.

So how do I keep my life happy and simple as a mom and still make good food everyone wants to eat?

Have A Plan
Getting dinner on the table for a big brood like mine—night after night after night—requires planning ahead. First of all, there’s technique and know-how…and for many of us, that means investing time and energy into learning techniques and skills we may not have picked up in our younger years (I’m saying this as somebody who never once handled a whole chicken until I was 30.) Creating a meal plan, making sure you have the right ingredients on hand, and setting aside enough time to cook the meal are the other parts of planning. This may seem obvious, but I have seen that sometimes, despite their best intentions, parents never get around to planning and then find themselves stranded at 6:00 PM with hungry kids and nothing to offer but a box of frozen nuggets or the promise that pizza delivery is on its way. I know: I’ve been there. But with a little bit of effort ahead of time, eating well becomes so much simpler, more fun, and less expensive.

Embrace Repetition
I know: food lovers like to experiment. But even moms who proudly proclaim themselves foodies can get overwhelmed trying to get a meal on the table every night (especially if they have picky kids. Or a picky spouse.)

My solution is having a structure in place that allows me to churn out a brainless meal on those nights I’m feeling, well, brainless, or elaborate on those days I’ve got more time, energy, or creativity. I call my plan the Six-Meal Shuffle: every night of the week (we take one night off for dinner out or leftovers) gets a category, like ethnic, pasta, or meat-and-potatoes. If I’m up to it, pasta night might be more time-intensive, like hand-stuffed ravioli–but if I’ve got 10 minutes to pull everything together, it might be plain old spaghetti. The plan gives me enough structure to keep from asking “What on earth will I make for dinner?” without restricting me, and it virtually eliminates the chances I’ll ever make the same thing twice in one week.

Make Dinner An Event
It’s kind of hard to get up the gumption to put meal after meal on the table if the kids start gulping it down before Mom’s even had a chance to sit and are begging to leave the table five minutes after it’s been served. This has been a lesson hard-learned for me, but I now realize that when we set a nice table, all sit down together, wait for the last person served to begin eating, keep all forms of electronic distraction turned off, and require that everyone linger at the table until Mom and Dad have officially declared the meal “over”, the whole thing feels that much more worth it. Especially because then I can make the kids clear the table and load the dishwasher before they’ve had a chance to scatter to all corners of the house.

We don’t manage to pull off a full sit-down, all-together dinner every single night, but we aim for at least 3-4 nights a week of a more formal meal. It encourages all of us to appreciate the food and the company, and reminds everyone else to appreciate the cook—me.