On Family Cooking and Eating Together: Can You Do it All?

I'm not sure if it's because of the nature of my work or the fact that I'm in my early 30's and most of my friends are married and starting families of their own, but lately I've been thinking a lot about home life and the different ways we organize it. Family dinners were a huge part of home life when I was growing up. No matter how crazy and hectic our schedules became, my mom insisted that everyone sit at the dinner table together. Most of the time she'd cook, other times my dad would pick up take-out on the way home or we'd order a pizza, but we'd always sit together. But lately even this seems like a challenge in my own household:

Sarah, the creator of one of my very favorite blogs at the moment, The Yellow House, wrote a truly wonderful post last week on balancing work, dinner, and having a life outside of the two. In it she wrote about how she sometimes feels funny on the blog posting photos of eating outdoors, beautiful meals, and entertaining when, of course, that's not what everyday life looks like. So she decided to put together a little virtual book (which you can find on the post itself) of a week of meals with her family, and what they really look like. Her point was that she commutes from the country into the city for work, spending a few hours in the car each day. Sarah works 9-10 hour work days. But dinner is a priority. Her garden is a priority, so she puts making meals and eating them with the ones she loves first. Other food bloggers have written about similar topics, touching on how their kitchens and their meals really don't always look like a photo from a beautiful blog post. Ashley from Not Without Salt did so. Kasey from Turntable Kitchen did so as well. Recently Joy the Baker gave us a glimpse, too. I find this refreshing. I know other readers do, too.

I recently picked up a copy of Dinner: A Love Story, a beautiful cookbook by blogger and writer Jenny Rosenstratch in which she tells the story of how dinners come together in her family's home. In short, Jenny has kept a diary for many, many years of family dinners in their home. She's a hard-core planner. While I bookmarked many recipes and found myself captivated by her engaging narrative, part of the book also made me a touch anxious: this is so not how we do things around here. My boyfriend Sam and I were visiting our friend's Shauna and Danny a while back on an island off the coast of Seattle. We chatted and baked and on their refrigerator I noticed a piece of paper stuck to the fridge with a colorful magnet mapping out the week's meals. I was in awe. We often can't even get it together to make a proper grocery list let alone plan out the week's meals. And we don't even have kids!

So what is the answer: is there a way to plan out meals, enjoy them together, get all your work done throughout the work week, and still have a rich life outside of all of that? Or is that rich life really all of the pieces colliding together in a way that finds a messy kitchen, messy little helpers, maybe some good music, mail strewn on the table, and thoughts towards a relaxing weekend ahead? I'm inclined to think the latter is true. We all just do the best we can. Messy kitchens or not. Messy kids or not. Imperfect meals or not.

I'm not going to lie: I'm striving to be a little more like my mom, like Jenny, and like Shauna and be more of a planner when it comes to dinner. But right now, it's just not in the cards. Because we work from home, we often log more hours than some of our friends. Work can leak into the evening hours and we find ourselves staring at one another at 9 p.m. wondering what to do for dinner. But I cherish the meals we piece together from what's in the refrigerator. Sure, it might not be the most traditional dinner hour and we might leave the dishes until the next morning. It's not pre-planned and not all that organized, but it finds us sitting at a table together most nights eating something we both love. Like you, we're doing the best we can.

Related: 3 Tips for Still Having Family Dinner When Your Kids Eat at 5

(Image: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)