Project Family Dinner: Week Two Update, the bye week

The Menu(ish)

1. Leftovers

2. Box Mac & Cheese

3. Scrambled Eggs

4. Taco Truck

5. Thai Delivery

so this is what failure feels like

so this is what failure feels like

The Highlights

We found a new Thai place in our neighborhood that we kind of like. 

The Missteps

We meal-planned on Sunday, but then the day got away from us. We ended up not making it to the grocery store. We foraged through the fridge and cupboard and made our way through Monday and Tuesday, and by the time we got to Wednesday it just felt futile, so we threw up our hands and took a bye week. 

The Takeaway 

Week two was a step backwards. Somewhere in the middle of it all O even mentioned that she  missed the dinners from the week before. It was nice for her to notice the difference, and for me it was nice to have the contrast. It made it very clear why this project is so important for our family. The whole week felt more chaotic and haphazard without our coming together in the evening for that shared meal. 

Clearly, the Sunday shop and some of the advance meal prep is essential. If we miss the window, the week starts off at 100mph and it is too hard to catch up.

But man, that curry was good. No regrets. On to the next.

Check in soon for Project Family Dinner: Week Three Update, back on the wagon!

Project Family Dinner: Week One Update

O: (Announcing at the dinner table) Everyone, every time I help cook, my nose gets itchy so I get a little bit of germs in your food. Just so you are aware. 

The Menu

1. Shrimp Rolls and Avocado Boats

We wanted to start with a guaranteed win. Both girls love shrimp and serve anything on a brioche roll and you've won their hearts and tummies forever. Plus, it felt like a fitting farewell to summer (and I had a half a bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer.)

bear with me while I learn to take better pictures of food

bear with me while I learn to take better pictures of food

2. Roasted Salmon and Lentils

3. Black Bean Soup and Avocado and Tomato Salad

We made this ahead on the weekend and had it ready to go for one of our late evening swim lesson nights. I get home with the girls around 6:45 so Jim gets dinner on the table in the 15 minute window he has before we get home. 

Photo and yummy salad credit: J. Felton

Photo and yummy salad credit: J. Felton

4. Spagetti with Red Sauce and Green Salad

Another solution to our swim lesson night problem. Plus, it used a jar of sauce that had been lurking in the cabinet. 

5. Pan-Fried Whole Wheat Pizzas with Ham and Leeks

If you haven't pan fried a pizza yet, I'm here to tell ya, I might never turn my oven on again.

The Highlights

Everyone ate! Everyone helped! We had five very tasty and very pleasant meals together. O and P loved the salmon and shrimp, but hated the lentils. The pizza was a huge hit with Jim, not usually a pizza guy, and I had leftovers for lunch all week. 

The Missteps 

The trip to the grocery store en masse was chaos. We only had one master list so Jim had to keep wrangling P back to the cart to receive his next mission for retrieval. I was so distracted trying to manage the list and the cart that O managed to sneak a couple of items of contraband into the cart. 

The Takeaway 

Next time, two lists, two carts, we'll split up to cover sections of the store. Jim takes produce, dairy, and P and I'll take meat and fish, dry goods, and O. 

We did a lot of prep on the weekend and every morning. Anything that could be done ahead, I did. I'm a lot more ambitious at 10:00am after my coffee than I am 5:00pm. It was interesting how just having chopped or prepped a few things in the morning made the planned dinner feel somehow inevitable. 

Project Family Dinner: The How

The Plan

We have embarked on a new mission, eating the same thing, together, five meals a week, for at least a month. 

We started Project   Family Dinner with a deep kitchen clean. We wanted to try to use everything we had stored in the cupboard. 

We started Project Family Dinner with a deep kitchen clean. We wanted to try to use everything we had stored in the cupboard. 

The Rules

1. Sunday Morning Meal Planning Meeting

After an inventory of the the fridge, freezer, and cupboard, we will sit down on Sunday morning to discuss the menu for the week. The hope is that if O and P have a say and a voice in the dinner choices, they might be more inclined to be adventurous when that dinner appears in front of them.

2. Everybody Shops

We will take a once-a-week, family trip to the market. Again, the thought being, maybe you'll be more likely to try the tomato if you picked it. Jim and I have agreed to divide and conquer though, one kid and one side of the market apiece. 

3. Everybody cooks

For Jim, that might mean cleaning kale for tomorrow's dinner after we finish dishes or making a big batch of soup on the weekend.  For O, that might mean tearing lettuce for the salad or helping me stir something on the stove. For P, that might mean shaking the jar of salad dressing. For me, that just means cooking, something I used to really enjoy. But everybody cooks.  

4. One "no thank you" bite of everything on your plate.

The Tools

1. Dinner: The Playbook

This book is wonderful. It is full of tasty, low pressure recipes, good tips on dealing with tiny palates, and a healthy dose of uplifting you-can-do-it inspiration to put you on the right track. I bought it Saturday afternoon, read it cover to cover after bedtime, and implemented my Project Family Dinner the next day. 

2. These guys, and their grumbly tumblies

Check in tomorrow for our Week One Update!

Project Family Dinner: The Who

The Who

Code Name: Tiny P

Special Skills: Will try anything once. Will spit out anything that she tries and doesn't like. 

Code Name: O

Special Skills: World class table setter. Vigilant against all things green and leafy. 

Code Name: Momma

Special Skills: Makes people. Makes dinner. Makes those people eat dinner. 

Code Name: Dadda

Special Skills: Everyone's favorite sous chef.  Always home when he says he'll be, especially when there is food on the table. 

Code Name: Big Brown Dog

Special Skills: Floor clean-up. 


The team is assembled. Stay tuned for Project Family Dinner: The Howcoming soon.

Project Family Dinner: The Why

We haven't been eating together. With evening swim lessons, school starting back up, and shooting for early bedtimes, we have devolved into a strange haphazard meal-time routine that consists of me throwing some "kid-friendly" food in direction of the tiny people, grabbing forkfuls of mac and cheese for myself in between bath and story, and Jim rummaging on his own for some semblance of leftovers and lunch meat, before we collapse into a heap on the couch at 9:30 with some chips and a glass of wine. It has been chaotic, stressful, oddly expensive, and generally, no fun.

This is how I feel after our evening routine too, only my wardrobe is never this fantastic.

This is how I feel after our evening routine too, only my wardrobe is never this fantastic.

So, we decided we needed a change. We decided that our family needs some sacred space, and we decided to start with dinner, a dinner where we all sit, around the same table, sharing the same meal, at least five nights a week, for month. What we eat is far less important than how we eat it: together. 

We have decided to focus on home-cooked meals, mostly because I remember a time when I loved to cook and I am trying to find a way to fall back in love with cooking again. This gives me a chance to be creative and expose these tiny palates to some flavors other than white (pasta, bread, rice, tortilla) and orange (cheese, carrots). Already this week O and P have had shrimp (thumbs up), sockeye salmon (thumbs up), and lentils (thumbs down).

Check back tomorrow for Project Family Dinner: The How for more details on our plan and a progress report halfway through our first week.


Our New Project: An Announcement

I can't wait to share the details of our next family project. Inspired by Jenny Rosenstrach at Dinner: a Love Story, and her new book Dinner: the Playbook, we are embarking on 30 days of home-cooked family dinners. I'll fill you in on all of the whys, hows, and whatnots in future posts, but for now, know that last night's dinner was wonderful and I'm looking forward to telling you all about it.

A Day of Yes

No.  It's a word you say often as a parent.  It is unavoidable.  You can't escape it.  

But this week, we had a day of yes. O and I decided to drive up from a local family vacation so she could attend her last swim lesson, and since it was just the two of us, everything suddenly felt rarified and special. 

O: Can we roll down the windows and listen to rock and roll?

K: Yes.

O: Can we swim in the deep pool before my lesson?

K: Yes.

O: Can we have chocolate chocolate chip pancakes with a whip cream face for dinner?

K: Yes.

O: Can we go snuggle on the blanket on the lawn and look at the stars?

K: Yes.

O: Can I stay up aaaaaaaallllllll night?

K: Yes.

She made it until 9:30, and as I carried her to bed, she almost looked like my baby again, but only for a second. 

Yes to rock and roll. Yes to a swim in the cool deep water. Yes to the stars. Parenting is hard, but too often I set myself up for failure. I forget that it's ok to enjoy it, that an extra half hour of stars and snuggling is worth more than a clean kitchen. 

I'm going to remember to take the joy that my children are offering me, to say yes as often as I can.

Summer Sounds at the Hollywood Bowl

O: I want to go to the Huntington Bowl and hear the music. 

This is late in coming, but if you have littles and are in the LA area you have six more chances to go. These world music concerts are fun, engaging for kids as young as two, and a great way to spend a summer day. They take place in a smaller space adjacent to the Bowl and are very thoughtfully done. This year we have heard Indian music and West African music.

You can usually get tickets at the box office the day of, so you can skip the online processing fee, and parking is free. Your ticket includes a craft related to the music and the performers, ushers, and art staff are all really friendly and happy to be there. We usually bring a picnic and eat on the grass by the box office when we are done. 

Check here for more info:

We have so much fun, I always forget to take pictures. 

We have so much fun, I always forget to take pictures. 

The Hollywood Bowl is a magical place. Its history sings and I just like being there. Summer is wrapping up. Let's soak in the city as much as we can. Let's stay up late and watch the stars. Let's eat fro-yo for dinner. Let's go to the Hollywood Bowl. Maybe I'll see you there next week for Latin Jazz. 

The Littlest Campers: Tips and Tricks

General tips for camping with kids

1. Don't camp alone. Part of the beauty of these trips is how many adult hands there are to pass a baby off to, and how many adult eyes there are to watch out for the roving dust cloud of older kids. Find out how many of your friends are potential good campers, even if they've never camped before, and drag them along. Promise beer. Promise marshmallows. Promise anything, but don't camp alone. 

Our motley crew of pajama clad ruffians

Our motley crew of pajama clad ruffians

2. Don't over do the packing. You need less than you think, especially if you camp in a group.

3. Leave the workbooks, tablets, and toys. Bring books, buckets, and glue. Nothing entertains a pack of wild beasts like gluing leaves on paper. I can't explain it, but I know it's true. 

4. Dirt Tent! The kids will want nothing more than to go in and out and in and out of your pristine sleeping tent. They will want to play with the zipper and jump on your air mattress. Bring a dirt tent. Scour garage sales or maybe retire your old tent. Set up the dirt tent as the place they can play, keep their shoes on, not worry about bugs getting in. DIRT TENT.

5. Release the schedule. Stop looking at your watch. They aren't going to nap. They might pass out at 4:00pm in a mud puddle while looking for worms. They aren't going to go to bed on time. They might eat seventy marshmallows and fall asleep around the campfire in the middle of the second verse of Hey Jude.  Don't worry, they'll still be up at 6:00am. 

Camping While Pregnant

I have not yet attempted the CWP, but I have a brave and wonderful friend who joined us on a camping trip when she was a full eight months pregnant with her second son. Other than some hilarity over breakfast as she re-enacted attempting to get up off of her air mattress that had sprung a leak in the middle of the night, leaving her trapped and flailing, the trip was without incident and enjoyed by all. 

Tips for CWP

- Make sure you get a campsite close to the bathroom.

Camping with a Newborn

If you are practicing any version of attachment parenting (breastfeeding, baby wearing, and co-sleeping), camping with a newborn is no big thing. 

Not a newborn in that ergo, but seriously, ERGO!

Not a newborn in that ergo, but seriously, ERGO!

Tips for Camping with a Newborn

- Breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping

-If you have room and access to one, a pack-and-play can come in very handy. Put it under a tree with cool leaves and you might even get a quiet minute to set up the tent.

Pro-tip: Put the pack-and-play and any other crucial distract-the-kids style items in the car last. That way they are the first things you pull out. It is no fun trying to unpack and set up camp with bored kids underfoot. 

Camping with a Crawler

I'm not sure I have a ton of insight to offer here. Our first time out was with a crawler and it was rough. She didn't want to be in the baby carrier. She wasn't a fan of the pack-and-play. She just wanted down, into the dirt, on her hands and knees. I'm a big fan of dirty, but it started to be a safety concern. This might be the one stage I would wait out.

Come on, mom. I wasn't that bad.

Come on, mom. I wasn't that bad.

Tips for Camping with a Crawler

-Definitely bring that pack-and-play. Beg, borrow, or steal that pack-and-play. But then don't be surprised when the little stinker wants nothing to do with it. 

-Over-pack on kid's clothes. If there is water, they will find it. Dirty is one thing, but getting to the end of the day with nothing dry to put on for bedtime is another.

Camping with a Toddler

Here is where it starts to get really fun. The dirt! The bugs! The snacks! The disgusting intersection of all three! I don't think I've ever seen anyone more joyful than a filthy free-range toddler. Toddlers make good campers, if you let them. 

Tips for Camping with a Toddler

Bring extra shoes. If there is a puddle they are going to jump in it and life is no fun with wet shoes. 

-Pack for colder weather than you expect. Cold munchkins don't sleep well.

-All day pajamas is a good look when camping.

Camping with a Preschooler

Camping with someone who sees the whole world as magical is pretty special. This last trip, we would walk on the adjacent hiking trails and O would tell us stories about gnomes and fairies. It is the perfect age to take them to a new place that can challenge their expectations and immerse them more fully in the natural world. 

Tips for Camping with a Preschooler

- Snacks. Things that are easy to throw into their mouths as they run by. It can be tricky to get them to eat otherwise.

-Glow sticks are a fun, easy way to make sure the kids stay visible at night. 

-Camping is a great time to try to get a picky eater to try new food. They are so far outside of their normal day-to-day, you might be surprised by what they'll try. 

-Say yes. As often as possible, as much as you can stand, even when you want to say no, say yes.  You're camping. 

Camping with a Big Kid

I don't have any personal experience to offer, only observations. In general, I have watched the older kids in our camping group rise above what I would expect based on their ages. I have watched them look after the smaller kids, taking time and effort to make sure they were safe. I have watched them be helpful without being asked, when it comes to setting-up camp or cleaning up after meals. Perhaps the freedom they are permitted instills a sense of responsibility, or maybe they are just so happy to be outside.  Maybe, they were all just good campers. 

Never Miss a Date Night

O: Why can't I come? You're going to get dessert, aren't you?

We talked a lot about this mythical idea of a "date night". That's a thing people do, right? But sitters are so expensive, and no one else can get our kids to sleep, and by the time the evening rolls around we are so tired, and fill-in-the-blank with another generic excuse here. But something about this article in Darling magazine about dating your husband, inspired me. I think it was the part about investing in what you value. 

This is what I value.

This is what I value.

So we've been making a real effort to have a date night, or even a date morning, every week. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it takes some planning and thought. Yes, we are exhausted.  

I guess, the thing we've learned is to not over-complicate it. Most of the time, we've had a sitter come, on a weeknight, for two hours while we walk to a casual dinner up the street. One time, we went to get pecan rolls while Jim's mom and dad enjoyed a morning with the girls. Once, we just went to Target. Just to clarify, I did not drag my husband to Target on date night; we were prepping for a camping trip.

We have yet to tackle the high-stakes, high-price, dress-up kind of evening I used to associate with a date-night, and we don't plan to. The idea that it is going to happen every week has taken the pressure off, made each evening, afternoon, or morning, more enjoyable. The stakes are so low: a burger and fries, a picnic blanket, a beach sunset. There is no huge layout of funds, no massively complicated logistics, no expectation of romance, hence our trip to Target.

But in the last few weeks, I have found myself gesturing wildly over a basket of food truck tacos, talking passionately about the theatre. I have found myself laughing until my sides ached. I have found myself sharing some of the quiet truths that we sometimes don't have time for over the course of our average day, the things that don't get said at 10:00pm when the girls are asleep, the dishes are done, we've watched Game of Thrones, and the dog needs to be walked. I have found myself being kissed, long and slow, under a street lamp, just like on our first date all those years ago when he walked me back to my car. 

A long, long time ago

A long, long time ago

It has been both easier than I expected and more fulfilling than I imagined. Jim and I aren't trying to fix anything that is broken, but after eight years of marriage and two kids, it sure is reassuring to remember how much you like the person you've always loved.  

I really like Jim. 

Never miss a date night.