Easing Into Back-to-School Dinners — Simple Scratch Suppers

by in Family, How-to, August 16th, 2011

back to school
When I first wrote up my outline for this blog, back to school dinners seemed a sensible choice given school starts this week for many families around the country. Nowadays, we all seem to be running short on time. People rely on meals out of boxes and bags, thinking there’s not enough time to cook. I wanted to offer you tips and ideas for making weeknight cooking easier.

Then something happened to change my perspective and outlook.

My husband died suddenly.

When I say suddenly, I mean just that. He was helping our daughter ride her bike, told her he needed to sit for a moment, then keeled over from a massive heart attack. Some of you, perhaps many, probably know about this already given the amazing show of support and love that has filled the food community.

So, why am I here talking to you all about back-to-school dinner ideas?

There are two little girls depending on me for love, support and hot meals daily. The team here at Food Network has been amazing. Honestly, I wish I could be standing over their shoulder as they open this email and wonder if I’ve lost my mind, handing in copy for an article just eight days after my husband, the love of my life and father to my children, was ripped right out of life.

As I try to learn a new kind of normal, there will be one constant to keep me going: food. The simple act of slicing some peaches two days after Mikey died gave me a sense of control when my world was lacking it. This is what food and cooking has the power to do.

This is why family dinners are important, and should be something we all strive to make part of our regular routines. It doesn’t require an elaborate or time-intensive meal. All it means is real food, made with real ingredients. Choose a recipe that fits your time frame. Pull out the crock pot if that’s your thing. Make a pot of soup as the nights inevitably grow colder, and you’ll have dinner for at least two meals the coming week. Instead of looking at dinnertime as yet another chore, seize it for the gift it really is — a time to come together as a family and talk about your day, say grace or clink glasses and cherish the moment with each bite.

Jennifer Perillo is a recipe developer and food writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her recipes and tips for feeding families homemade meals are a regular feature in Working Mother magazine, where she’s the consulting food editor, as well Relish Magazine, Parenting, Kiwi and her blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen.

[Photo: Stockbyte]

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Comments (58)

  1. My grandmother has died, but I remember her pies and cookies, and I remember her fried chicken and her mashed potatoes and her wonderful gravy. I make her recipes and I think of her. My other grandmother has lost almost all of her memories and sense of self, but I remember her spaghetti dinners and when she would give us a treat of butter pecan ice cream, and I think of her when I eat these things. I still bring her that ice cream when I visit, and she still loves it even when she doesn't know who's brought it. When my mother dies it will be in the kitchen that my memories of her are strongest- where we cooked and baked and canned together, and where she made the meals that fed us, every night, when I was growing up. And someday, when you are gone and your girls are grown, they're going to remember you for those meals. They'll cook them, and think of you, and you'll be present. They say the sense of smell is the strongest one tied to memory, and that's true- the smell of my mother's chicken paprikash is powerfully nostalgic. But I think taste, too, is part of that memory equation.

  2. @chezus says:

    Simply said and graciously written. We all need to take time and make a meal to share with our loved ones

  3. Jean says:

    Jennifer, turning in copy just eight days after your beloved's death *did* make some wonder, I'm sure! Though we've never met, that first tweet shook me as I've never been shaken by anything on Twitter. Thank you for taking the opportunity afforded you by this tragedy to *reach* people about the importance of the family dinner. I emphasize the word "reach" because there are others besides you and me who regularly write about it, but some people need something really big like this to drive the point home. The simple act of families sitting down at the table together every day would be enough to cure many of our troubled society's ills. You and your girls in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. critzking says:

    You're amazing as we all know. Thank you for reminding the rest of us to try to be better and absorb every moment of life as the gift that it is.

  5. Kristen says:

    Jennifer,
    I am in awe of your grace and strength. Truly and deeply. Thinking of you and the girls so much and sending you love.
    Kristen

  6. 1840farm says:

    I couldn't agree more. What you cook for dinner doesn't matter nearly as much as who you sit down to dinner with. Eating dinner as a family grounds us as a group and helps remind me that sitting around the family table is the most important thing we do every day because we do it together.

  7. jeri says:

    I don't know you or your family but offer my condolence on your sudden loss. I recently lost a very dear friend to a sudden hear attack. He was only 56 years old! He and his wife recently adopted a baby. I know the trials you are going through. You are an inspiration of life and love. I have, and will continue, to encourage family to cook together and eat at the table together. You never know when it may your only chance to be together as a family. Please, charish it as I m doing, by having children and grand children, together in the kitchen, cooking and enjoying the stories of life and love. God less.

  8. @JollyTomato says:

    Simple, beautiful, and so very, very true. Thank you for continuing to give so much – and inspire others – even during this incredibly difficult time. You and your family are in our thoughts daily.

  9. ATP says:

    Human nature never stops to amaze me. There is so much affection going around and I wanted to add my support from afar for you Jenny and your family and to all those who are going through difficult times.

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