The Family Table in Real Life

 Posted by on August 13, 2014  Add comments  Tagged with: , ,
Aug 132014

In my What I Do post, I mentioned that I try to cook most of our meals from scratch, and this prompted a reader comment,

“As much as I like cooking, I get so tired of the planning and cleaning up, day after day. It’s so much easier to go out.”

I get tired of it too. In fact, if you ask my husband and kids, they will tell you that when we’re all sitting around the table after eating, and everyone is full and content, I usually say (with unmistakable despair), “Now what am I going to make tomorrow night?”

While it may be easier to go out, or get takeout (I mean, of course it is. Let’s not kid ourselves), restaurant food is not easy on your budget, or your waistline. Restaurant meals cost, on average, 3 times as much as food cooked at home, and in spite of what certain restaurant chains may claim, the sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fat content of most restaurant food is outrageously high. This is why I try to make as much food as possible at home – because I know the consequences if I don’t.  However, eating out is still a temptation for me because it’s much easier on me when I don’t have to plan, shop, cook, and clean up after making a meal for my family.

But…this is my job, and nothing truly worthwhile is easy. Also, who says that we, as homemakers, must do all of this alone? Of course, in some households there is no other option, but I’m a firm believer that at family mealtime, my husband and children can and should contribute to the preparation and clean-up. It’s a team effort!

In this post, I want to show you how we handle family meal time, so you can see that while it isn’t pretty, it IS possible!

I don’t like to make a long-range menu plan because I prefer to decide each morning what I’ll make for dinner. I do this so that I can incorporate any leftovers from previous meals, and food that may be nearing the end of its useful life, into the day’s menu. I have always done this, for all of my married life. We just bought a quarter of beef, and when I organized our freezer, I put the oldest meat on top so it would get used up first. We had several packages of stew meat and soup bones leftover, and while I was at a loss as to what to do with them (aside from stew, obviously), I decided to get several packages of stew meat started in the crock pot. Even when I’m on the fence about what to make, I always begin my meal plan with protein because it usually needs to be thawed, and it takes the longest time to prepare. Then, I work out the rest of the details.


I surveyed the contents of the fridge, and saw that we had a red onion and a cucumber that needed to be used up (I always try to use up fresh food first). This made me think of Greek salad, which then made me think gyros! My husband happened to be on the road, looking at houses, so I texted him to ask if he could bring home plain yogurt, a tomato, and some feta cheese for me. He agreed. His actual response was “I’ll bring anything you want.” (Ahem). If he hadn’t been on the road, I would’ve had to run across the street to the grocery store, so I probably would’ve come up with a different menu plan. I try to avoid making special trips to the store if at all possible.

I let the meat simmer in beef broth and spices all day, and at 2:00 I started some pita bread dough in the bread machine. When the dough cycle completed, I rolled out and baked the pitas.


The kids love to watch pitas baking because they puff up in this glorious way.

I also made tzatziki sauce, chopped lettuce, red onion, and tomatoes, and started some basmati rice cooking in chicken broth and homemade garam masala seasoning. At 5:15, when my husband came upstairs, he and Bee set the table while I put everything into serving bowls. At 5:30 we all sat down to eat some delicious gyros and rice.


This was my gyro. I like to stuff it with as much tzatziki and feta as possible without it falling apart. YUM.

The meal was fantastic, but when we were all finished, the kitchen looked like this:



Waaaaahhhhh! For any cook, this part is a real heart sinker. I’m also not a very neat cook, which drives my husband crazy. He always puts things away as soon as he’s done with them, but he is rarely cooking an entire meal with sides, and trying to get everything ready at the same time. I just start cooking and keep going until everything is done. I never stop to put anything away unless I’ve completely run out of work space.

In the past, a disastrous kitchen like this has been known to reduce me to tears, particularly if I’m already tired and overwhelmed. However, as a family we now have a clean-up system that works for us, so as soon as the meal is over, and we’ve all reminisced about how good everything was, everyone leaps into action.

My husband immediately starts unloading and reloading the dishwasher.


He was saying, “What! You can’t take a picture of me doing this – it’s woman’s work!” He was, of course, joking. He doesn’t actually feel this way, but he LOVES to tease me.

The kids work together to clear the table, and I start packaging up leftovers for the fridge.


I also work on putting things away, and wiping down the stove and counters, while the girls team up to get the dining area back in shape. Cakes wipes off the table and chairs, and Bee sweeps the floor. DJ usually runs the Dustbuster under the table, but last night he was super-grouchy so I made him get in the shower right after dinner so he could go to bed early.


Our oak dining table is an antique (I’m guessing from the early 1900’s) and one of its quirks is that the finish on the leaves doesn’t quite match the table. We don’t mind though. It gives it character. Also, when the children are working like this, I jokingly refer to them as “my minions.”

Together, we return the kitchen to this:



My husband then takes out the trash, we send the girls to take showers, and then we can relax…..until tomorrow, when we get to do it all over again!

Today, because we have a lot of shredded beef leftover, as well as chopped lettuce and onion, I’m thinking beef enchiladas? We’ll see. With already cooked protein, I can put off the “what to make” decision until at least 3:00!


  14 Responses to “The Family Table in Real Life”

  1. My husband also helps clean up after dinner. It’s so nice and sometimes I feel spoiled. He doesn’t do it every day, but fairly often. I’m not fond of cooking breakfast, so he takes over in that department on weekends. He will even bring me a cup of coffee. It makes me feel like I’m on vacation!!!

  2. Love this post! I think we all struggle with mealtime and the mess it makes. Our girls have 4 “kitchen duties” that they rotate every other day. It works pretty well, but I’ve really struggled with the decision to make loading/unloading the dishwasher one of them. We have them do it now, but it seems they either load it too lightly or they forget detergent (ugh!), or some other issue. I like your idea of having your hubby take care of it. It makes more sense than having our girls (who are the same ages as Bee and Cakes). Your post has me thinking about redoing our daily arrangement. 🙂

  3. Oh Heather, you have a wonderful family! You cook some excellent meals! Did all three kids eat it? Your husband looks so cute in the dishwasher picture…he’s a good husband! Cooking healthy from scratch…you are setting a great example for your children!

    • Yep, they did! DJ, being little, still likes all of the components of his meal to be kept separate, So, he dunked his pita in the tzatziki sauce, and ate his meat and rice separately (and of course, no veggies!) Bee only had lettuce on her gyro, but Cakes ate everything except the tomatoes. She even likes raw onions!

  4. Thank you for posting your kitchen picture 🙂 Makes me feel so much better! I remember a while ago you mentioned in a post about how much more expensive it is to eat out and every time we get take out I ALWAYS remember that 🙂 We try to eat at home every night even if I am exhausted. If I am really tired I just make breakfast for dinner and everybody is usually happy with that 🙂

  5. My sweet husband does most of the cooking in our house. He gets home from work before I am done in my daycare. (I have run a home day care for 25 years) Working together is the key.
    Another thing to make with your stew meat is one of our family favorites. I cook the beef in the crock pot with onion and some broth. When done remove the meat from the pot and put aside for a few minutes while you use the cooking broth to make gravy. Add the meat back into the gravy and serve over noodles or rice. This is very good.
    You know one thing I do everyday to HELP at meal clean up time is empty the dish washer before I start cooking anything. In our house I have 4 “LITTLES” because of the daycare. That is a lot of bottles, sippy cups, bowls, and spoons. My dishwasher runs at least 3 times a day everyday. It always needs to be emptied. (go figure) Add into to that we rescue a few dogs. Their bowls need to be washed too. Dishes EVERYWHERE you look.
    Take care of yourself. You are a wonderful mother and your children are blessed to have both you and your husband.

  6. Fantastic post. I have been struggling with this. I had a good heart-to-heart with my husband the other day about how I need more help if I am to manage all the things in our home well. He is wonderful, but I just needed to communicate with him what I need. I know all husbands won’t respond the way we are hoping, but it’s always good to try. They are not mind-readers (much as we wish they were sometimes!). And I am working on being more intentional with training my kids to help instead of just doing it all myself. Thanks for sharing- this is real life stuff!! 🙂

  7. You reminded that I have a lot of stew meat in the freezer too (venison). I needed to look up this recipe

    I just slice up the stew meat a little thinner. It passed the test here–although I think I added steamed fresh broccoli when serving.

    (Cough…dishwasher? Husband? Uh, I installed my own new dishwasher. )

  8. My kitchen often looks just like yours! I also call my children minions when I have them do something for me!
    That dinner looked delicious – my family loves gyros – this is going on our menu next week! What spices did you use when you cooked your meat?

    • Juli, I used my homemade Greek seasoning and a cup of water with one teaspoon beef broth powder, just to keep the meat moist. To make the seasoning, mix 1 tablespoon EACH of oregano. marjoram, garlic powder, lemon pepper, dry ground mustard, and salt in an airtight container. Use as much as you like to season the meat. It’s also awesome on chicken!

  9. Yum! Thanks for sharing! Have you shared your pita bread recipe?

  10. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this post. I have often felt disheartened by your posts on cooking it all from scratch and thinking you did all the prep and cleaning up after as well. I love to see that your family is helping and that you have a dirty kitchen in the process. My husband has started unloading and loading the dishwasher when he comes home from work and I am preparing dinner so he can tell me about his day, which has been nice and a great time saver for cleanup later. It really is necessary to get a routine for prep and cooking and cleanup with as much help as possible if you are going to be cooking it all from scratch on a regular basis. You are such an encouragement. 🙂 great post.

  11. I’m late to this post (found it on your annual recap). I cook most all of our meals at home, but not quite as much “homemade” as it used to be. My 3 year old was diagnosed with severe food allergies (a wide variety, all top 8 allergens plus some… that have thankfully lightened up, not quite life threatening anymore) and out the door went homemade bread and all those other goodies. I had to totally revamp my menu options which was hard. I am like you, though. I don’t really plan ahead. I usually have a staple meat in mind and go from there. Sometimes when DH comes home from work and I am in the kitchen he’ll ask me what we’re having and I’ll answer honestly “I don’t know yet” even though there is food cooking on the stove already. He just laughs and shakes his head. The downside to that is when everyone really likes it and I have no idea how to recreate it, ha!

    Love the after picture. I feel that pain. There were many years where I didn’t cook as much (or some of the things I wanted) b/c we didn’t have a dishwasher and I really didn’t feel like washing that many dishes by hand 😛

  12. […] After dinner the kids clear the table while my husband gets started on the dishwasher. I usually package up leftovers, wipe down the table and counters, and sometimes I mop under the table if it’s particularly gross. Together we get the kitchen all cleaned up! […]

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