With Easter around the corner, I started thinking about what recipe to share with y’all. A couple of years ago, I wrote about Deviled Eggs. You can even find our Blue Cheese and Bacon Deviled Eggs Recipe Card in our Recipe Archive.
One of my favorite desserts has always been carrot cake. I mean, what better way to get your veggies than in dessert? Apparently, carrot cake has been around for centuries in Europe. Carrots were used to sweeten the cake instead of sugar, which was much more expensive. It became popular in the 1960s-70s in the United States. As is the case with so many things, here in the South, we’ve perfected carrot cake and made it our own. I’m not sure if carrot cake is a traditional Easter dessert for everyone, but it certainly is in my southern family!
I’ve seen carrot cakes decorated with cute little carrots made from marzipan or icing, as well as some that include candied ginger for a little extra zing, but my favorite is generously iced with the perfect cream cheese frosting and sprinkled with extra pecans or walnuts on top! Of course, like any cake, it’s imperative that carrot cake be moist. There’s not much worse than a dry cake. I enjoy a glass of milk with a piece of cake, but I don’t want to need the glass of milk to wash it down!
This recipe is precisely that perfect balance of moist cake and sweet, creamy frosting. Brenda, Roxie’s mother, created this cake for Terry, Roxie’s father, after he went wild over the carrot cake at the Smithsonian Museum restaurant one summer. She tried different recipes, then put together a patchwork of a recipe by combining parts of several to come up with the one Terry thought was wonderful. Terry likes to see and taste what is in the cake, so the pecans aren’t chopped very fine. Using crushed pineapple helps keep the cake moist, and Brenda is known for ensuring there is plenty of frosting to go with each bite of cake. She also saves a step and a bit of time by freezing the grated carrots when they’re close to going out of date, so she can be ready to make a carrot cake whenever she wants.
Click here to go to our Recipe Archive to find the Carrot Cake Recipe Card to print! We’d love to know if you use Brenda’s Carrot Cake recipe this Easter or any other time, for that matter! Take a picture and tag us on Facebook, so we can celebrate with you! If you have any other tips or ideas for Easter, feel free to share those with us, too!
I mentioned in my blog “Faithful in the Little Things” that my father grew up on the Irwinville Farms Project. Since many of you have probably never heard of it, I thought I’d take the time to explain it and the impact it made on a rural community.
The infrastructure that was built to sustain and improve this community helped the families to thrive and accomplish that. Schools, co-operative stores, churches, a gin, warehouses, a doctor’s office, not to mention the homes, barns, smokehouses, and such that were built on the farms provided all that these families needed to do well. The families were encouraged to make farm plans and keep records; the manager of the program educated the men on farming techniques, while the home economist taught the women how to plan meals and put up fruits and vegetables to feed their families throughout the year. Social activities were planned and everyone was encouraged to participate.
Because all these families worked together to lift each other up out of their collective suffering, the Irwinville Farms Project families grew into a tight-knit community. Years after the project ended, Irwinville still celebrates together every summer with a reunion, just like a family would. As a child, I never realized what the reunion was all about. I just thought it was normal for a community to gather together every year for meals, singing, and games!
The Irwinville Farms Project was successful in that nearly all the families who participated were able to purchase their farms from the government and continued to do well for their families. It truly was a helping hand, not just a hand-out. If you’d like to read more about it, you can read the report from 1939 in the National Archives by clicking here, or you can purchase the book, Irwinville Farms Project, written by Joy Wilson McDaniel at www.amazon.com. Another fantastic resource, from where most of these pictures came, is Irwinville Farms, A Digital Archive Curated by Brian Brown.
I grew up in a small town. Scratch that. I grew up in a rural community outside of a small town. Next door to my grandparents’ farm and within a mile of the county line, I was the first one on the school bus every morning and the last one off every afternoon. Keep in mind, we have one elementary school, while the middle and high schools share a campus, for the entire county!
That summer of 2001 was so eye-opening and the best way we could have started our marriage. We did have a team to work with, and we lived with a young couple and their toddler daughter, but we really only had each other and God to lean on. There were breakdowns and culture shock, all of which brought us closer together.
After that summer, we went back to our normal lives in Atlanta, Chris completing his final classes and working part-time with a civil engineering firm, while I began my first year teaching middle school. Even though this was the life we had always dreamed of, something was still missing. We felt like we had left part of our hearts in Brazil and began to have new dreams of going back. Soon, we were presented with the opportunity to go back to Brazil as full-time missionaries and help create a Globalscope campus ministry. We were so excited!
The following spring (2002), Chris’s family farm was featured on a Food Network show called “Food Finds.” If you’ve read my blog “Muscadines, Grandma, and a Husband,” you’ll know that his family grows muscadine grapes. Chris’s grandfather, father, and uncle were interviewed for the show, which focused on the capsules “Papa Jacob” was making from the seeds of the muscadines and the health benefits they offered. At the time, he was making them by hand in his home office. I remember watching the show in our little apartment with one of our friends from Ocilla who also lived in Atlanta. Afterward, we all just giggled and stared at each other, amazed and bewildered at what we had just seen on TV!
Over the following year, it became more and more evident to us that we were supposed to stay in Irwin County. Serving God was our first priority, but we realized that we didn’t have to leave the country to do that. Looking back now, I can see how God worked through us and the chain-reaction of events that continue as a result of our decision to stay.
That summer, I discovered I was pregnant! Chris and I wanted to share our exciting news with our family in a fun way, so we went to The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry to purchase a frame for our ultrasound picture. Roxie was at the register, so she was technically the first person we told that we were expecting. We had always known Roxie, since we went to high school together, but we weren’t close friends at the time. Little did I know how close we would grow!
Thirteen years ago, we could not have known how our decisions would affect the course of our own lives, much less so many others. Although we always tried to be faithful to what we believed to be God’s will, we haven’t always understood while in the middle of it. So many times, we’ve wondered what life would be like had we gone to Brazil. Our boys think it’s crazy that they would know how to speak Portuguese! We still have a special place in our hearts for the people of Brazil. I used to wonder if we missed God’s will by not going to Brazil. And, while I know that God would have used us there, I feel like our purpose is to be here, in this small town, to encourage this community, and to share it with the rest of the world. I feel like for the last thirteen years, we’ve been on the cusp of something great in so many areas.
The older I get, the more I grow to love Fall! Cooler mornings, turning leaves, the scent of freshly-dug peanuts have all become a few of my favorite things. I love how going back to school puts our family back in a routine after the freedom of summer. I also love celebrating the season at family reunions, fall festivals, really any holiday gathering.
Our family truly enjoys participating in our church’s “Trick-Or-Trunk,” which is our Halloween/Fall Festival type celebration. Since our church is located way out in the country, most children in our church don't get to go trick-or-treating. (Side note: I went trick-or-treating one time when I was a kid. My mama had to call ahead to let folks know we were coming to their house so they would be prepared to pass out candy. I think we drove around for two hours, visited 4-5 houses, and received a handful of candy. I did have an awesome “Bride of Frankenstein” costume, thanks to my crafty mama!) Stories like mine are what inspired “Trick-or-Trunk.” Church members park their cars in a circle, with their trunks facing inside the circle. They open and decorate their trunks, then once it gets dark, pass out candy to the children as they walk around the circle in their cute costumes. For many of these kids, it’s the only chance they have to trick-or-treat. For many of the adults, it’s a fun time to get dressed up, escape reality, and just enjoy themselves for a little while!
Throughout the years, our family has dressed up in various themes, usually in homemade costumes. It’s become a sort of tradition to decide what we’re going to be, then figure out how to make the costumes. Many times we’ve been superheroes and villains, but also movie characters, and this year - a family of trophies! My boys were champion tennis and soccer player trophies, while my husband and I snuck in a bit of adult humor: his plaque read “I Tried (participation award),” and mine read “World’s Okayest Runner!” We just love to have fun together!
This fall, we’ve already had two family reunions, are helping host a church youth retreat, have attended two festivals with more on the calendar, in addition to regular family and church holiday celebrations coming up. Now, you know that here in the South, we enjoy our celebrations, and the fact that they always revolve around food! And, confession time: I, like so many others, love pumpkin-flavored anything - I get positively giddy at my first pumpkin-spiced latte of the season! Since we have so many gatherings, I have a few recipes that I keep in mind to bring to the table. Harvest Cobb Salad is a great one, with sliced apples and pears, toasted pecans, dried cranberries, boiled eggs, and poppy seed dressing. Of course, green bean or hash brown casseroles are traditional, and usually enjoyed by most folks. I always like to bring something a little different, though. This year, I took a bread pudding recipe I’ve made many times and swapped a out a few ingredients to make a yummy Pumpkin Raisin-Bread Pudding! Even my boys, who don’t care much for bread pudding, loved it! It always makes me happy to make something my boys really enjoy!
Be sure to join our Recipe Club to receive a free printable recipe card with my Pumpkin Raisin-Bread Pudding recipe on it. This is a great dish to serve as dessert, but it’s also delicious for brunch!
Confession time: I am not a morning person. Like, NOT. at. all. I move at a sloth-like pace until about 8:30. Always have - you can ask my Mama! Unfortunately, I need to leave the house at 7:30 to get both boys to both schools by 7:50. Since they’re not tardy until 8:00, and my children take after their mother, that means there’s a frenzy of activity about 7:25 that usually lasts until 7:35-7:40 - searching for socks in the dryer, signing papers, yelling “I need money” and “Did you brush your teeth?” and “Let’s go! Get in the car!” Please tell me I’m not the only one here?
So, packing lunches every morning becomes one more thing to remember at the last minute that causes stress and panic. And, of course, I’m trying to raise my boys to be independent men who are comfortable in the kitchen. They have great role models in their Daddy and Papa! So, I thought to myself, “Why can’t they pack their own lunches?” Cue spotlight and angels singing.
After much research (read: way too much time spent on Pinterest), I created a system where they can pack their own lunches. I had everything all set up at the beginning of last school year, and it worked great! For a couple of weeks. Then, my car decided to wrap itself around a tree. Since I had just stocked everything, my system worked well for my husband who suddenly found himself playing the role of “Mr. Mom.” Then, suddenly, the baskets were empty. And, since my loving church family kept bringing food so my family would survive without me in the kitchen, there was no room for baskets in my over-flowing refrigerator! I couldn’t drive or work, so I didn’t have any place to be at any particular time. Because of that, packing lunches didn't stress me out like it once did, and that was one thing I could do to be helpful.
Here we are, a year later, and I’m trying to get my system back into place. Now that my older son is in middle school where there are more options, and all our schools now have free lunch (high-fives all around!), he usually eats in the cafeteria. That helps me tremendously! My younger son tends to be a little more picky. Not like he’ll only eat chicken tenders and french fries, but more like he sometimes wants all fruit in his lunchbox. He usually doesn’t care for his foods to be mixed together, although he loves nachos. And, texture plays a big part in whether or not he likes a food - french fries and oven roasted potatoes are fine, baked or mashed potatoes are not. He has eaten a whole tomato like an apple and entire containers of cherry tomatoes, loves chili and spaghetti, but doesn’t like “cooked” tomatoes. Somehow, all his food preferences make sense to me, but because the school cafeteria that has hundreds of kids to feed every day doesn’t tend to cater to what one child likes, if I don’t want him to go hungry, then we’re packing his lunch.
So, my system is pretty simple. I fix the “entree” of his lunchbox, whether it’s leftover taco soup in a thermos, a turkey bacon ranch wrap, a chef salad, or his all-time favorite, the old standby, PB&J, with Southern Mercantile Jam (any flavor, he loves them all!). Sometimes, on super busy mornings (or when I’m moving especially slowly) he’ll just grab a nachos or pizza Lunchable. Really, I’m just trying to give him something with protein that will fill him up. He also really likes cheese (real cheese, not string cheese) and yogurt, so I encourage him to grab one of those if I think he needs a little more protein or dairy.
Next, I have a basket of fruits and veggies from which he can pick two. I try to prepare ahead of time and have bags of cut-up celery, baby carrots, or grapes ready to go, but there are also apples and clementines..
In the pantry, I have two baskets. He can pick one from each, which usually gives him something sweet and something salty.
It’s so easy to fill a lunchbox with junk because it’s shelf-stable, and I try to go to the grocery store only once a week. I’m trying to teach my boys to make healthier choices, though, which means I have to limit what they eat out of the pantry. That’s one reason I like having the system of baskets. I set the guidelines by deciding what goes in each basket and how many items he can have from them, but he gets to choose what he wants in his lunchbox, so he feels empowered and independent. That’s a win-win for me!
Maybe you have your own system for packing lunches. Or, maybe you have an ingenious system to help with some other daily chore. If you have any tips to share, we’d love to hear them! Share your ideas here on The Southern Mercantile blog or on our Facebook page.
As a little girl, my sisters and I were forced to pick whatever fruit or vegetable was in season, wherever my parents or other family members grew it. I even remember stopping on the side of the road not far from the house I grew up in just to pick blackberries so Mama could make a cobbler. (It was delicious!) Since I was a lazy baby sister, I never enjoyed these trips to the garden or orchard or friend’s backyard because they meant working in the sun rather than reading in my room. I did, however, enjoy the “fruits” of all our labor! Now, as an adult, I realize the value of hard work and am grateful for these memories.
One of my favorite memories is of going over to Grandma Willa Ree Tucker’s house at the end of every summer to pick muscadines and scuppernongs. She had quite a few rows of those beautiful vines that were always loaded with the sweet fruit of a southern summer. And, Grandma Ree loved nothing more than to share all that she had. There was always a debate among my sisters and I as to which was better - the purple muscadines or the bronze/green scuppernongs? As a child, the purple were always my favorite, but as I’ve grown older, I tend to love the bronze. I can still remember popping the skins with my teeth, sucking out the juicy pulp, then spitting out the seeds, all while I was supposed to be putting the muscadines in my bucket. For some reason, my bucket never seemed to fill up.
Little did I know that across the county, another family was growing muscadines and raising a little boy into the man I would marry!
I guess it’s a good thing I fell in love with muscadines before I fell in love with him, since they would become such a large part of my adult life! We built our home right in the middle of his family’s muscadine vineyard, and my husband has taken the family business from growing and selling fresh muscadines to creating products made from muscadines. Now, I help with the social media for the family businesses and even make the jellies that we sell.
We talk to a lot of people about muscadines, some to educate on what they are, how to eat them, and how good they are for you. For most who grew up in the south, though, it’s to reminisce about their time in the woods or their grandmother’s backyard, or how their grandfather made homemade muscadine wine! I always love seeing their faces when they eat a muscadine or try our juice or jelly, then hearing their stories. You can see how the taste and scent take them back to the innocence of childhood and the joy they felt in a simpler time. I love being able to provide people with such a nostalgic experience!
Since it is muscadine season, we’d love to hear your stories and memories! If you need a little inspiration and don’t have access to muscadines, you can always order a jar of Paulk’s Pride Muscadine Jelly, Preserves, or Sauce from us here at The Southern Mercantile! In case you’re wondering the differences, the Jelly is made from muscadine juice for a smoother texture, while the preserves and sauce have the skins for a chunkier texture. The sauce also has spices like cinnamon and cloves, which makes it delicious on pork or with turkey and dressing - it’s my personal favorite! Either way, we’d love to hear your stories and how you serve muscadines!
I enjoy picking on my husband, who is fairly simple in his wardrobe choices, about how much he likes to “accessorize his food.” If there is a gravy, sauce, relish, or any other condiment anywhere nearby, he will find something to put it on!
Of all the possibilities, I believe his favorite is peas with relish. There are many options, from the type of peas to the type of relish. Black-eyed peas are a favorite here in the south, but other varieties include Cream Forty or Cream 8, Pink-eyed Purple Hulls, Zipper peas, Crowder peas, or Ladyfinger.
Apparently, peas were once thought of as only feed for livestock; however, when times got tough in the South, peas became a staple food to help many families survive. Now, peas have earned a place of honor on any southern plate, and anyone who has shelled peas knows not to throw away even one little pea. The process of shelling peas by hand is a rite of passage for growing up Southern. I remember shelling peas while watching tv in the evenings, blisters forming on my thumbs which were already colored green or purple depending on the color of the hulls, the pile of hulls growing rapidly while the buckets of peas to be shelled seemed to multiply and the bowl of peas I had worked so hard to shell would never fill up! After so much work, those peas were savored and never wasted!
Now’s the time of year to put up peas in the freezer. After shelling the peas, blanch them in hot water for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. Drain the peas and shock them in an ice-water bath, then drain again. Scoop the peas into freezer bags, label the bags, then store the bags in your freezer. If you don’t have time to shell your own peas, contact your local canning plant. They may have a sheller machine, or they may know someone like our friend, Owen Paulk, who will purchase shelled peas and even get them in freezer bags for you!
Most folks cook their peas with ham-hocks or a few pieces of bacon, but in an effort to be a little more healthy, we’ve switched to using Goya seasoning or just cooking them in chicken broth. You still get that meaty flavor without all the fat and sodium. Adding relish to peas gives them extra flavor, and you can use relish made from just about anything. My mama always made pear relish when I was growing up because we had pear trees. My mother-in-law makes green tomato relish from the piles of tomatoes they grow or have been given. A few years ago, my sister and I made a vegetable relish from zucchini, tomatoes, and onions, which I believe has become my husband’s favorite (Shhh! Don’t tell his mama! :)
Visit our Recipe Archive to find my Vegetable Relish recipe card!
A few years ago, my family began doing something we never thought we’d do - camping! Now, we didn’t want to invest in a camper or RV because we knew we’d feel like we had to use it for every single trip we took, and I still enjoy sleeping in a hotel room for some trips! Instead, we purchased a tent, which claims to sleep 6 people, but in reality has just enough room for the four of us. As our boys grow taller and taller, that tent gets smaller and smaller!
I love going camping in our little tent, though. Not because I’m really that "outdoorsy," although I do appreciate the natural surroundings. I love it because it’s time spent with my family with little to no distractions! When we’re at home, we don’t stop to look for fireflies or build a fire to roast marshmallows. My boys enjoy riding their bikes through the woods so much more than they do at home. Just the simple things like playing cards or eating hot dogs are so much more fun than they would be at home.
On a camping trip, we’re in close quarters with each other, which would be annoying at home. Even when we go on vacation and stay in a hotel room, we have more space. And, since we’re physically closer, I think it also brings us closer together in our relationships with each other. We go on adventures together, doing things we’ve never done and seeing things we’ve never seen before. I love knowing that we are building memories with our boys that they will have for a lifetime.
I’d like to share with you some of our favorite camping spots so far. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve had great experiences at the same locations! Since we’re really just getting started with camping, we’d also love to hear your suggestions for our next camping trip!
1. Tybee Island
This was our first tent camping experience, and it was a great one! We went with my sister’s family, who had actually been tent camping before, which was a big help. Tybee’s beaches are a lot more natural and less "tourist-y" than many beaches, but we liked that. There are lots of cute little shops and our favorite seafood place, "The Crab Shack." Of course, Tybee is also just minutes away from Savannah, so there’s plenty to do!
2. Anastasia Island State Park
Anastasia Island is just across the Bridge of Lions from St. Augustine, with a more natural and less crowded beach. Of course, the trip to St. Augustine is quick, so we enjoyed touring the St. Augustine Pirate Museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Castillo de San Marcos. Of course, my boys’ favorite moment was when they fired the cannons from the fort!
3. Red Top Mountain State Park
We loved Red Top Mountain because our tent site was right on the banks of Lake Allatoona! My boys just slipped right off the rocks and in to the cool water! We visited the Booth Western Art Museum and The Etowah Indian Mounds. Both were fun and informative field trips that even my boys could appreciate.
4. O’Leno State Park
We just visited O’Leno State Park recently, and again, my sister’s family came with us. Located in North Florida, O’Leno is apparently short for "Old Leno," which was once a bustling little town in the late 1800s, until the railroad was diverted around it. We took a short hike from the park area to see where the Santa Fe River actually disappears underground! The river continues underground for three miles before it resurfaces in River Rise Preserve State Park. This time, we didn’t plan much in the way of activities, but we did kayak down the Santa Fe River and saw several springs, including Lilly Springs, where we found "Naked Ed." Yes, he is naked, as my son discovered in attempting to be the first to arrive at the springs! He has a small dock where he sits with a wall to protect your eyes, and he is happy to talk with visitors about his life and family and how he came to be "Naked Ed." It was certainly an experience we’d never have anywhere else!
5. FDR State Park
Our family has made several trips to Callaway Gardens, but hadn’t really taken notice of FDR State Park. Boy, had we been missing out! There were so many places to hike and picnic and just take in the beautiful views! Of course, we saw Callaway Gardens again and enjoyed the Butterfly Center and the Birds of Prey show, but we also visited Warm Springs to see President Roosevelt’s Little White House and learn a little more about his life. And, we drove a little farther to Pine Mountain to the Wild Animal Safari! That was one of the most interesting and fun adventures we’ve had! If you go, rent a van - I promise, it’s worth it!
One thing that has always bothered me when we camp is the amount of trash we accumulate by using paper cups and plates. I don’t really like using plastic (just personal preference) and I certainly don’t trust my packing skills enough to take anything breakable! I’ve found the perfect solution here at The Southern Mercantile - our beautiful enamelware! By investing $36 in a set of four plates and four mugs, I’ll cut down on our trash for years to come, and I’m sure I’ve already spent that much on paper goods in the past!
A wine and cheese party may seem a little too snooty to some, but by adding some Southern flavor, you can create a relaxed environment to make anyone feel comfortable! Here are our essentials and resources for making your next get-together a Southern Wine and Cheese Party!
Choose wines that have been made in the South, or better yet, wines that have been made from Southern fruits. For example, muscadine, peach, and strawberry wines are all deliciously sweet and Southern! Of course, you’ll want wines that aren’t sweet as well, so be sure to include traditional reds and whites. Check out these Southern wineries: Duplin Winery, Lake Ridge Winery, San Sebastian Winery, Georgia Winery, Tiger Mountain Vineyards, or Three Sisters Vineyards Winery.
2. Wine alternative
Of course, not everyone will be imbibing at your party, so provide an alternative for those who are underage, designated drivers, or just don’t care for wine. Sweet tea is many times referred to as the "House Wine of the South" anyway, but may I recommend a slightly fancier option? Muscadine Grape Juice is about as Southern as it gets, and I happen to know where to find the most delicious Purple and White Muscadine Juice. Yes, this is a shameless self-promotion for my husband and our family’s operation: Paulk’s Pride! Check us out at www.paulkspride.com
You can’t have a wine and cheese party without cheese! I do suggest having a variety of textures and flavors for everyone to enjoy: soft, creamy, mild, sharp, aged, blue, etc. Our rural local grocery store doesn’t have many choices, but you can find more options at larger grocery store chains. Or, support a family-owned business such as Sweetgrass Dairy. For a uniquely Southern touch, how about some pimiento cheese? Proper Pepper Small Batch Pimento Cheese is a delicious alternative if you don’t make your own. Of course, if you’re near our small town of Ocilla, Georgia, feel free to stop by The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry to order some of The Cafe’s Pimiento Cheese!
A variety of cured meats to go with the cheeses ensures that no one goes hungry at your party! Salami, pepperoni, and sliced deli meats are typical choices, but a summer sausage from Carroll’s Sausage and Country Store makes a delightfully Southern option.
I know, it may seem like a crazy combination, but honey and cheese are delicious together! Try Savannah Bee Company’s Honey for Cheese or any of their honeys for that matter! Or, find a local beekeeper for the freshest honey in your area.
Start with what’s in season at the time near you. Fresh peaches, pears, berries, muscadine grapes, and apples all go well with your wines and cheeses and look beautiful on your table. Find a pick-your-own or farmers’ market for the freshest produce. Add in some jellies and preserves along with dried fruits and nuts for a little variety. Great resources include:
7. Serving pieces
You probably already have most of what you’ll need to serve (glasses, plates, trays, utensils, napkins, cutting boards, etc.), but if you’re missing anything, you can find it here at The Southern Mercantile!
Don’t worry about incorporating all of these ideas- even just one or two will give your soiree a Southern touch. Remember, the point is to keep it relaxed, so we don’t want you stressing out! This is Simple Living, Southern Charm at its finest!
As the mother of two busy, growing boys, I know how hectic life can be, running from work to sports practices and games, then to art lessons and church. I also know how important having dinner together at home is. According to www.familydinnerproject.org:
“Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.”
Here are my 5 tips for how to make Family Dinner happen, in spite of busy schedules:
1. Plan ahead.
I try to take the time on Sunday evening to look through our family’s schedule for the next week to determine which nights we can eat at home and which nights we’ll have to eat out. I plan my meals based on the amount of time I will have to cook each evening. (This also helps our family budget, which makes my hubby happy!) My family’s favorite meal on a night I don’t have a lot of time is nachos. We each choose our own toppings, from ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. We also love to add sour cream and homemade salsa and guacamole. Make sure you’re signed up for our email list and join our Recipe Club to receive a Recipe Card with our Homemade Salsa and Guacamole recipes!
2. Crockpot meals.
I go through spells of using my crockpot all the time, then not using it for a while. When life gets busy, though, my crockpot is a lifesaver! I use it for lots of soups and stews, but even if you just use it to cook your meat, the rest of the meal comes together pretty easily. There are lots of crockpot cookbooks and recipes out there, especially on Pinterest. My family’s favorite right now is Asian Pork Tenderloin with Ginger Glaze, which you can find here (shoutout to The Food Charlatan!)
3. Plan to pick up takeout or have semi-homemade.
On the nights your schedule just won’t allow you to cook, go ahead and decide what you can pick up and add to at home. Whether it’s a bucket of fried chicken, so all you have to do is cook a box of macaroni and cheese and heat up a can of green beans, or if you order pizza and add a salad, figure out what will take the most time and a way to reduce that amount of time.
4. Have a back-up plan.
Sometimes, even after planning ahead, you still end up with less time than you thought you would have. I try to keep certain items in my freezer and pantry, so that I can throw together my meals rather quickly. Cans of beans and diced tomatoes stay on my pantry shelf, and I know that my microwave can defrost one pound of meat in less than 10 minutes. That means I can throw together a pot of chili or taco soup in half an hour. Filling my pot with hot water before putting it on the stove helps it to boil faster, which means I can have pasta topped with canned spaghetti sauce and meatballs from the freezer within half an hour, too. Also, my kids love breakfast for supper, and they never realize it’s because I ran out of time! Scramble some eggs, boil water for some quick grits, and fry a little bacon (okay, a lot!), and get ready for smiles. Know what meals you can pull together quickly, then make sure you keep those ingredients at the ready.
5. Make the restaurant table your family dinner table.
You’ve tried your best to make family dinner at home work, but there are times when even your backup plan falls through. I know how you feel, but this still does not make you a failure. Instead, accept the fact that you’re going to have to eat dinner out, then have dinner at the restaurant table just as you would have at home: no phones, talk about highs and lows for the day, play word association games, tell stories, etc. Enjoy the service and the meal prepared by someone else, while you enjoy time together with family! You can even make it an event by inviting extended family!
A long time ago, my sister taught me that with family meals - just as in so many other areas of life - we have to choose between good, better, and best. Of course, a home-cooked meal from scratch at a beautifully set table with spouses and children who talk about their day is best, but that’s not always going to happen. Sometimes, you choose what is only good or better, knowing that you have done the best you could do at the time. Cut yourself some slack, and have a PB&J on paper plates, if you have to. Just make sure that as often as you can, your family has the chance to have dinner together.