On my blog The Lunch Tray, I write a lot about the importance of family dinner, but I know all too well that for busy working families, getting everyone fed on a weeknight is often easier said than done. Sometimes a little out-of-the-box thinking is called for.
That’s why I love this story of twelve adults and sixteen children who’ve been sharing a weekly “family dinner” together for the last eight years.
It all started when two sets of parents met through their children’s public school in Washington, D.C.. Another parent at the school, a Mediterranean chef, offered a “meal of the week” each Thursday as part of her catering business. The two sets of parents — who happened to live across the street from each other — started buying and sharing the meal together. Over time, three other families on the same street also bought the meal and joined in the Thursday communal dinner.
But then the Mediterranean chef moved on. Writes Sue, one of the original founders of Thursday Night Dinner:
We panicked. We ordered pizza. We ordered Chinese. We ordered pizza again. We wondered if we’d be able to keep it together. Somehow, we did. The food wasn’t as good, the planning wasn’t as seamless, but by this point Thursday Night Dinner was as much a part of our collective vocabulary and routine as school and work.
A replacement chef was hired to cook the Thursday night meal until he, too, moved on:
After two tragic breakups, we were resolved: we weren’t going on the market again. We didn’t need a (wo)man to make us feel complete; we had each other! We had kitchens! We had passable culinary skills! We had no choice!
So, here we are, in themed pot-luck mode. These 8 years have brought with them a few more kids, 1 new family added to the mix, and three moves off Fessenden Street, but we’re hanging in there. And happily so.
As documented in a new weekly blog, Thursday Night Dinners, the group brings a spirit of quirky fun to the project. For example, the first meal of 2012 had a Mayan theme, one meal was entirely raw, the next made entirely in Crockpots (including the beverage and dessert!), and there was even an homage to that 1980′s favorite, the Silver Palate Cookbook (entree: Chicken Marbella. What else?)
I asked Sue [full disclosure: a dear friend] about the ground rules for Thursday Night Dinner. She told me that the families alternate hosting according to a set rotation, with the host family setting the week’s theme, preparing the entree and sometimes also a theme-appropriate cocktail. The other families bring the rest. No limits are imposed on spending and Sue acknowledged that the host family has to spend a fair amount to make an entree for 28 people. On the other hand, she said:
In the long run, it probably saves us money because (1) we’re all cooking in bulk every Thursday, and (2) that’s one day of the week we’re always eating quality, multi-course meals and never, ever giving in to the lure of takeout or a restaurant. It’s also one day a week with sustained adult conversation at dinner and free (i.e. built-in) babysitting, so maybe there are some hidden savings there.
Logistics aside, this sort of communal weeknight dinner seems like a great way to share the burden of getting a good meal on the table, with the added bonus of socializing with friends.
But whether you decide to partner up or go solo, be sure to check out the Thursday Night Dinners blog, which includes photos and recipes for most of the dishes served, along with amusing commentary.
Bettina Elias Siegel is a former lawyer, freelance magazine writer and the parent of two children in Houston public schools. She blogs daily about “kids and food, in school and out” on The Lunch Tray, which has been recognized by Rachel Ray’s Yum-O! Foundation and as a Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution “Blog of the Month.” She is also actively involved in efforts to improve school food in her own district and reports specifically on Houston ISD school food news on her new blog, The Spork Report.