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Passion, Pain, and What’s for Dinner?

As a mother, I find dinnertime to be a royal pain in the you-know-what.

The determining, deciding, picking, shopping, chopping, cooking, cleaning, and arguing are just so laborious. Not only is it hard on any given day, it has to happen every single day.

Even if you nail dinner on Wednesday, and everyone eats what you make, you have to muster the energy to start the whole machine all over again on Thursday. And again on Friday.

It makes me tired just writing about it.

I’m starting to envy the whales. On a recent whale-watching tour in Mexico, I learned the secret to life, and I also learned a fascinating fact about whales and food. Apparently, they eat for eight months straight, then they stop eating for the remaining four months of the year so they can migrate south and mate.

I guess they need to stay focused on the task at hand, and hunting down food would simply get in the way. Can you imagine how productive you could be in life if you didn’t have to worry about eating? I know I’m jealous.

Now, when I say that I find dinnertime to be harder than hard, I’m not just speaking from personal experience. My entire career is built around researching the highs and lows of mothers across the country, and I’ve seen time and time again that the number one pain point of mothers is dinnertime.

Every day.

The chart shown here represents the aggregated data (across every different kind of mother you can imagine) showing the typical day in the life of
an American mom.

One clear take-away from this chart is the fact that you can expect more pain than passion in your day. This research is from more than 10,000 women in America. If you think your day today should be filled with balloons and kittens and everyone getting along, you should probably think again.

The numbers don’t lie. Life is challenging. But I might have found something to make it a little easier.

A friend recently told me that one should run the household like a business. It’s an interesting metaphor. As a general rule of thumb, at work, people are organized and buttoned up, communication lines are clear, and everybody knows who is doing what, and when assignments are due. Nobody walks into a meeting at work and says, “Wait a second. We’re talking about whaaaaaaaat today?”

However, at home, things tend to play out more like a trainwreck.

Even when I manage to get home on time and get a healthy meal on the table, my efforts are rewarded with shock and awe almost every time. “Wait a second. We’re having whaaaaaat for dinner tonight?”


This week, out of sheer desperation, I decided to put my friend’s advice into action. I came up with two guiding principles that successful businesses follow, and I vowed to start using them at home when it comes to food.

Have a plan. Successful businesses don’t wait until the last minute to make decisions. They have plans in place and they execute those plans, leaving little room for surprises.

Get some help. Great leaders don’t make decisions in a vacuum, and then ram them down people’s throats. They seek input, advice, and opinions from everyone on the team.

Do you ever feel like you’re all alone in your pursuit of your family having a happy and healthy meal together? Everybody in the house is fine with frozen pizza, and you’re the jerk trying to get them to eat three florets of broccoli before devouring a bowl of chocolate ice cream. How dare you?

I have a plan that might help.

Last night, when my family showed up to the dinner table, there was a pen and a piece of paper next to everyone’s plate. The eyes started rolling immediately. I informed everyone that we were having a family meeting. Everyone’s first assignment was to write down the one thing that is most important to them when it comes to dinnertime.

Mine: The food is healthy.

Richard’s: The meal is simple.

Layla’s: The food tastes good.

Alex’s: Not fighting with Layla.

The final assignment was for us to crowd-source “five meals that everyone will eat and like” that also fit the criteria above. It was a funny exchange. Everyone lobbied to get their meal on the list. Many meals were vetoed. In the end, we agreed to: steak, pasta, pork chops, hamburgers and nachos.

Simple. Healthy. No fighting.

I have no idea how to make healthy nachos, but you can bet your sweet chips I’ll make them because it’s part of the plan. We got to determine the meals together, but I get to make them as healthy as humanly possible. Broccoli included.

I’m excited about this plan. Like any plan, it won’t be perfect and I’ll have frozen pizza waiting in the wings. However, for the first time ever, I don’t
feel like I’m flying blind, and I don’t feel like I’m alone in this fight.

One team. One dream. One dinner at a time. Wish me luck.

Katherine Wintsch is a nationally recognized expert on modern motherhood, founder of The Mom Complex in Richmond, and author of “Slay Like a Mother.” The majority of her expertise comes from studying the passion and pain points of mothers around the world. The rest, she says, is accumulated from a little trial and a whole lot of error while raising her own two children, Layla and Alex.
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