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Real Family Dinner Projects: The Barnhart Family

Posted on: August 31st, 2020 by Bri DeRosa

Meet the Barnharts! Meg Barnhart is the founder and owner of the Zen of Slow Cooking, a B Corp devoted to helping home cooks prepare meals that bring people together for meaningful connections. This month, Zen is kindly donating a share of its proceeds to The Family Dinner Project in support of our non-profit community programs. Below, Meg shares some of her story about transforming dinner in her household, which led to a total life change and the founding of her business to help other families.

The Family:

The Barnharts are a family of five, with three adult children ranging in age from 22-27. They hail from Lake Forest, Illinois.

The Goals:

Currently, Meg says the family is trying to emphasize the importance of healthy eating and incorporating more plant-based recipes into their diets. However, with adult children, it’s easier to accomplish family dinner goals than it once was. Meg says, “With two children out on their own, we have divided up the cooking between the three family members at home. Evening meals have been assigned. One night is take-out night to support a local restaurant.”

The family dinner system wasn’t always so streamlined. When the kids were young, Meg recalls that mealtimes were much more stressful; for a while, the goal might just have been to get dinner on the table at all.

The Challenge:

Looking back, Meg remembers that raising young children wasn’t always compatible with making dinner. “I found it difficult to find time for meal-time prep. My afternoons were claimed with car pools, sporting events, therapy visits, etc. I often found myself scrambling to pull something together around 5:30 p.m.,” she says. The Barnharts’ middle child had special needs, and much of Meg’s time and energy revolved around making sure that he had the help and support he needed — which meant lots of time in the car, lots of help at home, and not a lot of time to cook.

The Strategies:

As it turned out, being stretched too thinly to make family dinners a priority ended up providing Meg with a turning point that totally changed her life. “My a-ha moment came when I called my best friend, Kate, one evening sharing my dinner time woes. My children were ages 6-11 and went in three different directions after school. I had an additional challenge as my middle son had complex learning disabilities, so finding the right educational system was a challenge.”

Meg recalls that she poured her heart out to Kate, and as she shared her frustrations, Kate replied with three pieces of advice that became the basis of the Barnhart family’s transformation:

1) Stop crying; you’re not a failure. You just have a difficult parenting deal.
2) Get off the phone as you are way too accessible.
3) Buy a Crock pot!

“I bought a slow cooker the next day,” Meg says, and the change was almost instantaneous. Instead of battling to fit cooking into the hectic afternoon and evening routine, Meg started preparing all her ingredients in the mornings, putting them in the slow cooker, and then setting the table. “When I got home with the kids and we walked in the door, it felt like someone had been home cooking all day. We would slow down to savor the aroma,” she remembers.

The extra time also allowed her to spend more quality time with the kids in the minutes between school, therapy, homework and dinner. “Little did I know that my slow cooker would become the vehicle for a change in my life!”

The Food:

“I love eating what’s in season – fresh corn during the summer, pumpkin soup in the fall and nothing beats a simple roasted chicken with herbs and lemon. In my childhood home, my mother was a fantastic home cook and she taught me to enjoy flavors from all over the globe, but desserts were only for special occasions. So as you can imagine I love a little piece of chocolate or ice cream after our main meal!”

The Takeaway:

Meg says that she grew up in a home where dinners were important — phone calls weren’t allowed during the dinner hour, and her father’s love of history often led to long stretches at the table together “where one of us was often running to get an encyclopedia!”Those dinners were special to Meg. “No matter how difficult my day was at school I knew my evenings would offer a sense of peace at the end of the day.”

Her own children, now grown, reflect that family meals have been instrumental in their own lives. 22-year-old Lucy observes, “Family dinners are the one time a day where we really sit down together, to share a meal and conversation. Between school and work and extracurriculars, there are very few opportunities throughout the week where our family actually gets to share an experience between all five of us!” Brothers Phil and Doug agree. “You have to incorporate (dinner) into the family life because it is a connectivity you might not get otherwise,” Phil says.

Phil widens his perspective to include a different kind of family: The friends who are his co-workers and his “work family” at the restaurant where he’s currently employed. They eat together family-style each day and share the same kind of connection that he’s used to at home. “I feel like taking the time to enjoy a homemade meal with the local and distant members of my circle nourishes me and my community,” he shares.

The Best Part:

“As a mom, I feel like it’s something simple that I can offer to my family,” Meg says, adding that gathering for meals with her adult children is now “magical.”

“From my children’s perspective it’s a moment, when they know they have our full attention. Our family dinners are a place where we get to discuss the events of the day and where our children have learned what we value as a family.”

Do you have your own family dinner project to share with us, or would you like to tell us how your family is sharing meals during COVID-19? We’d love to hear from you! Contact Us.