Since going freelance in 1999, Muchnick has published hundreds of parenting and lifestyle articles for various publications and websites including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Woman’s Day, Ladies’ Home Journal, Parents, Parenting, Child, Pregnancy, Sesame Street Parents, Healthy Kids, Family Life, ShapeFit Pregnancy, Women’s Health & Fitness, Westchester Magazine, Long Island Parents & Child, In Town Magazine, Rockland Magazine, Endless Vacation, Sprout.com, Famil .com, FamilyTravelTimes.com, and MomLogic.com.
She has also been a contributor to several books including See Mom Run, The Best Places to Kiss in New York, The Rough Guide series and The Birnbaum guidebooks. TV appearances include CNBC’s Parent’s Helper, Steals and Deals, News 12 Westchester, Good Day New York Sunday and RNN.
She considers herself to be the quintessential suburban mom, complete with two daughters who she embarrasses simply by breathing, a husband who doesn’t understand why there are so many beauty products in the bathroom, a shedding dog, a lawn that forever needs mowing, and a messy house/car filled with overdue library books, clothes headed to the dry cleaners and an assortment of reusable shopping bags.
Here is what Jeanne had to tell the Culture Mom Blog about her new book, career, life balance and finding inspiration.
CultureMomBlog: Can you please tell us about Dinner for Busy Moms?
Dinner for Busy Moms is a strategy guide as opposed to a recipe book. There ARE a few recipes in back, but mainly it’s a “Dummie’s Guide for Parents” on how to get your family back to the dinner table with minimal effort. And yes, take out Chinese and frozen pizza count. My mantra: it’s really the fact that you’re all sitting together at the dinner table more than what you’re serving that matters. I’m no cook and I clearly have culinary downfalls, but I DO think it’s important for families to eat together, and so I offer strategies on how to make that work – without becoming a short-order cook/slave to your kitchen. The secret (if I cut to the chase and save you the 214-page tips) is planning to plan and spending as much time on thinking about dinners as you do on scheduling your kid’s after-school activities and catering to your own work and lifestyle demands.
Bottom Line: I’ve always been great about my work deadlines and kids’ after school commitments, but when it came to dinner, I didn’t think it through at all, leaving me in a harried state come 5:30/6 p.m. of staring at my fridge wishing a fairy godmother would pop out and place a steaming home-cooked meal in front of all of us.
What I think makes my book different: it’s filled with tips from other moms across the country (though a fair amount from Tri-state area too and Westchester because that’s where most of my friends are). As moms, we always turn to other moms for best advice…and I do think my book feels a bit like chatting with a friend.
It’s also very magazine-y — as that’s my background — with tips and sidebars and easily “digestible” tidbits….meant to be the kind of book you can pick up and read, then put down as we busy moms don’t have TONS of time so making it an easy read was very important.
Culture Mom: What inspired you to write this book?
The fact that my family and I were all over the place come the 6 p.m. scramble. We rarely ate together. Often, we ate in shifts: my (then) grade school kids first and then my husband and I. And hello ten pounds of weight gain to me who nibbled off both my kid’s plates and then later ate a second meal with Hubby. It wasn’t ideal. It kind of worked sometimes. But none of us was really happy. It it wasn’t until my younger daughter started counting down the days to visit my sister’s house in California where her family all eats together – despite their hectic schedules – that I figured I should step up to the plate (pun intended). Sydney told me it was better at Auntie Ann’s house because they all ate together and that resonated with me. Made me realize I needed to Plan to PLAN!! And be better at bringing my family together.
I’m not perfect. And we still don’t eat together every night. And I don’t take recipes out of Martha Stewart. But from then on, I became committed to taking the mayhem out of mealtimes at least three nights a week. We started easy: with taco nights on Sunday nights and moved on from there (nothing is set in stone as kids got older, lifestyles changed). And yes, sometimes that meant eating without my husband. Or feeding the kids (and me!) snacks to tide us over till he came home. I just think it’s a matter of putting dinner on the schedule and then sticking to that schedule that makes it possible. We moms need to put dinner back on the front burner (another fun food pun). It doesn’t have to be all 70s style with a home-cooked pot roast, but it should mean sitting down together as a family as often as it works. And at least TRYING to make it work.
Culture Mom: Did you learn anything while writing it?
Honestly? It just reinforced for me how much I love sitting around the dinner table with my family. Even when there’s crying, whining, sulking….we’re together and “in the moment.” I don’t allow TV or texting. And we don’t answer the phone. It’s our “sacred” time. I like to think of dinner as a warm hug at the end of a busy, long day where we’re all in separate directions and finally come together. When it’s a meal where we’re laughing and I’m learning
something I didn’t know about my kid’s or about their friends or what they’re thinking or worrying about, it’s a real win. (I encourage inviting friends over as kids will talk more and you’ll learn more. It also makes it more fun.)
I also think it’s important for my girls to know that come 6:30 p.m. they have me and my husband’s undivided attention. It’s just a way of reconnecting…even if just for 20 or 30 minutes. (Sometimes that’s all the time you have but again: if you have a quality 20 minutes it means a lot more than a jumbled 20 minutes standing and eating at counter, pulling things out of the fridge, eating on the go in the car.)
Seriously: think about it. You walk into a friend’s house to pick up your kid from a play date and there’s this delicious smell coming from the kitchen. Even YOU want to stay.
Culture Mom: How do you recommend a busy mom find time to cook?
Plan it out. Planning to plan is essential. (Sorry I keep saying that) Look at your week. Figure out what might work. Here’s where the Chinese or pizza come into play. Maybe Tuesday is just impossible to get a meal on the table. So figure you’ll order in. Do NOT think you have to be a good cook. You can pick up a rotisserie chicken and steam some veggies and throw a potato in the microwave and viola: you have dinner. I’m honestly all about steps to make it easier. Doubling up recipes so you plan for leftovers. So Monday is lasagna, Thursday is lasagna leftovers. Or buying enough meat to make a bunch of different meals, i.e. grilled chicken one night, chicken fajitas another, chicken tacos another or throwing chicken into soup or on top of pizza.
Buying pre-packaged and cut up veggies is also key for busy moms; anything pre made but also healthy (check food labels to make sure first three ingredients and make sure they are something you can pronounce and KNOW what they are). Grilling a bunch of chicken and then freezing it so it’s always there is also key (same with hamburger/turkey meat, etc.) I LOVE my freezer and talk a lot about how when you embrace your freezer, there’s always a meal or two or three there. Just PLAN to take it out the night before so it defrosts in time!)
You also need to plan your shopping. When can you go to the food store (try to only go ONCE a week — if you really organize your list, it’s possible!!). Start making Sundays your routine go-to day. Keep your list in your computer as we all pretty much make the same things over and over. That way, you have a working list of staples that you can use to make your standard meal. Update it. That way hubby can pick up what you’re missing or, if you’re really lucky, your driving teenager.
Again: it all comes down to planning.
I also talk about organizing your pantry. If you spend time organizing it and seeing what you really have and what you really need – You’ll ALWAYS have stuff in your pantry that you can pull out and make for dinner. And when I say “pantry,” this includes your fridge and freezer.
I know for a fact that I always have spaghetti, chicken (either in freezer or fridge), frozen veggies that I can use to toss in spaghetti or stir fry.
Also always have tomato sauce and pasta on hand.
Always have frozen meatballs.
Always have eggs and frozen waffles– breakfast for dinner an easy alternative and fun – top with fruit. Use frozen veggies to make an omelette or frittata. My advice to moms: don’t go all crazy thinking you need to prepare a four-course meal. Soup and a sandwich can be dinner. So can a baked potato with various toppings (you can make it fun by putting things out in little bowls: pepperoni, sauce, extra cheese, veggies, chicken, etc).
Culture Mom: How did you become a published author? What steps did you take to get to this point?
I’ve been writing for 20 years so know a lot of people. I was introduced to Julie Trelstad, publisher of Plain White Press and we hit it off. I love that she publishes a lot of mom-oriented books and was thrilled when she said she’d be happy to partner with me.
Culture Mom: How have you juggled motherhood and work over the years?
OY! The million dollar question as I’ve worked in various shifts as mentioned earlier. Part time. Freelance. Full time. Rushing to catch train. Etc.
I’ve had various babysitters over the years, people I’ve shared babysitting with, times I scrambled to make it work without any help, and finally, the latchkey kid situation. We used to live on the Upper West Side and I had my in-laws to pitch in so that was helpful for times I had to work late. They’ve also taken the train out to Larchmont to help when I’ve been in a bind. When my girls were younger and I worked full-time I had a nanny. For a time I worked three days a week and only had a babysitter pitch-hitting. But we’ve gone through a lot of babysitters over the years as my kid’s needs — and my needs changed. At one point, I really just needed a chauffeur! But that wasn’t possible. Luckily I’ve been able to write at night when they’re sleeping or when my husband could take over. And I work a lot of weekends. “sneaking” work in is how I’ve done it. It remains a juggle that I’m still perfecting.
Culture Mom: What are you working on?
A few articles for Westchester Magazine…something on cold soups and sangria (not together but sounds good, right?) And busy trying to promote my book. If people buy direct from publisher before Mother’s day, a $1 will go direct to Family-to-Family.org, the charity I’m trying to promote as it helps feed needy families in the U.S. (and was started by Pam Koner, a Westchester mom!) Go to http://www.jeannemuchnick.com/ and click where it says to order from publisher. If you use the code “dinner” you can get 20% off.
Culture Mom: What is a typical day like for you as a writer? Where do you work?
I work best in the morning with a hot cup of coffee. I also like it when it’s quiet in the house. So I tend to do a lot of my best writing on Sat and Sunday mornings.
I also like to write at night when crazy busy day is more or less behind me and kids are finished homework, don’t “need” me for anything.
Please join the Culture Mom Blog in the near future for another installment of our column, Inspiring Culture Moms.
Want to learn more about Dinner for Busy Moms and enter to win a copy of the book?
Join us next Monday, April 26th, for the Dinner for Busy Moms Twitter Party! Author, Jeanne Muchnick will be on hand to answer our questions about planning our shopping, keeping our pantry organized, making healthy food for our children (yes, we are all a part of the Food Revolution that is sweeping our nation!), strategies for family meal time and much, much more.
Join us as we tweet about all of the above and more including:
-Dealing with picky eaters
-Turning off the TV without a revolt
-Shopping for a week
-Providing healthy choices
When: Monday, April 26th from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. ET
>Where: #Dinner4BusyMoms on Twitter
-We will have book giveaways during the party. To be eligible, you must be present.
-All tweets with the #DinnerForBusyMoms hashtag between 9pm EST and 10pm ET on the 26th will count.
Please leave your name below in the comment section to let us know that you will be joining us!