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Mise-en-Place

From my morning straw-poll chats with a group of 15 to 20 health-conscious women most mornings the last three years, the biggest hindrance in their quest to eat healthily, and feed their family well, is organization. They eat sensibly and work out during the day, and pack their children healthy lunches for school, knowing the kids will get plenty of exercise under the guidance of Rye’s excellent PE staff.

 

By Lee Sandford

 

From my morning straw-poll chats with a group of 15 to 20 health-conscious women most mornings the last three years, the biggest hindrance in their quest to eat healthily, and feed their family well, is organization. They eat sensibly and work out during the day, and pack their children healthy lunches for school, knowing the kids will get plenty of exercise under the guidance of Rye’s excellent PE staff.  

 

However, after-school, carpool and homework time for older kids, and bath and story time for younger ones, coincide with meal preparation, and, inevitably, the best of intentions go awry. Before starting his own family, my brother declared to me he would never buy pasta again, because homemade pasta is too easy and delicious. I told him to get back to me on that when he had kids and his countertops are taken up with  science projects and book reports and see if he still feels like flouring up those surfaces and rolling out dough!

 

Too often the number of things going on is overwhelming, and the best of moms find themselves calling their favorite pizza place or reaching for frozen ready-meals, which can be eaten in the car on the way to the next game. This is disheartening because most parents are well versed in the numerous studies showing the importance of proper, sit-down, homemade meals. Among the findings for families who eat together at least five times per week:

 

• Younger children have better vocabulary, and older children have better grades in school;

• Teenagers are less likely to have substance abuse problems;
• Teenagers say they enjoy having dinner with their parents and eat more healthily when they do;
• Children have a healthier perception of how close their parents are.

 

I’ve been a mom for 13 years and every few months I resolve that this next season or semester will be the one where I crack the code of having organized mealtimes, with healthy dinners that the minority of my family complains about. Last spring was the closest I’ve come to that, with my solution of Mise-en-Place Mondays.

 

Mise-en-place is the French term for having all your ingredients prepared and ready to assemble. I realized that preparing a meal from scratch and subsequent cleanup was unrealistic and not enjoyable every night. Being lucky enough to have a Monday afternoon off work, I decided to try making that my cooking day. I planned my four mid-week meals over the weekend and placed an online order to be delivered Monday morning.


Like the Type A personality I am not, I chopped, sliced, prepared sauces, and marinated meats and fish in advance, figuring out as the weeks went by how to make leftovers not seem like leftovers. I confessed my system to no one, not even my husband, as I have a reputation as a mere Type B+ personality to preserve.

 

True to my B+ side, this all fell apart over the summer, when the lure of dinner at the beach was too strong, but I was determined to resume it this fall. To make sure I did, I rashly informed Boot Campers that for the next several weeks I would provide them with a Mise-en-Place menu of four dinner recipes, a shopping list, and Monday prep instructions.

 

Four weeks in and the feedback is great. Moms open the shopping list side-by-side with their online grocery store and fill up their cart. It’s now the part of the “mom job” that people feel most, instead of least, in control of. Prepping ahead gives them time for all the other things going on early evening, most importantly, round-the-table family time.


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