Meet the Barnharts! Meg Barnhart is the founder and owner of the Zen of slow cooking, a B Corp dedicated to helping home cooks prepare meals that bring people together for meaningful connections. This month Zen is donating a portion of the proceeds to The Family Dinner Project in support of our non-profit community programs. Below, Meg shares part of her story of transforming the diner in her household, which led to a total life change and the creation of her business to help other families.
The Barnharts are a family of five, with three adult children, ages 22-27. They are from Lake Forest, Illinois.
According to Meg, the family is currently trying to emphasize the importance of eating healthy and incorporating more plant-based recipes into their diet. However, with grown children, it’s easier to achieve family dinner goals than ever. Meg says: “With two kids out and about alone, we’ve split the cooking between the three family members at home. Evening meals are allocated. One night is takeout night to support a local restaurant.”
The family dinner system wasn’t always so streamlined. When the kids were young, Meg remembers meal times were much more stressful; for a while the goal might have been to get dinner on the table at all.
Looking back, Meg remembers that raising young children didn’t always go hand in hand with making food. “I found it difficult to find time to prepare meals. My afternoons were taken up with carpooling, sporting events, therapy visits, etc. I often found myself struggling to get something together around 5:30 pm,” she says. The Barnharts’ middle child had special needs, and much of Meg’s time and energy revolved around making sure he got the help and support he needed — which meant spending a lot of time in the car, a lot of help at home, and not a lot of time. time to cook.
As it turned out, stretching Meg too thin to make family dinners a priority ended up giving Meg a turning point that totally changed her life. “My a-ha moment came when I called my best friend, Kate, one night to share my dinnertime woes. My kids were between 6 and 11 years old and went in three different directions after school. I had an extra challenge because my middle son had a complex learning disability, so it was a challenge to find the right education system.”
Meg remembers pouring her heart out to Kate, and while sharing her frustrations, Kate responded with three pieces of advice that became the foundation of the Barnhart family’s transformation:
1) Stop crying; you are not a failure. You just have a tough parenting deal.
2) Put the phone down because you are way too accessible.
3) Buy a Crock Pot!
“I bought a slow cooker the next day,” says Meg, and the change was almost instantaneous. Instead of fighting to fit cooking into the hectic afternoon and evening routine, Meg started preparing all her ingredients in the morning, putting them in the slow cooker, then setting the table. “When I got home with the kids and we walked in, it felt like someone had been cooking all day. We would slow down to enjoy the smell,” she recalls.
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 my slow cooker would become the vehicle for a change in my life!”
“I like to eat what’s in season – fresh corn in the summer, pumpkin soup in the fall, and nothing beats a simple roasted chicken with herbs and lemon. Back in my childhood home, my mother was a fantastic home cook and taught me to enjoy flavors from all over the world, but desserts were only for special occasions. So you can imagine I love a little piece of chocolate or ice cream after our main meal!”
The takeaway meals:
Meg says she grew up in a house where dinners were important — no phone calls were allowed during dinnertime, and her father’s love of history often led to long times together at the table “where one of us would often run to get an encyclopedia! ‘ Those dinners were special to Meg: “No matter how hard my school day was, I knew my evenings would provide a sense of calm at the end of the day.”
Her own children, now adults, reflect that family meals have played a huge role in their own lives. Lucy, 22, notes: “Family dinners are the only times a day where we actually sit down to eat and talk. Between school and work and extracurricular activities, there are very few occasions throughout the week where our family can actually share an experience between all five of us! Brothers Phil and Doug agree. “You have to incorporate (dinner) into family life because it’s a connectivity you might not get otherwise,” says Phil.
Phil broadens his horizons to a different kind of family: the friends who are his colleagues and his “work family” at the restaurant where he currently works. They eat together family style every day and share the same kind of bond he is used to at home. “I feel like taking the time to enjoy a home cooked meal with the local and distant members of my circle to nourish me and my community,” he shares.
The best part:
“As a mom, I feel like it’s something simple I can offer my family,” says Meg, adding that getting together for meals with her grown children is now “magical.”
“From my kids’ perspective, it’s a moment where they know they have our full attention. Our family dinners are a place where we can discuss the events of the day and where our children have learned what is important to us as a family.”
Do you have your own family dinner project to share with us, or would you like to tell us about how your family is sharing meals during COVID-19? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us.