Every Sunday morning, Severn Williams totes two cookbooks under his arm as he heads out for breakfast with his wife, Nina, and toddler son, Ezra. At the restaurant, they leaf through the books for two or three recipes to make for weeknight dinners, then pick up groceries on the way home.
That night, after Ezra’s asleep, they put on some music and cook – lasagna, manicotti, breakfast casseroles, gumbo and other easy-to-reheat dishes that will allow them to sit down most nights for a stress-free family dinner.
It’s “sacred time,” even though the Williamses work 60-hour weeks for their Santa Barbara, Calif.-based public relations startup. Their dinner habits put them in a slight majority of working families.
Most nights, up to 40 percent of American families don’t eat their evening meals together, in the face of studies that point to regular family meals as a way to keep kids out of trouble, possibly boost their academic performance and keep family ties tied.
The hard part is making it more than just a sometime thing.
Make a plan for your clan…
Entrepreneurs have an especially hard time breaking away from business to focus on family.
“It’s easy to work around the clock and grab something to eat here and there,” says Williams, who founded Severn Williams Media in 2001. “For years, that’s what I did. [Now,] we’re looking for quick, healthy, tasty meal options, so the time we’re together is really spent being together.”
It’s a common predicament of entrepreneurship: How do you feed your family a healthy sit-down dinner without sacrificing work time? The answer, as in so many areas of an entrepreneur’s challenge, is planning.
Connie Sparks, president of the Wade Institute in Santa Clarita, Calif., pulled her four daughters into meal prep when she launched her company in 2000. On Sundays, Sparks shopped for groceries, seasoned and prepared main dishes and popped them in the freezer. Each weekday, she’d pull out one to defrost, and write careful instructions for her oldest daughters to warm it and make side dishes. At the end of the workday, she could simply come home, sit down with her girls and connect.
“That was our way of communicating, really bonding,” Sparks says. “Just like with preparing for anything else, if you have a plan ahead of time, you’ll be successful.”
…but be realistic
Maureen Kendall, COO of Little Ruler, an online retailer of skateboarding clothes, shops for groceries once a month, stocking up on lentils, produce and non-meat proteins for her vegetarian family. With everything on hand, it’s easy to throw together a weeknight dinner.
“During the day, I think about what I want to do for dinner, and look in the pantry to see if I have what I need,” says Kendall, whose husband, Jeff, is a former professional skateboarder. They have two preschooler sons.
And she tries to be realistic. Part of the work-life balance, Kendall says, is accepting that you aren’t likely to prepare elaborate home-cooked meals every night of the week. Shoot for three and you’re doing well, she says.
At least once a week, she uses her “wild card” and asks Jeff to bring home sushi, Thai takeout or pizza. It’s not home-cooking, but it’s still family dinner.
Remember why you got into this
Even while so many entrepreneurs say they started up in order to spend more quality time on family, they just as commonly talk about struggling to achieve a healthy work-life balance. The key, say those who’ve done it, is to be organized, plan ahead and be realistic about what’s possible.
“I tried to create a business model that allowed my family to thrive,” Williams says. “The most treasured time of my life these days is the one hour I have for dinner with my family each night.
“I look forward to it. And it helps me get through whatever else is in my day.”