Honor the dinner hour

  • By Sarah Jackson Herald Writer
  • Monday, October 17, 2011 3:52pm
  • Life

Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna of Snohomish have written a best-selling book about family meals: the art of getting parents and their kids together around a single table once a day with home-cooked food and no TV.

Don’t w

orry if you’re a parent who lets the kids eat fast food in the car more often than not. Allen and Kuna and their co-authors, Seattle psychologists Les and Leslie Parrott, aren’t trying to make you feel like a failure.

In fact, their new book, “The Hour That Matters Most,” is meant to inspire and guide families who want to come back to family meal times to reap great financial and emotional benefits.

“In one generation, 33 percent of home dinners have gone away,” Allen said, citing a sobering statistic from Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”

“The Hour That Matters Most” moved to No. 1 on a New York Times best-seller list in the Paperback Advice & Misc. category last month, just after its release.

Kuna, 48, and Allen, 49, are the founders of Dream Dinners, a Snohomish-based company with 100 fix-and-freeze meal-assembly stores nationwide, including one in Mill Creek.

Their book is a complement to their business and a guide for anyone who wants to eat more family meals.

In “The Hour That Matters Most,” Allen, Kuna and the Parrotts address how to overcome what they call the time-starved working mom dilemma, ways to engage in meaningful mealtime conversation, and tricks for curbing conflicts at the table and beyond.

They tackle table manners, family values and spirituality, and share tried-and-true family recipes.

Kuna and Allen know what it’s like to be busy working mothers. In fact, that’s how Dream Dinners got its start.

Both Allen, who ran her own Everett catering business, and Kuna, who worked in finance and business management, made frozen dinners in their own kitchens when their kids were young.

They started hosting large scale meal-assembly sessions with friends and eventually realized they were onto something big, especially with their complementary business backgrounds.

They opened their first store in 2002 in Everett to help other mothers make frozen dinners with fresh, raw ingredients on a grander scale with more space and menu options than they have in their own kitchens.

In 2008, just before the recession hit hard, their business peaked at 160 stores. Though only 100 remain today, Dream Dinners is bouncing back with continued sales growth at stores around the country, Kuna said.

Today Allen and her husband, Vern, are empty-nesters in Snohomish. Their kids, Karlene, 25, and Mitchel, 19, are grown.

Kuna and her husband, Scott, live in Snohomish with their daughter, Lauren, who will be 16 this month. Though their sons, Jacob, 26, and Joel, 24, are grown, they still work hard to have family meals.

Kuna, in fact, is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, so it’s especially challenging right now.

Her friends have been helping out by bringing meals over on a regular basis.

Allen said families trying to balance school, work and sports practices may have to eat family meals outside the traditional dinner hour.

“Maybe dinner’s at 4:30. Maybe dinner’s at 8:30. Breakfast time can be dinner,” Allen said. “Thriving families don’t just happen.”

Kuna said family meals don’t have to be perfect home-cooked, nutritionally virtuous gourmet dinners.

They can be delivered pizza or frozen dinners, as long as everyone is together, sharing food with the TV off.

Kuna said the book is focused on the art of the family meal, not Dream Dinners as a solution. In fact, their book includes a short chapter on how to organize your own fix-and-freeze club at home with friends.

Even families with a freezer full of meals may have family dinners only two or three times a week, depending on their schedules.

But that’s better than nothing, Allen said.

“Kids want to be anchored,” Allen said. “If you don’t anchor them, they’re going to be anchored to someone else.”

Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037; sjackson@heraldnet.com.

Book signing

Who, what: Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna, co-authors of “The Hour That Matters Most” and the founders of the Dream Dinners chain of meal assembly stores, will present a book signing and open house at their new corporate headquarters in downtown Snohomish.

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 18.

Where: 610 First St., Snohomish.

Information: Go to www.dreamdinners.com or call 360-804-2004.

Kid conversation starters

Open-ended questions: What happened today at school? What were you most proud of today at school? What can you tell me about your new teacher? Why do you think your coach has you do so many laps? How did you end up solving that problem with your friend? What was your favorite part of the day?

Mad, sad, glad: Let everyone in the family take a turn to talk about what might have made them mad that day. Then do the same with sad and glad, and be sure to ask follow up questions after each answer.

Mrs. Paghetti: In this memory game, each person repeats the previous sentences and adds a new item. “Mrs. Paghetti likes her spaghetti with meatballs.” Next person: “Mrs. Paghetti likes her spaghetti with meatballs and cheese.” Next: “Mrs. Paghetti likes her spaghetti with meatballs and cheese and cherries.” Tina Kuna said: “The kids try to come up with random, weird or even gross things like ice cream, hot mustard, dirty socks — you get the picture.”

Let Me Read Your Mind: If you have a child who is 6 or older, you can try this exercise. You: “I’d like to read your mind.” Child: “OK.” You: “Just before dinner tonight when I was helping you with your homework, you got your feelings hurt because I was in a hurry. Am I right?” Then have the child rate the mind reading on a scale of 1 to 10. Child: “That’s about a 3. I could tell you were in a hurry, but it didn’t really bother me.” Then let your child read your mind as well.

Source: “The Hour That Matters Most” by Les and Leslie Parrott with Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna

Zesty lemon pork chops

6 boneless pork chops
2/3 cup lemonade concentrate
2/3 cup barbecue sauce
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper

Blend lemonade concentrate, sauces and pepper in an airtight container. Add pork chops and toss to coat. Seal and refrigerate for 24 hours or freeze.

Before cooking, thaw completely if frozen. Remove pork chops from marinade and grill or pan fry for three to five minutes per side, brushing with marinade before turning.

Source: “The Hour That Matters Most” by Les and Leslie Parrott with Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna

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