Weeknight Potluck Playdates

vegetarian lasagna recipe

Vegetarian Chili; Robin Miller

Photo by: Tara Donne

Tara Donne

Once three o’clock strikes, time seems to go to warp speed. Some days I feel like I’m on autopilot, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the monotony of motherhood — it’s okay to admit we don’t love every part, like homework and that whole work-life balance.

For this very reason, I make a conscious effort to not over-schedule my daughters with afterschool activities. I’m a firm believer in letting them have some time to wind down and enjoy the simple pleasure of playing at home. Still, I find myself exhausted come dinnertime these days. I may not be zipping from dance class to soccer every day, but suddenly thrown into single motherhood means I need to find new ways to ensure dinner doesn’t become boring — for me to cook, and for the girls to eat.

What I realize is I need to get back to hosting dinner playdates — hear me out on this one. Sure, inviting another family over for dinner means more clean up, but without the expectation of my husband, Mikey, walking through the door, dinner sometimes feels a little too solemn. Our minds drift to him being gone, as my daughters and I glance at his empty seat. Before he passed away, we were used to eating as just The Perillo Girls because he worked too late to join us. There was always the excitement, though, of hearing his keys jingle at the front door just as we were finishing up, or as we were settling in to read bedtime stories.

Since Mikey often missed weeknight dinners, I’d invite a friend over once a week to have an early dinner playdate with us. The company was welcome, and most of my friends’ husbands work late hours too, so it was a win-win. I’d usually cook the main course, and someone would bring over sides or dessert and, yes, there was wine too. The kids would eat and play, the mommies would eat and chat — this is an example of time flying by in a good way. As we ease into autumn and the nights get longer, I’m going to bring some smiles back to our dinner table and start instituting potluck playdates again. Give it a try for yourself, and you’ll see they really are fun for the whole family.

Recipes Fit for a Crowd

Jennifer Perillo is a recipe developer and food writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her recipes and tips for feeding families homemade meals are a regular feature in Working Mother magazine, where she’s the consulting food editor, as well Relish Magazine , Parenting , Kiwi and her blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen.

Related Reading:

Next Up

Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy — Down-Home Comfort

Biscuits with sausage gravy are a rib-sticking way to start the day. They are a no-nonsense breakfast, the he-man of down-home comfort.

Not-Your-Average Nachos from Kitchen Sink

Upgrade your nacho game with these go-to ideas for chips and toppings.

Pepper-Jack Cheese Fries

When you think of healthy food, cheese fries don't usually come to mind, but Robin's resolution-friendly version has fewer than 300 calories per serving.

Best 5 Biscuit Recipes

Check out Food Network's top-five biscuits recipes to find fluffy, comforting treats from your favorite chefs, like Alton, Giada, Trisha and the Pioneer Woman.

5 Hearty Casseroles Ready to Warm You Up — Comfort Food Feast

Feast on hearty comfort food casseroles that will warm you up in the dead of winter.

Poll: What's Your All-Time-Favorite Comfort Food?

Cast your vote in Food Network's poll to tell FN Dish your go-to pick for comfort food.

Down-Home Comfort — Fresh Easter Ham with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Fresh ham is nothing like the boozy bourbon-soaked and smoked holiday ham or the candy-sweet spiral wonder.

14 Macaroni and Cheese Makeovers You Just Have to See

Try a new spin on the classic dish everyone always loves for dinner. We’ve got unexpected add-ins, fun ways to serve it and top-rated rated recipes.

All-in-One Casseroles That Will Save Your Sanity Come Dinnertime

Each of these casseroles includes protein and veggies, so there’s no need to make a meal with multiple components.