I met Michelle earlier this year before I quit my job a Foley & Lardner. Michelle and I are kindred spirits, and she was a huge supporter of my work at Food On Our Table. I know that Michelle’s perspective of sharing family dinner will be an inspiration to other moms.
Her talent is in making dinner practical, good, healthy, and a team effort. Read on to find out how Michelle, a busy mom of three, makes it all work.
Jennifer McClanahan-Flint: As a busy mom what is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to preparing and sharing family dinners? How do you deal with them?
Michelle Hong: The biggest challenge I face is trying to decide what to make, and then having
the ingredients to make it. The way I deal with it is to have a preset menu in place ahead of time, such as Monday is pasta, Tuesday is tacos, Wednesday is soup, etc
JMF: You are always on the move and your schedule is jam packed. How do you create a plan to eat healthy meals with your family?
MH: We make having dinner together a priority in our house, so we try and limit the amount of activity scheduled at dinner time. To make meals more nutritious I substitute a healthier ingredient, such as whole wheat pasta, whole wheat tortillas, etc., as much as I can without sacrificing flavor.
I also try and make sure that each meal looks like a rainbow, incorporating as many colors as possible. It makes eating a lot more fun.
In terms of time savers, I try use short cuts. For example, if a recipe calls for chicken, using precooked grilled chicken as opposed to raw to save time on cooking.
JMF: How do your kids participate in dinner?
MH: I have three kids. My two oldest (the 3rd is 16 months) both love to help me in the kitchen. Our preset menu was a collaborative effort between my 7-year-old and me. They both love to help me
prep the food, mix, stir, plate and play waitress to take the food to the table.
JMF: Are your kids adventurous eaters? If so, how did you encourage that?
MH: My oldest is very adventurous; my middle child takes a little more coaxing. The baby will eat anything you put in front of him. I think it’s because we try to offer them a variety of foods, and when they see us enjoy food, it makes them want to try. I also like to watch cooking shows, and the kids often ask if we can try recipes that they see on the shows.
JMF: When you want to make something simple, quick and delicious what do you make?
Pasta (whole wheat rotini), with 1 jar of Trader Joe’s marinara, 1 jar of Trader Joe’s Alfredo, grilled chicken and a cup of frozen peas. It can be cooked in about 15 minutes and it’s super delicious!
JMF: What’s the one kitchen item you believe every home-cook should have on hand?
MH: Well, I just had a baby, and for the last 6 months I have been using my stick blender to puree baby food. But I also use it to puree fresh fruit to put in Greek yogurt instead of getting flavored yogurt. And I use it a lot for soups. I am also a big fan of the crock pot!
JMF: What’s the most essential time-saving item in your kitchen?
JMF: Bringing pleasure back to dinner is key to getting a family around the dinner table. I describe pleasure as an enjoyable meal that leaves you feeling satisfied, but not loaded down when you’re done. What is your favorite pleasure meal?
MH: When we make tacos, I do it as a taco bar set up. I put out the protein (either grilled chicken or fish), cheese, cilantro, black beans, cut corn, tomatoes, Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and whole wheat tortillas on separate plates, and let the family make their own tacos. It takes very little cooking on my part, and the everyone is satisfied!
Michelle Hong is a Vice-President and Relationship Manager at Citibank. She has worked in the financial services industry for 23 years, and takes great joy in helping others reach their financial goals. She is also a wife to Derek Snape, and mother to Mia, 8; Sloane, 4; and Dashiell, 16 months. Michelle feels that even after 23 years in banking and a VP title, her greatest accomplishment is being a mother.
Because of her Korean heritage, much of her thoughts around family are based on food. She grew up in an environment where you showed people your love and appreciation by feeding them. She translates that love of food and family by insisting that her family eats dinner together, despite their busy schedules. Validation that she was doing the right thing came when her 8-year-old daughter’s school journal came home and it said “My favorite time of the day is when our family has dinner together.”
Other than spending time at work and with family, she enjoys cooking, baking, knitting, entertaining, dance, and fashion. People are surprised to find out that underneath her “corporate and professional” exterior, there is a closeted “50’s housewife.”
Michelle and her family live happily in San Francisco.