Food for the busy lawyer's family

Sybil Dunlop
BridgeTower Media Newswires

This has been a busy time at work. And when I get busy, I tend to triage items in the rest of my life. I prioritize work and spending time with my husband and 3-year-old daughter. But I put almost everything else on pause, including responding to emails from friends, exercising, doctor’s appointments, and refilling the Brita pitcher. Food, however, is one of the most difficult aspects our family life with two busy, working parents. You can’t put food on pause—our family has to eat. And I’ve been worried about our food lately.

In my salad days, I had more time than money. And I ate really well. As graduate students, my husband and I honed a $30/week grocery shopping list. We made our own bread and pasta (flour is so cheap!) and grew most of our own vegetables. We’d host dinner parties and serve homemade grilled pizza. We’d make the dough with our cheap flour and purchase cheese, but everything else came from the garden—our own tomatoes and basil. A $4 bottle of prosecco from Trader Joe’s was always our biggest expense.

Transitioning from law school to a clerkship to private practice is—in some ways—a story about trading time for money. Don’t get me wrong—I am so grateful for my practice as well as the fact that I don’t have to worry about $30 grocery lists anymore. This is an article about a privileged person’s problems. But I worry that the time-to-money ratio means that I am actually eating less well than I used to. And a quick assessment of our family’s eating habits confirms my nagging concern.

We have a restaurant in our building. About a year-and-a-half ago, we moved to the Calhoun Beach Club in an effort to increase our spare time. We wanted more time with each other and less time commuting, mowing lawns, and worrying about gutters. For us, this has really worked.  But I don’t have a garden anymore. And there is a restaurant in our building. And it’s perfect.

If I lived in a building with La Belle Vie (le sigh and farewell) we would, of course, only frequent the five-star restaurant on the most special of occasions. But we live in a building with a gastro pub on the first floor—perfect for everyday dining. They have salads. A delicious goat cheese lamb burger. And a children’s menu. It’s not too expensive. And you never have to do the dishes. As a result, we eat there at least twice a week. The wait staff are on a first-name basis with my daughter. They know our favorite drinks. And this can’t be good for us. I know that our delicious restaurant food likely contains more sodium (and who knows what else) than we would eat at home.

But even without the restaurant in our building, it has become all too easy to have an enjoyable dinner delivered to your door. I remember when it became possible to order pizza online, without talking to a human being. This may be my introvert husband’s favorite invention of our century. These days, however, we use our phones to order up Bite Squad for delivery. (For the uninitiated, Bite Squad will deliver your dinner from most local restaurants for a modest fee).  The app knows my address and has my credit card information stored. With one click our favorite Chinese and Italian dinners arrive at our door. And you don’t have to do dishes. But, again, the food likely tastes so good due to an excess of sodium and fatty sauces and all sorts of other lovely things that I wouldn’t add at home.

So what’s a busy family to do? If the meal takes too long to cook, our daughter falls asleep. And I start gnawing on my arm if we don’t dine by 7.

I’ve heard stories of folks using Blue Apron or other services where the company delivers all the ingredients needed to make a delicious meal in the right proportions. But I’ve also heard that some of the recipes aren’t great. And my daughter and husband are both picky eaters.

As the weather has improved, so has my resolve to improve our family’s diet. With longer daylight hours, it feels as though I have more time in the evenings as well. So what’s the plan? The plan is more planning. On weekends, we’ve been purchasing the ingredients for the week’s meals. Easy, healthy meals. Instead of a family stop at Isles Buns & Coffee on the way to work, I’ve been getting up 10 minutes earlier to make scrambled eggs. And I am so excited to start frequenting our city’s wonderful farmer’s markets again. The Mill City Market starts its outdoor season this Saturday, and I am always inspired to cook just by browsing the delicious offerings.

But it’s not easy. We know that we experience willpower depletion throughout the day as we make difficult decisions. As lawyers, we are particularly susceptible to this documented effect because our job requires us to make hard decisions every day. At the end of the day, it is so much easier to push a button and call for food than to even decide what to make. So I’m aiming to tie myself to the mast over the weekend—I’ll do the planning on Sunday and simply aim to follow that plan throughout the week. And if anyone has a good, easy recipe to recommend, I’m all ears.


Sybil Dunlop is a partner at Greene Espel PLLP in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area.