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BELLAIRE • MEMORIAL • RIVER OAKS • TANGLEWOOD • WEST UNIVERSITY

What's For Dinner?

School-night suppers

Jennifer Oakley
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Kat Thompson

Kat Thompson extends her school-night suppers by turning roast chicken into chicken fried rice and Chinese chicken salad. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

What’s for dinner? Weekdays, especially when school is in session, are busy. So what’s a mom or dad to do to get dinner on the table with ease? For that we have turned to four Buzz residents who have mastered school-night suppers.

Kat Thompson

Kat Thompson’s suppers always start on the weekend. “I think about what I am going to cook for the week on Sundays,” says Thompson, an outgoing civic volunteer who lives in Memorial with husband Brian, owner of Thompson Custom Homes, and son Will, a senior at Memorial High School. “I am ‘the Queen of Google,’ and I will look up recipes and then read 10 different recipes and combine them together to make something. I shop and cook on Sundays.”

Thompson strategizes her dinners so that one meal leads to the next. Case in point: her roast chicken. She will roast a chicken on Sunday, and the family will have that for dinner. Leftover chicken is then pulled off the bones and turned into chicken enchiladas for Monday and Oriental chicken salad on Tuesday. Often, Thompson will do double-duty and cook two complete meals to further stretch out dinners.

Her young-adult children, Courtney and John, often show up when they are done with work for the day, too. “They come over all the time to eat,” she says. “We try and eat as a family two times a week.” She cooks before Will comes home from school and says family dinners are the goal, but when he has events or SAT tutors, she serves his dinner early before he has to go to his next activity.

She credits her mother for instilling her love of cooking. “She is a really good cook, and I would literally sit on the kitchen counter and watch her,” she says. Thompson enjoys replicating meals her own mom made and have passed those down to her children. “I still make her red beans and rice, but I have not mastered her gumbo.”

Emily Ragauss, Andrew Ragauss, Jennifer Smith, Peter Ragauss

Emily and Andrew Ragauss, with parents Jennifer Smith and Peter Ragauss (from left), enjoy dinners together at home. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith is nicknamed “The Breakfast Fairy” by her friends because she likes to wake up early and prepare menus that include items such as German Puff Pancakes. Yet Smith is equally as passionate about dinners. “I think gathering in the kitchen and cooking has always been a big part of my life,” says Smith, a law partner at Hogan Lovells. “It’s where we were raised: in the kitchen!”

At age 12, Smith got a job working at a catering company. “That is what I did every Saturday. I made desserts for 200 people, and I learned a lot from the professional chefs.” Those early experiences made Smith particularly invested in cooking for her family, husband Peter Ragauss, a retired CFO of Baker Hughes who is now honorary consul of Latvia, and children Andrew, a freshman at St. John’s School, and Emily, now a freshman at Colorado College.

Even though their schedules take them in different directions, suppers are sacred. “We do sit down together, even if it is just for 20 minutes,” says the lively Smith, who lives in River Oaks. “Family dinner is important to me. With two careers and both parents working it has become the time to connect and check in and hear about how everyone’s day is going. We have no electronics when we eat; we are truly unplugged.” To make suppers seamless, Smith plans ahead. “I try and keep it simple with prep time and cooking time reduced to a minimum. I choose my meals and my recipes on the weekend, and I make the plan and my shopping lists.” Although Smith gets help with the shopping, she does all the cooking herself, with Peter assisting at the grill.

“I won’t say we are super healthy, but I try,” she says. “I use veggies a lot and keep it super simple like roasted asparagus and broccoli. I will cook a protein, a carb, a vegetable and a salad like sliced tomatoes or bell peppers.” A favorite protein is fish.  “Fish is super easy on a school night – with a few simple ingredients, you can marinate it in the morning before you leave for work and then boom, put it in the oven or on the grill when you get home,” she says.

Lucy, Caroline, Wesley, Jenny and Molly Vestal

FAMILY DINNER Lucy, Caroline, Wesley, Jenny and Molly Vestal (from left) make sure to eat dinner together as a family every night. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Jenny Vestal

For Jenny Vestal of Bellaire, a cookbook written by her mother is treasured help with school-night suppers. “My mom was an amazing cook,” says Vestal. “We grew up eating cuisine from all over: curries to shish kabobs, stir-fry to good ole American meatloaf! Mom made cookbooks of her recipes for me and my brother and sister. She is no longer alive, but that was the greatest gift ever.”

Today, Vestal shares those recipes with her three daughters: Molly, a freshman at Bellaire High School, and twins Lucy and Caroline, seventh graders at Pin Oak Middle School. “One major change in the last year has been inviting the kids to take part in dinner,” she says. “They have always enjoyed learning to cook, but now it’s actually helpful. One kid might not have a lot of homework and can help prepare the salad.” Vestal says she and husband Wesley, a vice president with Weatherford International, have a lot of moving parts with three active daughters.

“I typically plan the week by thinking out the meals for the week depending on the evenings’ schedules,” she says. “When days and nights are really busy, I turn to meals I have frozen ahead of time by taking them out of the freezer the morning of to defrost before dinnertime. When my evenings are a little slower, I am able to cook bits and pieces of the meals between driving and ‘Mom calls!’”

Vestal is always on the lookout for ways to feed the family on particularly busy days. “I do like using a crock pot because it’s a great way to have dinner ready, but the prepping begins in the morning,” she says. “I have a great ribs and beans recipe that is kind of like barbecue where the meat falls off the bones – it is delicious.”

“We do make it a point to eat together as a family, and that time may change every day. Dinnertime is when we get all the good scoop on the day’s events. Sometimes the conversations aren’t pleasant, sometimes they are insane and silly, sometimes they are somber, but it’s always a great way for everyone to unload and share thoughts.”

This year, the Vestal family is particularly thankful for family dinners; after months of living upstairs in their house after being flooded during Hurricane Harvey, they are back downstairs, cooking in a newly renovated kitchen.

Andrew Wright, Crystal Wright, Reid Wright

Dr. Crystal Wright makes sure sons Andrew (on counter) and Reid eat healthy at home. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Crystal Wright

Dr. Crystal Wright, an anesthesiologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center, credits her mom and her husband, neurologist Randall Wright, with helping make school-night suppers a success. With two boys, Andrew and Reid, fifth- and third-grade students at River Oaks Baptist School, they try to balance good food and family time.

“We cherish dinner time together as a family, and I want the meals to be simple, healthy and visually appealing,” says Wright, who lives in West University Place. “We eat with our eyes, so I try to think of creative ways to make the meals look appealing. That happens by having several pre-prepped vegetables of varying colors that make it easy to toss into a salad or main dish and develop a colorful plate.”

Wright says watching her mom cook at home while growing up in Lafayette, Louisiana, inspired her own cooking. “My favorite dish from my mom is a crawfish étouffée and jambalaya,” says Wright, who has adapted her mom’s recipe to have a “healthier twist on the jambalaya.”

“I have learned so much from my mom and village of friends that probably love to cook more than I do. I am a list junkie, and I always have a list around of certain staples that we need. I always have spices, Greek yogurt, a protein, colorful veggies, scallions, onions, bell peppers, avocado, brown rice and bulgur around. With these items I can quickly whip up any meal.”

That’s where her husband enters the equation. “My other role model for cooking is my husband. Although time is more limited for him to participate in meal preparation, when he does cook he is creative with meals. He is the author of The Wright Choice: Your Family's Prescription For Healthy Eating, Modern Fitness & Saving Money, a book that he wrote to help guide his patients along the journey of healthy eating. His passion for healthy eating is creatively integrated into our family meals.”

That’s the ideal prescription for tackling school-night suppers. “Life is busy and crazy. I always try to make sure the boys realize that they need to sit down and be together to eat dinner and everyone has the opportunity to go around and say what they are grateful for and thank God for all their blessings.”

  • Jennifer Smith’s miso-glazed salmon, quinoa with cucumber, tomato and feta and tomato salad.

    Jennifer Smith’s miso-glazed salmon, quinoa with cucumber, tomato and feta and tomato salad. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

  • Jennifer Smith

    Jennifer Smith includes lots of vegetable and proteins in her dinners. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

  • Kat Thompson

    A family favorite is Kat Thompson’s homemade spaghetti and meatballs. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

  • Will Thompson

    TOP SAUCE Memorial High School senior Will Thompson digs into one of mom Kat Thompson’s go-to suppers: spaghetti with homemade meatballs and sauce. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

  • Lucy, Caroline and Molly Vestal

    Lucy, Caroline and Molly Vestal (from left) dive into mom Jenny Vestal’s Black Russian cake. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

  • Black Russian cake

    Jenny Vestal’s Black Russian cake is a treasured recipe. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

  • jambalaya

    Dr. Crystal Wright cooks an updated version of her mom’s beloved jambalaya. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

  • Jennifer Smith’s miso-glazed salmon, quinoa with cucumber, tomato and feta and tomato salad.
  • Jennifer Smith
  • Kat Thompson
  • Will Thompson
  • Lucy, Caroline and Molly Vestal
  • Black Russian cake
  • jambalaya

More photos

Jennifer Smith’s miso-glazed salmon, quinoa with cucumber, tomato and feta and tomato salad.

Jennifer Smith’s miso-glazed salmon, quinoa with cucumber, tomato and feta and tomato salad. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith includes lots of vegetable and proteins in her dinners. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Kat Thompson

A family favorite is Kat Thompson’s homemade spaghetti and meatballs. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Will Thompson

TOP SAUCE Memorial High School senior Will Thompson digs into one of mom Kat Thompson’s go-to suppers: spaghetti with homemade meatballs and sauce. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Lucy, Caroline and Molly Vestal

Lucy, Caroline and Molly Vestal (from left) dive into mom Jenny Vestal’s Black Russian cake. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Black Russian cake

Jenny Vestal’s Black Russian cake is a treasured recipe. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

jambalaya

Dr. Crystal Wright cooks an updated version of her mom’s beloved jambalaya. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

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