When she’s not busy managing the marketing for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, you might find Renée Jones scootering after her two kids, indulging in a late-night, wine-fuelled cake baking session with her friend or planning the ultimate birthday scavenger hunt with her oboist husband.

Come into the kitchen with Renée Jones to find out how she approaches everything from tuckshop to dessert, and how she got her kids to pack their own lunch boxes from the moment they started school.

Tell us a bit about yourself… where are you based, what do you do and how many kids do you have?

I live in north Brisbane. My husband and I both work for Queensland Symphony Orchestra – he plays the oboe and I’m the Marketing Manager. We have two kids: Arianwen (Year 4), and Ethan (Year 1).

Who does the cooking in your house? What is the go-to meal when you’re short on time, that you know everyone will love?

We share the meal prep – my husband does lots of the kids’ meals and I cook for us. I really enjoy spending hours labouring over Ottolenghi recipes, but that kind of time doesn’t come around very often so I save it up for when we’ve got friends visiting. I have a policy of ‘cook once – eat twice’, so I always make double and the leftovers go into the freezer for another day. When we’re in a rush before a concert I grab a container and run out the door. The freezer lucky dip has saved our sanity many times!

Are your kids fussy eaters? What are their favourite meals at the moment?

From very early on we fed our kids raw veggies with a side of protein, mostly because it was quick and easy. Now they’re so used to that, a cooked meal can occasionally be given the thumbs down. With that being said, they won’t say no to a good Bolognese, butter chicken or, of course, pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza?!

Is dessert a nightly occurrence in your house? What’s your current go-to?

When my daughter was three, I started making home-made ice creams and they’ve been my dessert hack ever since. I whiz up coconut cream with a little Greek yoghurt and whatever fruit we have, then freeze them in popsicle holders. The kids think it’s a real treat but it’s super healthy and really easy. Total win, win!

Who packs the lunchboxes in your house? Does it usually happen the night before school, or the morning of?

When our daughter started school, we told her a fib that all kids pack their own lunches – she’s been in charge of it ever since! It’s actually been a great decision, because although it takes slightly longer, she chooses what to eat which means hardly anything comes home uneaten. We just make sure we’ve got a range of great options in the house – fruit, veggies, wraps, crackers etc. Our son helped make his lunch when he was in kindy. Start ‘em young we reckon!

It’s a busy morning, and you’re in a pinch. Are your kids getting “tuckshop money” for lunch?

I grew up getting tuckshop once a term, so we’ve decided to go with that too. Our daughter only lasts until Week 2 before asking for it, so the rest of the term it’s lunch from home. No complaints so far thankfully.

How do you store your lunchboxes, and how many do you have in your collection right now?

After much ado, we opted for cooler bags and lots of little containers. I surrendered a whole kitchen drawer to the tiny containers, and bought more labels than I think I’ll ever need to keep them from going walkabout. The cooler bags are usually chucked in the corner cupboard, home to all the random kitchen items. It’s like Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement – when I need something and can’t find it, I open the door and it’s almost always there, lurking in the dark corners.

What is one food that is always included in your kids’ lunchboxes?

Bliss balls are a popular choice. A friend and I get together to make a big batch before each term for the freezer, so the kids can grab one a day. It’s also helpful for me, so I don’t snack on chocolate at work!

You’re throwing your kids a birthday party: do you outsource, or are you one to plan and prepare it all yourself?

I really like planning events, so am always up for the challenge! Our kids get to invite as many friends as the age they are turning, which helps keep the numbers from getting out of control. I see their party as an extension of their birthday gift, so we go to some effort to make it fun. Last year for my daughter’s birthday my husband and I dreamt up a bike ride scavenger hunt loosely based on the Wild Kratts tv show. The kids had to decipher rhyming clues, and then complete animal-themed challenges along the way. At one point they had to go fishing in Kedron Brook with homemade rods and ended up wading knee-deep hunting for tadpoles. They had loads of fun.

As for cakes – one of my good friends and I have formed the extremely amateur ‘Late Night Ladies Cake-Makers Association’, whereby we open a bottle of wine and fumble through making ridiculous and hair-brained cakes for our kids. Some of the highlights have been a Gila Monster, a sleepy stegosaurus, a hand-painted Minecraft masterpiece, and a buttercream Bluey. Sharing the creative challenge with a friend definitely removes all stress!

Do you have any family traditions? What are they?

We always have pancakes to celebrate special occasions – be it a birthday, recent performance, or special award at school. The kids love to make their initials with the batter and then smother them in syrup and cinnamon.

How do you deal with mum/dad guilt?

We prioritise spending small pockets of quality time with our kids each week, which helps to keep guilt at bay. In the end, they just crave our attention, and it’s amazing how far a little of that can go. My other hot tip is to share as much of the parenting responsibilities as you can and take turns to have time out.

What’s your top mum/dad hack?

Keep the beach bag in the boot from September to April! Oh, and get yourself a scooter. Since we did that, we’ve had the best adventures – our kids are so speedy we need wheels to keep up!

If you’ve loved hearing from Renée Jones and are keen to meet more inspirational mums, check out the rest of our ‘In the kitchen with…’ columns in the ‘Life’ section of our blog!

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