I vividly remember when my kids were younger and 4pm to 6pm was the most stressful time of the day. I was often in the kitchen trying to get dinner prepared and one (or both) of the twins was hanging on my leg – wanting to be held or insisting to help. Abe was in the family room pulling cushions off the couch to build a fort or launch pad (admittedly, not much has changed there). I was already tired from a full day with the kids. And the dinner hour was just another chore to get checked off the list. It’s hard to believe such an incredibly stressful time early on has turned into one of my favorite times of the day. It didn’t happen overnight. It was definitely a gradual change – a slow, organic process.
It goes without saying that the boys are older. They’re more self-sufficient. And have even been known to play together at times, which undoubtedly helps during dinner prep.
But there are other things I’ve learned along the way that have eased the witching hour and made dinner more of a focal point and less of a checklist item:
- The ease of the crock pot. I’ve mentioned that I could write an entire love story about my crock pot. It’s a great way to fix and forget about your main course. I currently have pulled pork from 100daysofrealfood simmering as I type. So deliciously good and easy.
- The efficiency that comes in doubling recipes to make two meals at once. One to serve and one to freeze. Many of the recipes I post can be easily doubled like White Chicken Chili or Italian Meatballs. Freezer meals have been my saving grace on many occasions.
- The power of involving children in the kitchen. I have found my kids are much more likely to eat a food they’ve helped prepare. And often times, they’ll encourage their siblings to eat it as well, which goes a long way in our house! I give them simple tasks, but there’s pride and autonomy in being my Sous Chef.
- If I serve the same food enough different ways, we’ll eventually find a recipe the whole family can agree upon. I’m not a short order cook. Our kids eat what we eat. Having said that, it may take up to a dozen tries for kids to accept a new food. Keep at it – early and often!
- If I only provide healthy options, my kids are getting good foods regardless of how much they eat/don’t eat. There’s no fighting over food at the dinner table. They can choose to eat or not to eat. If they choose not to eat, their dinner will be waiting for them when they decide they’re hungry later. And they probably will.
- Mealtime is family time. It should be joy-filled and fun. A time to sit around the table together. To share stories and give thanks without other distractions (cell phones, TV, toys, etc.). Shut-off/ignore interferences! And if there’s fighting instead of Kumbaya, there’s always tomorrow.
- Mealtime is a priority. I have served dinner very early and very late so we can still sit-down together. And while eating on-the-go isn’t ideal, it’s sometimes necessary. Pack a healthy to-go meal to share in the car or on the bleachers so you’re not tempted to drive-thru the nearest fast food restaurant.
I realize this is all easier said than done. Truly, I do. And there are days I still fumble through my freezer searching for something I can throw on the table 30 minutes later. But baby steps can make a huge difference. I’d love to hear some of the ways you make the dinner hour less stressful at your house (and drinking wine, though recommended, doesn’t count)!
Happy, clean eating.