The dinnertime hour can be a stressful one for most families. Leaving work, battling rush hour traffic, and picking up the kids from X, Y, and Z activities can leave even the most organized mom feeling frazzled and stressed out. And that’s before the cooking even begins! Magazine ads and commercials don’t make it any better, either. All I see are calm and happy families, sharing in the joys of cooking, while the smiling mother sips daintily on her refreshing beverage. Yeah, last week my darling son dumped his yogurt on his head, after he “helped” me crack an egg all over the hardwood floor. That’s how we roll in our house.
After having my son in 2014 and going back to work, I decided that I needed an efficient plan to tackle this mealtime hour. Having an organized and established routine around the dinnertime hour means that I can easily and quickly prepare a meal for my family, while my son is occupied and busy with a task of his own. Not an easy feat when you are dealing with a hungry and tired toddler. Here are some tips I have learned along the way to ensure that dinnertime is as stress free as possible.
- Have a meal plan. Guys, I am like the least organized person on the face of the planet, so when I see all these moms with their handwritten lists, coupon binders, etc., I can feel my blood pressure rising. However, a meal plan does not need to be that specific. On the weekends, typically Saturdays, I take inventory of what I will cook next week. I glance in the fridge and pantry to see what we already have, and then I make a basic list. It might look something like this.
- Monday- baked chicken and sweet potatoes
- Tuesday – Spaghetti and meatballs
- Wednesday- eat out (Always check restaurants to see when kids eat free!)
Simple. Basic. Easy to tweak if needed. Then I head to the store on Saturday to shop for the week, picking up whatever items I need.
**Tip: I find shopping on Saturdays to be much easier than shopping on Sundays. I feel like everyone and their brother goes to the store after church**
Usually I can make it through the whole week without going to the store again, but my husband will generally pop in mid-week to pick up anything that I may have forgotten.
2. Double check each night. Every evening, I take about three minutes to make sure my dinner plan is good to go. I make sure I take meat out of freezer to defrost, make sure veggies have not gone bad, that I can locate any sides in pantry, etc. I usually set any non-perishables out, so I can grab them the next day. NOTHING is worse than planning a nice meal, only to realize you never took meat out of freezer or your potatoes are rotten.
3. Plan at least one crock-pot/slow cooker meal a week. Honestly, in the winter, you can probably use your slow cooker several times a week. I shoot for about twice in the winter. Prep everything the evening before and stick in fridge, so you only have to plug it in come morning and serve come evening. Pinterest has thousands of awesome recipes, so don’t fear that you will get sick of something. Oh, and buy the slow cook liners also! They make clean up SO much easier, and are typically pretty inexpensive in Walmart.
4. Serve a healthy appetizer WHILE you are cooking. No matter how speedy you are, you aren’t Wonder Woman. Hearing a toddler whine is like nails on a chalkboard to me. To hear my son, you would think he was being starved. (85th percentile in weight, trust me. The kid hasn’t missed a meal). I always have some chopped veggies or fresh fruit on hand, which I set out while I cook. It’s a win-win. My son has something healthy to tide him over, and it buys me a few minutes to get everything ready to serve. Just make sure you stick with something light, or they won’t want dinner. (Side note, I will still serve an additional fruit/veggie with the main course, but I won’t sweat it if he doesn’t eat it, since he already had a fruit/veggie serving).
5. Keep your child busy. If they are old enough, they should be helping you prepare for dinner. Clearing off and setting table, taking out condiments, etc. are all simple tasks. If they are still young, let them play, color, or watch TV. Yes, my child watches TV in moderation. I have no idea how any parent gets anything done without using TV on occasion. Without it, I would surely be sinking into a dark hole of insanity, and no one eats if mom is in the loony bin. (Seriously though, don’t feel bad if you let your kid watch TV. Even the experts are now clarifying, and saying that a little TV watching each day is just fine).
While the above suggestions are not rocket science, I feel that they are easy ways to make the dinner hour a whole lot more enjoyable.
Tell me, what are some of your hacks to simplify mealtime?
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