It’s that time again. That hour right before everyone gets hungry and needs to eat dinner, also known as the dinner rush. That hour where your children are tired and cranky after a long day. With three kids, usually one on my hip, I know that hour very well. It isn’t easy making dinner when the kids are on the verge of hunger—when they’re no longer listening to me and I’m trying to tune out their whining.
As a busy working mom, I don’t always have time or the ability (again, kid on my hip) to cook elaborate meals for my family. And I’m sure you are right there with me. So how can we keep it together in the kitchen without everyone falling apart before dinner? As someone who spends 20 hours a week inside a kitchen, here are some of my tried and true tips.
1. Plan ahead. If your dinner menu is planned ahead, there is no need to sit and wonder what dinner should be while your infant is crying and your other children are whining. I speak from experience. Planning your meals will save you time, money and many headaches. When you are already hungry it isn’t always easy to think clearly. Taking the time to plan your dinners ahead of time will help tremendously. If you need help, there are some fantastic meal planning sites like The Fresh 20 and The Six O’Clock Scramble.
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2. Be flexible. Even when you have a plan, one must learn to be flexible. You have a headache, the kids are screaming and if you don’t think you are going to be able to make that roast, change your plan. Be prepared to serve breakfast for dinner and call it a night.
3. Keep healthy snacks on hand. Try to prevent hunger from arriving early by serving the kids a healthy mid-afternoon snack (but before 4pm, otherwise the kids won’t eat dinner). To keep the munchies at bay keep some healthy snacks ready and available in your pantry or fridge. Freshly washed and cut fruits and vegetables are favorites in our house.
4. Use your freezer. I cannot emphasize enough the power of the freezer. Make that big pot roast in your crockpot or a huge pot of gumbo and freeze leftovers instead of eating the same thing for a week. This way, you have healthy, homemade, ready meals that can be warmed up quickly on nights where you have no time to cook.
5. Involve your kids. With any kitchen tool that is safe for them to use, allow them to help and be involved in dinner preparations. Now I know your kids will not want to participate every evening, but when your kids are involved in preparing dinner they might be more likely to eat it.
Keeping your kids occupied while you prepare dinner is key, so why not have them help you in the kitchen? Another easy and kid-friendly task is having the kids wash fresh fruit and produce. This way, it will be ready when they want it for snack.
Making a salad? One child can be the designated salad spinner. Trust me, being the salad spinner is a lot of fun. And yes, they will take 10 minutes to spin the salad. That’s OK. Let them have fun while you prep the food items they cannot help you with. Dinner may take longer to put together because small hands move slower, but it gives them the feeling of importance and participation in the family.
Half the battle of getting it together in the kitchen is keeping the kids occupied; the other half is in planning meals. My philosophy is simple: plan, prep, keep the kids busy and if all else fails…make pancakes.