Ideas about Dinner

AlwaysLearning list Feburary 2006

How do you all handle that hour or so before dinner, when not only does a meal need to be prepared, but babies need to be nursed and older children need attention? In our house the wicked mix of hungery, tired, and frazzled doesn't transition well into a very peaceful mealtime.

Thanks in advance for your time tested advice.


Barb wrote:

I make things that can be made a head of time and just thrown in at dinner time. Crock pot stuff, spinach or broccoli pie, mix up batter for whatever so it's minimal work. Also, that is a great time of day for water or sand play for my kids. Mellows everyone out.
julie S. / jnjstau wrote:
I personally love anything made in a crockpot and having a veggie tray available
Jane / Tribecus wrote:
There are four small people in our home ranging from 8 years to 21 months. I've found that if I feed them first (usually via requests for a specific food or a "big, giant food plate"), then nurse the smallest, I'm able to focus on meal prep for dh & I while they enjoy their food and the beginning of their shows, or they play, run laps through the kitchen, dining room, living room, or whatever.

I really enjoy cooking the evening meal and frequently have "help" as well!! Sous chefs, even!! As illogical as it sounds, I can't seem to get dinner on the table any earlier than 6:30, no matter when I start. If something's in the crockpot, it's somehow ready to serve at 6:30, if I prepare something, no matter how complicated, it's 6:30, if we order pizza 6:30. For a while I tried to fight it, but at least I'm consistent!! If you're in MD, dinner's at 6:30! :-)

Hope that helps!!

Nancy B./CelticFrau wrote:
3rd vote here for Crockpots! You can put the stuff in when everyone's still asleep, or when you get a moment when they're playing, and not even have to think about it till dishing out the plates!

Also, if your family doesn't mind leftovers, always prepare enough for 2 days. Takes same amount of time, but gives you every other day "off" from cooking. We do this a lot with stuff like spaghetti, soup, beans and chili,...really anything!

Melissa [ Mom to Josh (11), Breanna (8), Emily (7), Rachel (6), Sam (4), Dan (2), and Avari Rose] wrote:
We do a lot of crockpot stuff too...I usually start after everyone has eaten lunch and is satiated for the time being. In a half hour, I can usually do breakfast dishes, lunch dishes and chop up some stuff for dinner.

Also, if you can take two hours on a weekend or something, you can prepare a lot of meat or veggies or both (if you're an omnivore like us!) put it in ziplock baggies with dates on it. That way you have it prepared to just throw in. I can cook five pounds of scrambled beef, two pounds of chicken breasts and a roast, and chop it up, divide it into 1lb bags and have all the food we'd possibly want for a week. Same for veggies, chop up a few onions, peppers, and just have it divided into the snack size ziplocks.

Like Nancy said, prepare for leftovers! We like to have 'redo' nights. So if we have spaghetti on Monday, we'll use the leftover sauce to make pizza on Tuesday, maybe some baked rigatoni. Whatever. Taco meat can turn into shepherd's pie or mexican casserole.

Terri wrote:
I like to have a snack tray for my kids in the afternoon. I put out my kids favorite things like graham crackers, club crackers, cheese, marshmallows, nuts, fruit, sliced meat, popcorn; whatever they'd like. They usually munch on this while watching a show they want to see. Many times, I use this time to fix dinner. Then I just have to heat it up a little later, but everyone has had a snack and rest so we're ok.

Sometimes I cook dinner in the morning right after breakfast. It seems to be a good time for everyone around here. I like to have a variety in the frig and when my kids were younger, this seemed the only way to do that. Then I can help them through the rougher afternoon times.

I also brown large amounts of ground beef and then seperate it into freezer bags and freeze it. It's fine when you are adding it to casseroles and stuff with sauces. I also do that when I boil a chicken. I'll boil two and freeze the extra meat. That helps a lot.

I agree, I like the crock pot and fixin' double of everything. I might fix double of everything several days in a row and then everyone can pick their favorites.

It helps keep tension and frustration down to know when my kids need a rest and food. Mine need to eat regularly, so I just stop and fix a snack tray and take it to them where they are playing or watching a show. It helps us get through the day if I don't wait until they are at there explosion level and then try to fix something. I try to stay ahead of that.

Meg Walker wrote:
We seem to go through phases where we need to change the time we eat dinner. For a while, everyone was so hungry and so desperate to snack around 4pm (including me!) that I just started having dinner ready at 4. The kids and I would eat, and then they'd go off quite happily full and content and play.

I'd re-heat it for dh when he got home, and sit and chat with him (and a cup of tea) while he ate.

The kids might need a small snack later in the evening, but it was never with the desperation of the afternoon craving.

Angela / game-enthusiast wrote:
One thing I've done since having kids is to lose the expectation to have dinner on the table at a certain time or even with us all eating together. When I first read those studies about families that eat together I didn't think it through and I thought it was important to eat together and I stressed myself out with those expectations. But what is really important is to spend time with your family each day, listening to them and hanging out with them. It doesn't matter if it is at dinner time or not. When I let go of that expectation our lives became much more peaceful.

I keep a bunch of cooked pasta and rice in the fridge. You can pull out a quick meal for a hungry kid and not feel like you have to do a lot of work. Add some sauce to the spaghetti or cheddar cheese and milk to the macaroni and throw it in the microwave. Just re-heat the rice with butter or sometimes I throw a frozen vegetable in the microwave and my kids are happy. Of course there is most always fruit or raw veggies to hold us over if I did make a meal and the kids are hungry before it is ready.

I still cook meals several times a week and most often the kids sit and eat with me (or us if dh is home). I just don't let the expectation to eat together stress me out. If someone is hungry, I help them find something they can eat that doesn't take too long to prepare.

Sandra Dodd wrote:
I always put the kids' needs ahead of dinner. Dinner happened after or around nursing babies and such.

You might have to do away with the idea of a peaceful mealtime for a few years. Maybe re-thinking meals would be the way to go. I think it helps rather than to live by the idealized traditional model of dinner at 6:00, all at their seats, dinner conversation that could be reported to the media as an ideal mix of news of the day and philosophy, etc, to think of food and its purpose. People need to be nourished physically and it's uncomfortable to go to sleep hungry. THAT is the purpose of evening food, not the appearance of a well-organized dinner.

Historically, until pretty recently the only families in the English- speaking-world-in-general that had that dream dinner were those with servants to cook and set the table. All the family had to do was show up and eat. Poorer families tended to have soup or stew that had cooked all day and eat it out of bowls. Crock pot food, and probably NOT meat.

Servants became scarce during and after the first world war and the great depression but the expectation that families would still maintain those appearances and schedules continued, or some families tried to use their children as servants. Most mothers just tried to do all the cooking and ironing that they used to have done by maids, when the families couldn't afford to pay someone at least to come in and do laundry and ironing.

Also it's not uncommon (historically) for children to eat first, and separately, and food kids like, and then for the adults and teens and guests to eat a little later, at leisure, and not have to worry about whether their food is something the kids would like.

I have more energy in the morning but I don't always want to use it thinking about dinner. When I do, I do better. If I start bread and put something out to thaw, or better yet mix up a casserole or put something in the crock pot—at least a sauce or something easy like ground beef or chicken in barbecue sauce—then dinner is easy and if plans change, the thing that was started earlier can go in the fridge.

Also, because Keith takes lunch to work, we make large amounts and put the planned-for leftovers into individual portions in those reuseable yet eventually disposable Zip-Loc plastic containers. They can be fridged or frozen.

We've never made our kids wait for dinner. If they're hungry, they can snack.

There might be ideas here that would be comforting:

Try to ease guilt and expectation and pressure. Those don't help the family unit.

Joyce Fetteroll's recommendations on dinner include this:
If your goal is bodies present at the dinner table then the way you go about it will be different than if your goal is the family happy at the dinner table.

If having all bodies present is the goal, then some acceptable tools to achieve that are to make presence a requirement and to make sure they're very hungry when dinner is ready.

If having them happy is the goal, then those techniques won't work as well.

and there is more here
more on food and other parenting considerations