6 strategies for winning the dinner war
That time between after school and getting the dishes done, is the most hectic, and stressful time of the day, in many homes. It’s the time when kids want your undivided attention, and the countdown to dinner looms like a shadow on the day. If you are a working mom, the time crunch can push you to make compromises that endanger both your budget and your family’s health. But you don’t have to lose the battle. You can strategically plan to win the dinner war, every single day. Winning means staying on your budget, keeping peace in the home, and serving up nutritious meals from healthy ingredients every single day.
Scratch cooking doesn’t need to be more complicated than out of the box cooking. Keep the staples always in your pantry and you have the ingredients on hand for your meals. Things that require longer cooking can be cooked ahead and frozen in meal size packages or canned for opening just before you need them. Plan ahead so that you are always prepared with the right ingredients for a few easy meals.
Save the fancy phyllo-pastry and artisan breads for weekends or days when you can actually enjoy the kitchen time in a relaxed way. A meal needs 2 vegetables, a protein, and for active people, a starch. Fruit is an easy dessert and provides extra fiber and vitamins. Vegetarian folks have the added complication of balancing proteins, but it isn’t rocket science. Everyone can succeed with a little planning and forethought.
If you are a gardener, the vegetables can be based on what’s ready to harvest. A salad, spinach, or a bit of everything in a stir fry, are different ways to incorporate your garden produce into tonight’s dinner. If you are still planning your homestead, grab a bag of frozen mixed veggies or shop your farmer’s market for in season produce. You can even get extra, while the prices are in season and freeze or can them for next winter, now.
Keep 5 treasured recipes for the hard days
5 recipes give you one for every night of the week. Not that you will cook these recipes every week, but they become your standbys so that on really stressful days, dinner prep can become automatic. It could be ethnic favorites like chili, curry, spaghetti, tacos, chop suey, or sloppy joes. They should be able to be cooked with no more than 20 minutes of hands on preparation and 30 to 60 minutes of cooking. They should be able to be cooked from scratch, without the addition of packaged foods. Using home canned or frozen food is fine because you know the ingredients are healthy.
Make a list of your 5 favorite recipes and gather the recipes into a notebook, so that your kids could make them if you were sick or unavailable.
Make sure your children help you cook these 5 treasured recipes once in a while. Tell them they’re in boot camp to help them win the dinner war of their future. Younger children are usually excited to help. If you’ve never included your children in your cooking plans, make a game of it. Attention!
Feed the kids a healthy snack right after school
Fruit leather, yoghurt with fruit or cinnamon, granola bars, cashews or almonds, nut butters and honey on toast, frozen blueberries, applesauce, dark chocolate, or dried fruit will give your children the energy that they need to maintain their blood sugar till dinner. This will help to keep peace in your home during this demanding time. While the kids eat their snack, sit down with them and give them your undivided attention for 15 minutes. You’ll benefit from connecting with them and you will set the atmosphere for the rest of the evening. The time from 3pm to 4pm sets the tone for the entire evening in your home. Plan to orchestrate peace and community by connecting with your children immediately after school.
Enlist your children’s help in getting dinner prepared
While it’s easier to push the kids off to play and manage dinner preparation yourself, training them to help in age-appropriate ways, can pay off in long term dividends, as they take on more and more of the dinner preparations themselves.
Setting the table, peeling vegetables, washing salad ingredients, mixing salad dressing, rinsing beans, grating cheese, can all be managed by school age children with instructions. Jobs involving heat should be reserved for older children who are less likely to burn themselves. Older children can learn how to prepare a white sauce, how to cook vegetables, or how to load up a slow cooker or dutch oven.
When our homeschooled children were in high school, we made sure that they could cook an entire meal on their own, an essential lifeskill. Allow them to learn these skills while working alongside you in the kitchen and they’ll develop good hygiene and safety habits, along with learning to cook.
Give your undivided attention for 30 minutes to dinner preparation
On the days when I was most stressed between 3pm and 5pm, it was because I was divided. My mind was preoccupied with problems, or listening to the radio, or I was trying to multitask. It took longer to make dinner. I inevitably made mistakes, or became more irritated with interruptions. Making dinner, itself, requires multitasking because each component of the meal needs special attention. Don’t stress your mind more by also making a phone call, or planning tomorrow’s to-do list. Focus for 20 or 30 minutes on preparing dinner and your mind will be relaxed. Winning the dinner war will be easier.
Fry onions or garlic, if you get distracted and dinner is later than you planned
If you are failing in the battle to get dinner on the table efficiently, for any reason, slice up some onions, put a tablespoon of coconut oil in a frying pan and fry them until they are soft or caramelized. The smell of onions frying will tell everyone in the house that dinner is in progress. Do this even if you haven’t yet decided what you are cooking for dinner. The smell of onions frying will help you think better, and bring peace to any tension in your home. Consider it aromatherapy for the dinner hour.
Let me know what your biggest conflict is during the “dinner hour.” Is there a way that this could be eased with planning and strategy? How will you tackle it today?