Hey, mamas! Anyone have any quick and easy family dinners lately? No, me either. Do you dream of a peaceful family dinner time? Yep, me too! Am I the only one burnt out on the dreaded daily question, “what’s for dinner”? Am I the only one tired of making dinner and hearing my family complain and refuse to eat it? I’ve been evaluating what stresses me out most about family dinner time and I have taken some small steps to make big changes.
Every single day these people of mine want dinner. At the end of the day, when the days with littles are looooooong and I am so tired. At the end of the day, before bath time shenanigans, bedtime routines and during the witching hour, I am expected to make dinner. Every single day y’all. Ahhhh, the pressure!!
I want to make something that everyone will eat and I want the meal to be healthy. I want my family eating whole foods; fruits, veggies, and protein. This shouldn’t be a tall order, right? Sprinkle some magic fairy dust and voila! Toddlers love vegetables! Just ask anyone giving you the side eye at the Mexican restaurant when your child only eats a tortilla.
On top of the vegetables, preschoolers also love easy to make meals like casseroles, 1 dish meals, sauces, gravy and anything with specs of green in it. It might be considered a natural disaster at our house if any food is touching or mixed together.
And did I mention that The Water Man’s favorite vegetables are mashed potatoes, french fries and macaroni and cheese? The water babies’ vegetable of choice is ketchup. And now I have to adjust everything according to our new found food allergies and possible gluten intolerance. To say dinner time has become overwhelming is an understatement.
I have taken some steps to salvage what’s left of my sanity and make dinner time a little easier on everyone. Tell me your secrets mamas, let share what’s working for the dinner time struggles! Here’s how I’m tackling 6 o’clock!
TAKE THE NIGHT OFF
My goal is to make dinner 6 nights a week but we do go out to eat or order dinner in once or twice a week. Even if we don’t go out, I make sure I take one night off from cooking every week. It’s usually Friday. After a long week before a busy weekend, it’s nice to get a little break. And I love to start the weekend with a clean kitchen because there was minimal clean up from the night before. Order pizza, serve snacks or put out a cheese/cracker/fruit tray. Just make it super easy mama, you deserve a night off.
DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY
Seriously, stop beating yourself up about whether or not your children eat. Stop worrying about how much they eat, or if they are going to be hungry. They will not starve. They will survive. Find foods they like and serve one with every meal. That way you know they have eaten something and they will be ok until breakfast. A lot of times I just add a side of fruit to dinner.
And don’t worry about HOW they eat their meals. My son’s tacos are separated. I know, I don’t want to tell him he may be thrown out of Texas for this. But he has a pile of shredded cheese, a pile of ground beef, a folded tortilla, and beans or guacamole on the side and eats everything individually. My Wildflower dips her meat into her water before eating it. It is disgusting, whatever. She is eating, turn your head and carry on. You get the idea, be happy.
I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this one, but we do negotiate. The best thing we did was to negotiate some ground rules, in advance, and as a family. The kids had a say, see rule #3. I figure vegetables dipped in ketchup is better than nothing. I have found that our little people do much better with rules they help create. Here’re our family dinner rules.
- You must try one bite of everything on your plate.
- You will get to play (briefly) on a phone or tablet for eating all of your vegetables.
- You can have more ketchup.
- We will not discuss or change these rules at dinner time.
We simplified supper by making the dinner rules ahead of time and being consistent about not changing the rules OR discussing them while we eat. The first week was hard because we had to remind them that we would not change our minds, negotiate, or listen to begging and whining at the table. The kids go to their room if that behavior continues after we remind them of the dinner rules. It is miserable to argue through meal times so we no longer discuss dinner at dinner.
On Sundays, I plan out our week. My weekly plans include a meal plan. I brainstorm 6 dinners while The Water Man and I watch Netflix and create a grocery list with the ingredients I need for those meals. I like to throw in a crock pot meal every week and cook ahead of time when I can. If I cook a big breakfast that morning, I might bake some chicken or potatoes while I cook breakfast to make that night’s dinner faster.
Anything I can do in advance is helpful to me including knowing my options for meals. I like to have a combination of easy to prepare meals for when I’m short on time or exhausted and new dinners to try or special ones that take a little longer. I try not to fall into the taco or spaghetti rut where I serve them 3 times a week!
We play Hi/Low every night over dinner. We go around the table and say our best and worst parts of each day, even my 2-year-old has always been an active participant. Then our 5-year-old asks us questions like, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?” or “what is your favorite smell?”. Not only does this habit help us to stay connected and know what is going on in each others lives, but it also takes the pressure off of eating. The kids are too busy thinking about how to contribute to our conversation to complain or argue over their food. It is shocking what they will eat when they are engaged in a gripping family conversation!
MAKE IT FUN
Sometimes we have a picnic or eat in front of the tv, gasp, I know. But when I am tired of the fighting and can’t bear the thought of sitting down at the table, I change it up! We have been known to throw a blanket in the back yard and eat under the trees. No one notices I burnt dinner when we’re outside. And every now and then when I am really stressed, or we’ve been having a lot of trouble at dinner, we have a movie night where we eat nothing but popcorn for dinner. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s a nice break from the dinner pressure for everyone!
I am probably the hardest on myself about this, but it seemed like every night I was dreading dinner. Every other meal seemed to be tolerable, dare I say pleasant. I had to figure out what made dinner time so much more difficult. We have been implementing changes for a while now. We have had some trial and error along the way and we are always trying to make improvements, but this is what is working for me right now. How about you? Tell me all your tricks, I need them!