Cooking for a family is all trial and error for me. Before I got married a bowl of cereal or a Lean Cuisine did me just fine any night of the week, but now there are people I share a roof with who want actual meals. Oh the nerve!
I credit my mom for making meals for our family growing up. I’m talking four-course, knock your socks off, full-blown meals including dessert. It was just normal for us. Sometimes I took it for granted.
Not anymore! Let me tell ya!
How did my mom do it?!
I mean, real food on the table by 5:30 every weeknight rain or shine, sick and/or tired.
For me, making dinner is a whole thing. It is like crime-solving. If I hand the baby a bowl and a spoon, maybe he will bang it long enough for me to cook some rice. And my 4-year-old wants to know where the blue paint is because she can only find red. Wait. What? She’s painting?! My 5-year old decided it was arts and crafts time. Baby is now bored and licks the garbage can (this actually happened today).
I let dishes pile up in the kitchen sink throughout the day until dinner prep time, and then I (usually) clean up and load the dishwasher before I make dinner. On those days (few and far between) that I do the dishes in the morning after breakfast I feel like June Cleaver, as in I rule the housekeeping world!
But on the other days…
I just deal with it. The kitchen is a mess, one of the girls touched the other girl’s Barbie doll, the other one breathed on her sister, and the baby is yelling, “Cackeh Cackeh!”, which is baby babble for “Cracker Cracker! STAT!”
Even through all of this dinner is on the table around 5:30(ish)and we sit together to eat. It is a habit, a routine that is just normal for us as is the painting, bickering, and babbling. This is one of our family values- that after a long busy, bustling day we come together to share a meal and our lives with one another every evening. Making this a practice now with little children will by God’s grace remain a practice as our children grow. Even as empty-nesters, my parents still eat dinner together around the table (not a t.v. set), and usually around 5:30. A good, lasting habit.
The only way I make dinner work is that I have got to have a plan. This is where the crime solving part comes in. I know when we need to eat. I usually know what we need to eat. I just have to figure out how we are going to eat on any given week.
If one of our family values is time around the table, then I am the one who is going to make it work. No one is going to do it for me (unless it is a painting dinner party, then I can enlist my 4-year-old).
So here are 3 basic things that are working for me right now:
1. Have a plan. Take time at the end or beginning of the week to meal plan, check the local grocery store ad, clip or get digital coupons, and compare sales with recipes. This takes about 30 min. tops in my week, and it saves me time (and money ) in the long run.
2. Strategize the cooking time. This is always more of an art than a science for me, because how I prepare dinner changes from day to day. Sometimes I have the girls take turns on the computer while little man plays in their room. There are other times when I will have them all play in the baby room. Sometimes I put on a show on Netflix. Other times I even allow the girls to help me in the kitchen. It just depends on what needs to get done and how much time I need to prep dinner. On some days I will get my dinner prep done early in the day. For instance, I will make spaghetti sauce and let it simmer in the slow cooker throughout the afternoon so that all that is left is the pasta and veggies/salad. This saves me a lot of time and energy later in the day when my strength is spent.
3. Stick to the Basics. You know what your family loves, what they will eat (and not eat), and what meals make up your family diet. And if you don’t, experiment! I’ve sure made my fair share (and probably will again) of dud dishes, but there is no way of knowing how a meal will turn out or if your family will enjoy it unless you try it out on them. My family- my culinary Guinea pigs. I had to start somewhere, or I would still be serving up Lean Cuisines with a side of Cheerios. So I say stick with the basics- tacos, spaghetti, roasted chicken, whatever. And cycle your meals. For my family, we cycle the dishes I just listed plus Chicken Pot Pie (one recipe makes 3 pies—I cook up 2 and freeze the 3rd), Hamburger Vegetable Soup (it makes a ton!), and Oven Fried Chicken. This makes meal planning and grocery shopping easy with little unpredictability.
Dinner time is still stressful. It’s just the way it is. But it is becoming more manageable as I am finding out how to feed my family. What about you? What are some ways you feed your family? Is dinner together around the table one of your family values? Feel free to share any suggestions or lessons learned from your home.