How I Don't Lose My Sanity At Dinner Time

Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you?

It’s 5 pm and your husband isn’t going to be home for another hour—at least.  You have a baby in a sling and a toddler at your hip, whining and demanding to be held.  Your school-age child is sitting at the table banging his head against the counter because he's having trouble sounding out the words in Dr. Seuss's

Cat In The Hat

.  If the noise and chaos alone isn't enough to

drive you to drink

, the fact that every single one of your children is also expressing very loudly that THEY MAY DIE IF THEY DON'T EAT NOW is!

THEY'RE HUNGRY, MOM!  HUNGRY!  DO YOU HEAR ME??????? THEY WANT FOOD!!!

The problem?  You forgot to take something out of the freezer.  In fact, you're not even sure what’s

in

the freezer, except for some heavily processed, freezer-burned chicken nuggets.

It's dinner time after a really long day, every person in your house is crying (including you), and screaming for food (probably not you), and you have nothing to feed them.

Here's the rub

--You believe family meals are important, that they are good opportunities for bonding and all that.  You even desire to give your family a hot, lovingly prepared meal but... 

...you just aren't sure how to pull it off.

At least, not today.  

And maybe not tomorrow...

Sound familiar?

Of course, this has

never

happened to me.  My family has never been forced to settle with a regular round of Mac and Cheese and/or PB &J because Mama didn't have a plan.

No, no, no...

Ummmmm....LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE!

Sadly, I know this routine all to well, but I discovered a secret that has virtually saved me from dinnertime meltdowns and I'm going to tell you what it is: 

A meal plan.

(Side-note:  Even though I've been a Home "Executive"  for 11 years now, there are only a few things I feel are worthy enough to share as Best Practices in my home.  But the few Best Practices I have to offer are ones that have

really

worked for me in running and managing a house. I'm humbly offering this dinner tip on the off-chance it might help some other floundering mama out there, just like it helped me so many years ago.) 

What is a meal plan?  It's a pocketful of sunshine that arrives in your inbox every week containing  simple, family–friendly dinner recipes and....wait for it...the corresponding shopping/ingredient list.  

It's also called

sanity

.

Here's how subscribing to a meal plan has helped me and removed the 5 pm angst:

1.  I  save money.

  I buy all the ingredients I need to make 7 meals (and often 14 meals) in one trip.  This saves me money because I cut out extra trips to the store.  If I go into a store just to "grab a few things", I know I'll spend at least $50.  At least.  Feeding a family of 8 means I can

always

use an extra gallon of milk or a bag of apples or a loaf of bread.  But, if I plan to go to the store only once a week or even every two weeks, I know my pantry needs to be well stocked and I know I must faithfully follow my list so I don't forget things.   

2.  It saves time: 

There's no need to pull out all my cookbooks and spend hours writing out lists and recipes because it's already been done for me.  I simply print off my list and take my happy self to the grocery store to purchase the ingredients for the meals I will prepare for the next week or two.

3.  I always have a plan

--The stressful 5 pm scene I re-created above is the rarity, not the norm.  We don't have to eat spaghetti 15 nights out of the month because that's all I have on hand.  In the morning (or even the night before), I assess what we're going to eat that evening and I pull out the meat (or whatever) to have ready for when I have time to cook.

3.  I prepare dinner when it's convenient for me.

  When I had three kids under the age of three, they often woke up happy and ready to play in the morning before they went down again for a nap.  If they were happy and content, I used the happy morning time to make dinner.  If they weren't, I waited for a better opportunity.  Cooking is still a challenge for me, but it's not as hard as it was in the early years of raising children.  For me, the great thing about a meal plan is I can do it when I want (read:  when the kids are busy doing something else or while someone is reading to me or when babies are napping, etc).

4.  I don't get tired of eating the same thing over and over again and neither does my family. 

Here's the truth:  I don't eat out very often, even though I love it.  So when I eat dinner, I want it to be good, something I'm going to enjoy, especially since I have to do the work anyway.  Because I use a meal plan, it's rare that I don't like what I've prepared.  It's also rare that I get into a recipe rut because we are always trying new and interesting recipes.  There's no, "Chicken Tetrazzini again, Mom?"

5.  My kids are used to eating a wide variety of food and are therefore less picky. 

My kids eat everything--soups, salad, vegetables of all kinds, meat, fish...and they don't just eat it, they usually like it.  I attribute this to the fact that I consistently offer a wide variety of food.  

I know people have different philosophies about how to feed children, so I respectfully offer mine here:   my kids eat what I make and if they don't like it, I tell them I'm sorry.  And I

am

sorry they don't like the food, but I'm not going to make them a new meal or offer them something else.  My children have to eat what I've prepared or they don't eat; It's up to them.  That doesn't mean they don't l complain when I fix a meal they don't like.  It just means when they complain, I don't pay much attention to it.  This has helped in two ways:  it's helped them learn to like different kinds of foods because they either have to eat what's been served (or stay hungry) and it's helped keep me from becoming a short order cook.  (This will not work if you have a child with serious eating issues; this approach only works with healthy children with no food aversions/issues.)

6.  It's diet-friendly. 

There are all kinds of different meal plans available now--Paleo style, low-carb, gluten/dairy free, etc, so even if you have to abstain from certain types of foods, there is still a good chance, there is a meal plan to fit your dietary needs.  (My son Patrick is on a gluten/casein/soy free diet, so I adapt most recipes so that he can eat what a variation of what we're having.)

I'm sure there are other ways subscribing to a meal plan has helped me, but these are the main ones. 

Now, if you are looking for how not to loose your mind while you actually eat your home cooked meal with your kids, you're going to have to check somewhere else.  We're always working on manners at meal time and I'm not sure that will ever end.  So if someone has thoughts about what to do about kids getting up 500 times from the dinner table or kids randomly falling out of their chairs or kids who use potty words at the table or kids who re-enact WWIII because someone touched someone else...

holla at me.

We'll be working on that...ad infinitum...and then some. 

(Side-note again:  this best practice might not work for your family at dinnertime.  In fact, these steps might also

sound preposterous.  If so, I can only tell you to keep looking for a meal time plan that works for you.  You'll figure something out one day.  I know it.) 

(A final side-note:  If you just had a baby, meal planning of any type

is

preposterous.  Eat the Mac and Cheese and be happy.  God knows your kids will be.)

Some of the meal plans I've tried over the years:

Emeals (very affordable meals)

Saving dinner menu-mailer (excellent meals and recipes)

Chef Zan Dial cheap and easy in the kitchen

(my favorite so far, but I think he's out of business)

I also found this while hunting around:

100 Days of Real Food meal plan FREE!!!  (looks healthy!)

Food on the table

How I Don't Lose My Sanity At Dinner Time by Colleen Duggan