Is your house like this? From 4pm till 8pm complete and utter chaos?
|I have no idea who these people are or what they are doing, but this is what my house looks like most nights.|
Even when we got rid of our extra curricular activities in an attempt to simplify our evenings and restore some sort of peace to our home while finishing a dump truck load of homework, dinner time was still a complete mosh pit.
I guess that's because kids are required to mostly sit still and be quiet for all but 20 min of their day, unless they happen to have PE for their special. Who wouldn't want to come home and run and shout and throw apples at each other? (True story.)
But even on days like Saturday when we complete a few chores, maybe do something fun and lay around, for some reason my stress levels spike past the moon when it's 4pm. No one is screaming, no one is throwing apples, but it's time to cook. I am the sole person responsible for feeding five other human beings a healthy, nutricious, balanced meal that they will LIKE. Because if I force it down their throats and accidentally poke them with the fork then they have grounds for joining the foster system and none of us want that.
So I resolved to make dinner a simple time of night. Breakfast is simple, most mornings, at our house. Everyone just gets toast or cereal or oatmeal for themselves. If they want something more they can ask me and I'll make them eggs or bacon, it's just really laid back. So I thought, why can't dinner be like that?
My favorite dinner times are when we have breakfast for dinner. I thought about making spaghetti for breakfast, but that just made me kind of sick. I decided that the reason breakfast is so easy going is that there is no pressure on me to find something to feed everyone that they will all love and sing praises to.
SOLUTION #1 - Let the kids take turns picking out what's for dinner.
This worked pretty well for a while. Everyone had their own night and we made the meal plans ahead of time and the kids were excited when their night came around. I let them be the special helper and told everyone else to stuff it if they didn't like what we were having.
But really, who is this organized ALL THE TIME? Not this mommy.
SOLUTION #2 - Let them eat whatever they can find.
I found this to be a VERY nice change as I didn't have to do ANYTHING for dinner. One time I even sat and read a magazine while the kids raided the pantry and fridge. The problem: clean up. Even though I have my kids help me clean up the kitchen after meals, this was epic. We only did it a couple of times, but for some reason breakfast foods are much easier to clean up than dinner foods. Hmmm.
SOLUTION #3 - LIGHT SUMMER FARE
When it's bleeding hot outside and we've been at the beach all day or digging in the yard, no one ever wants to eat much, but I still feel that push to keep them alive with food stuffed in their faces. One summer I read an article in a parenting magazine (NOT Parenting - I hate that rag. Terrible, nasty publication.) that gave me permission to feed my kids a smoothy for dinner. Ah ha! I thought! Liquid gold. Perfect!
My smoothies are pretty all encompassing. I use a protein powder, spinach (always spinach), frozen fruit and any other kind of vitamin or mineral I can get in there. They are generally well received and provide most of the basic food groups. (We don't really count grains as a food group around here because most of us are overweight or allergic to them, but if you really want, it's fun to throw in a handful of oatmeal in a smoothie.)
I've also been guilty of throwing the veggie tray on teh counter and saying.. DINNER IS SERVED! I run a veggie co-op so we almost always have fresh fruits and veggies around. Does it hurt my kids to have a protien shake and raw carrots for dinner? NO. Especially if they are hot and tired and ready for a movie and bed.
Side note, popcorn is a nice follow up for the smoothie/veggie tray dinner.
I've also done a lot of other things to try and make dinner time easier, and while some of them worked, none of them worked all the time. The best thing I ever did was stop telling myself that we had to have a perfectly baked casserole with meat and veggies and a side of homemade rolls to go with it every night. We really don't. I don't even like casserole unless it's snowing outside. My kids would rather die than eat something baked in the oven with SAUCE - Heaven help us!! So why bother? If they are eating fruits and veggies and healthy grains and meat once in a while (most of us are vegetarian around her these days) then who cares? WHO??? Not this mommy.
And I've tried to apply that idea to my eating as well. I do not need a giant sandwich with all the fixings and a side of chips and a soda for lunch. Most of the time I'm not that hungry. I can eat an apple and some nuts and feel great for a couple of hours and that's fine.
I guess I didn't realized how brainwashed I was into thinking I needed to feed my kids well planned, beautiful, calorie dense meals at every sitting. I certainly don't need that much food in my face. Why do they?
I'm hoping this all turns out to be the kind of set up that teaches my kids to eat food to stay alive, not for enjoyment and ritual only. My guess is that's why America has such a weight problem: it's a ritual, it's enjoyable, it's easy and the easiest, cheapest foods are the worst ones for us.
My family is trying an experiment this summer. We're going to see how long we can go without eating out at all. Every meal made at home. I'll let you know how it's going as the summer progresses. Hopefully we all survive.
How do you simplify dinner time? Why else is excited for school to be out and their kids to be home? This mommy is!!!