With four small people in our house, getting dinner ready can easily become a nightmare. Whether you have one child, or four, or ten, getting dinner on the table can seem like an impossible task some days. I mean, they don’t call it witching hour for nothing! Here are some tips and tricks I use to make it all a little less insane at our house.
1. Have a Plan
I write up a monthly menu plan which includes dinners, weekly baking and all the events and activities that affect those things. It is not set in stone, and is usually covered with arrows, crossed out items and changes, but it doesn’t have to be neat and pretty to be useful.
It’s so nice to get to 5pm and not have to decide what to cook. It’s also a great help in making sure I have all the ingredients on hand for what I want to cook so there is no last minute dashes to the supermarket with four kids in tow!
2. Have a Back-Up Plan
I may plan a month worth of healthy, nutritious, interesting meals… but sometimes things don’t go to plan, activities change and surprise events pop up, so it’s helpful to have some back-up meals on hand. My tips – make extras of a favourite meal and freeze for these moments, or write a list of sure-fire, super easy meals and make sure you always have the necessary ingredients tucked away in the back of the cupboard. You can see our list of 50 Quicker Than Takeaway suggestions to get your back up list started.
3. Cook Ahead of Time
At around 5pm, when I should start to cook dinner, things often get a little fractious around here. The girls want me to write in their reading diaries, the big boy is ‘booooooooooored’, and the toddler, who is trying to decide whether or not to give up his day sleep, is wrapped around my leg howling like a wounded beast. It’s during these moments that I either pat myself on the back for cooking dinner earlier in the day, or wish I’d been so clever!
Throw dinner in the slow cooker early in the morning, cook some or all of dinner while you are getting lunch ready, or find some other time in the day when things are a little more calm to cook dinner and you will thank yourself later, I promise!
4. Get the Kids Involved
I know sometimes having the kids help in the kitchen takes longer and makes more mess, but it may be worth it to have less agro while you are trying to cook.
Set children up with simple tasks such as cutting mushrooms, grating carrots or setting the table. With practice they will become skilled at these tasks and actually be helpful in the kitchen.
Even the smallest member of the family can be kept happy while you cook by being included in the fun. We pop our toddler in the high chair in the kitchen and feed him veggies as we cut them to keep him happy for a while. When he was a baby I would wear him on my back so he was still part of the action, still close to me, but safely out of the way.
5. Keep It Simple!
There is a time and place for cooking fancy meals… and it is not when you have small, hungry, kids losing their minds at your feet. Stick to simple meals that you know everyone will eat. Go with meals that you can cook in one pot or pan to make preparation and cleaning up easier. Don’t worry if you cook the same meals over and over, if they are favourites no one will complain!
6. Cut Yourself Some Slack
Some nights things will not go to plan. Sometimes you will get to the end of the day, tired, frazzled, and wishing for bedtime, only to stare blankly into your fridge waiting for dinner to magically make itself while bedlam carries on around you. When those days happen, don’t beat yourself up. If most of your meals are healthy, homemade, master pieces, it is totally okay to have the occasional meal of take out and remember… baked beans on toast is a totally fabulous option.
What is your favourite ‘easy to get on the table’ meal?