Even if you enjoy cooking for your family, it can be a nightmare to attempt it with little ones. Late afternoons and evenings are often the times when kids are most grumpy, requiring more attention than usual. Luckily, with a little bit of forethought, preparation, and anxiety-reducing strategies, you can weather dinner-time prep like a champ.
Life is just a tad crazy in my household right now. I have 2 little kids—a 3-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl. My husband is a busy medical student, often doing 10 hour+ shifts at the hospital. I also have a lot of my own things going on, as a master’s student and writer—but my main objective is to take care of my family. Because of this, I often find myself trying to do the impossible—trying to make dinner with two grumpy little ones underfoot.
Because of this, I’ve been trying to make the seemingly impossible, possible. Through lots of trial and error, marked by plenty of tears, chaos, and anxiety, I have come up with something that works for me.
What I did
My master plan for dinner-time prep includes 3 things: planning, preparation, and remaining calm.
First, I plan out meals that don’t require much effort. I’ve just had to accept that this current stage of life is not conducive to making time-consumptive culinary masterpieces.
Second, I do lots of meal-prep. I do most of the heavy-lifting dinner-prep during my daughter’s afternoon nap and while my son watches TV. I also do some freezer meal-prep during her morning naps so that we have food for lunches or emergency dinners. I’ve found that this little bit of preparation goes a long way. It allows me to easily get dinner on the table when my kids are extra tired and need more of my attention.
Third, I remain calm. Things don’t always go smoothly, even when I’ve tried to be as prepared as possible. But I’ve found that I’m more effective at solving problems when I am in control of my own emotions—for instance, maybe I’m able to realize that there’s a reason my daughter is crying. She might need a diaper change, or she might be hungry. But if I don’t relax, I won’t be able to think as clearly, and I won’t be as effective at finding solutions.
In sum, making dinner with little ones is no easy task. But you can make the impossible slightly more possible by planning, preparing, and remaining calm. And, lastly, remember that although it might feel insignificant to do seemingly menial tasks like making dinner for your family, it is actually pretty noble.
It might not win you any acclaim or recognition, but it does something far greater—it makes your family happy and brings you closer together. Remembering this can help you to better appreciate yourself, which makes the whole process feel less dreadful. It can even make it feel fulfilling.