Dinnertime disastertime.

13Mar2013

The CRUNCH:
Dinnertime disastertime.

CRUNCH deets:
At the end of the day, everyone’s tired, hungry, and CRANKY. There’s no time to cook a proper meal and even if there was, you don’t have half the ingredients. So it’s another night of TV while you throw together something quick that will elicit the fewest complaints. What, nobody warned you how many chicken nuggets you’d end up eating when you took those prenatal classes?

The Fix:
Meal plan it out together.

Fix deets:
Assign each person in your family his or her own day to choose dinner. Any extra days can be divvied up between leftovers, take-out, or meals with extended family. Of course young children will choose delicacies such as PB&J, cereal, hot dogs, and grilled cheese. Do you remember our fourth value? Adapt! Relax and go with the flow. Letting your child choose a favourite means he’ll actually eat it without complaining and if it’s an easy meal, you get a night off. You deserve it! Before you know it, your three-year-old will be requesting roast beef, so enjoy those easy dinners before he figures that out.

Decide when it’s the most convenient time to grocery shop, with or without the kids. As with all chores, they’ll like to shop with you some of the time and throw fits if you make them go every time. A day before shopping, when you have a free moment to talk about it and your kids are receptive to conversation, ask them what they’ve decided on. At first, they might need help coming up with suggestions. You can take the easy way out by naming a few favourites to guarantee an oven-free night, or if you have the energy, you can pull out a recipe book and look at some pictures together. Don’t offer anything you’re not prepared to make: follow-through is essential in every aspect of parenting. Agree you won’t complain about his choice and will try one bite of everything as long as he agrees to do the same for you. If he doesn’t live up to his end of the bargain, he loses the privilege of choosing the following week.

Have everyone choose a protein, carb, and two veggies. Our kids typically choose one raw and one cooked veg, for example, steamed broccoli or carrots with a side of cut-up peppers or cherry tomatoes. It’s all good! In fact, having a raw veg is great because if you put that on the table first, the kids will wolf them down while you have a chance to dish up the rest of the meal and it has a chance to cool. Since children love repetition, we have a rule that they can’t choose the same thing they chose last week, otherwise every Wednesday would be no-sauce spaghetti with carrots, tomatoes, and meatballs on the side. Keep in mind that you can always dress up other plates to add more flavour just as long as you keep the boss’s meal exactly as he specified. Once the family meals have been decided, write them on the calendar and make your grocery list so you’re set up for the week. Organized, right?

To take it to the next level, figure out what prep steps you can do beforehand or throughout the day whenever there’s a chance. Yup, it may feel silly to peel potatoes at nine o’clock in the morning with your toddler doing a craft at the kitchen table (and then to mash said potatoes while he’s taking FOREVER to finish his lunch) but, similar to cleaning and laundry, breaking a big task up into small steps means that at the end of the day it’ll feel like dinner cooked itself and there won’t be any meltdowns because you still have to defrost the chicken. As well, if he’s watching and helping whenever possible, you take away any surprise element so it’s more likely dinner will be met with “yum” instead of “eww” when it hits the table. And, if you need any further motivation to be one with your oven timers, setting up your meal so it’s ready when you are frees up that chaotic pre-dinner grey-zone for activities or time to play outside. Nothing works up an appetite like running around in the fresh air and you’ll have the park to yourself because everyone else is home making dinner!

Remember this:
You make a million decisions for your family everyday. Between shopping, chopping, and cooking, food-related decisions account for what, eighty percent? Not only do the menu ideas, food prep, and mealtime struggles drive you crazy, it drives your kids crazy too. Making sure each voice is heard will help bring everyone back from the cliff. Unless you want a revolution on your hands, avoid power struggles by striving for democracy, not dictatorship.

Email any questions and let us know how this worked for you!

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