October 4, 2011

Guest Post: Getting Dinner on the Table

I don't actually know any of these people.
One of my most stressful times of the day is that hour between 4-5pm, when the kids are antsy, I'm running out of steam, and I have to start thinking about dinner for the family.

Meet Karyn, my college roommate, BFF, and with the launch of Happy Eating Noises, fellow blogger! Karyn's blog is full of tips and recipes, but this isn't just another food blog. Her goal is to help anyone "learn to love cooking." 

Karyn has twin boys so she's no stranger to a busy schedule. I asked her for her top tips for getting dinner on the table fast.

Before I had kids, cooking felt luxurious. I would dig into a complicated recipe because I didn’t care if dinner hit the table at 6:00pm or 8:00pm. My husband and I could manage our hunger and were willing to wait for the delicious result of a long recipe. Now, it is a rare treat to find myself with hours in the kitchen. Having twins changed the pace of my cooking, as well as the requirements. Now, six years into cooking for kids I have a structure that works. I focus on meals that are at least one of these three things:

  1. Make ahead
This is my favorite category. Now that my kids go to school full day (can we give a quick cheer for first grade?) I can make time to prepare dinner before they come home. So far this school year I have cooked Vegetable Strata, “Meaty” Vegetarian Chili, Parmesan Chicken Strips and Roast Vegetable Pasta during the day to serve that or the following night. These types of meals can typically be heated and on the table in under 15 minutes.

  1. Quick
You have probably seen lists of 45, 30 or even 15 minute meals. These are wonderful choices for feeding kids because you can react quickly when they get hungry and have dinner on the table before a meltdown ensues. Some of my favorites in this category are various stir fries using frozen brown rice, sautéed vegetable quesadillas and breakfast for dinner.

  1. Kids cook
This is a tough one for many parents and I get it. I want my boys to learn to cook because I think it is a life skill and one of my greatest joys. However, letting them help means opening up a well of patience that is sometimes dry by 5:00 at night. I have to be ready for the preparation to go slowly, be a mess and end up wrong. So I am choosy with how and when the kids help. The reward when they can help is a big increase in their patience and flexibility about what they will eat.

Hopefully as we gain cooking experience and confidence, we can incorporate more of these three types of meals into our repertoire. If all else fails, you can eat microwave bean and cheese burritos with salsa and frozen edamame. This is our go-to, last-minute dinner. It is nutritious, delicious and on the table in under five minutes. Perfect for those days when dinner just is not happening.


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