It’s almost a nightly question from my tribe. “Is it family dinner tonight?” There’s no doubt that my kids love it when we are all together, enjoying a home-cooked meal at night, but as a busy family, it’s not always possible.
This year has been a learning curve for us as a family of five (soon to be six). My eldest started school which means a change in hours, after-school activities and new friends to meet up with. My second son began his preschool life and with it an interest in AFL. My daughter is growing every day and loves exploring her world. Together we have discovered that she adores singing and baby gymnastics. Add to the week swimming lessons for all three, sports training, birthdays and play dates and it’s a pretty full calendar.
Our situation, although tiring, is not uncommon. All around Australia mums and dads are busy juggling kids commitments, family obligations, friends and oh yeah, work! You finally get to the end of the day only to be asked “what’s for dinner?” Oh yeah, that again.
Here are five obstacles that we face as parents every time we sit down at the dinner table (and how to overcome them!).
1. The chef is also the chauffeur.
The role of a parent is so multi-faceted that you simply can’t put it into one category. Where it becomes challenging is when that person needs to perform those duties all at once.
Wednesday nights, for us, are intense. After collecting the small people from school, we head straight to swimming lessons. There is a 15-minute window here to complete a successful pick-up, change of costume and arrive at the lesson on time. Generally this is the day my son decides to have an in-depth game of handball with his friends. Swimming lesson complete, we then venture to AFL training where I stand, freezing on the sidelines, entertaining my daughter while my sons chase a ball around and somehow defy logic by not becoming hypothermic in a singlet and shorts.
By the time it’s over, the night has fallen and tummies are hungry. If I’m to have any chance of getting the kids in bed at a reasonable time (and enjoying a glass of respectable red on the couch) I need dinner to be easy. For parents in a similar situation I’d highly suggest investing in a slow cooker (throw it in, turn it on, arrive home to super yummy smells and dinner done) or prepping meals during the day.
Another fantastic option is outsourcing. That could prepping the main in advance, or it could be outsourcing the whole meal. On some days, you just want to swing by KFC on the way home for some chicken and maybe some delicious, tummy-warming sides like the new sweet potato mash.
2. One parent is working late.
The day has been long and then you get the dreaded phone call: “I’m going to be late, eat without me”. After muttering some unpleasantries about your beloved, you accept that the gauntlet of dinner and bed must be faced by you and you alone.
Look your enemies in the eyes and assert dominance. Try not to back down as they laugh and throw toys in your face, running around like sugared-up circus monkeys. They’re tough and they can sense your fear, but you can outsmart them.
On nights like this I suggest you be prepared. Trust me, "past you" can help "present you" immensely. Get "past you" to make some freezer meals (or double batches) so you can just pull something out and heat it up. While that’s happening you can bath the little soldiers and get some quality time in with a book.
3. Everyone wants something different.
I’m pretty sure I remind my children daily that “I’m running a house, not a restaurant” because I simply cannot cater to the preferences of that many people - especially when said preferences change hourly. A way around the “I like this, I don’t like that” battlefield is to set aside a family dinner each week and organise a rotational roster where each person gets to pick the menu for that night.
We implemented this idea a while ago and so far it has worked well. If anyone complains, we just remind them that their turn is coming up shortly. It’s also a great way to get kids to try new things. On my night I choose something the kids had never had (followed by a few chocolate related treats that of course, I can’t share because sadly they’re always asleep when I bring them out. Shame.).
4. The kids want to eat early.
You can always tell the parents in a restaurant, they are the ones dining at 5pm. No-one else in their right mind eats at that time because, well, it’s still practically daytime.
When you have children you need to adjust your eating schedule. Little tummies get hungry, early, and it’s tricky because as parents we want to be present for the dinner time bonding, but we may not necessarily be ready for a full meal.
To work your way around the 5pm sitting, look at it like an entree. Have a small bite of one of the side dishes with your children and use the time to catch up on the day and then save a larger serve for later when you’re ready to eat.
5. Shift workers.
Not all parents have 9-5 jobs. In fact, I don’t know many that do. Even those who work during the day are rarely home before 6; there’s always tasks to finish, bosses to keep happy and traffic to contend with.
We all know that meal times as a family are important but having pressure on you to get home early can lead to more stress than it’s worth. If you’re just not able to make it home in time for the traditional sit-down dinner, think about changing the way you see meal times. Rather than having dinner as your main time together, think about making Saturday or Sunday lunch your special time.
Take the pressure off by picking up some great food and, if it’s a nice day, take your meal somewhere picturesque to enjoy together. If the weather is not cooperating, get some hot dishes (KFC chicken and sweet potato mash for the win on a cold day) and settle in for a great lunch and an afternoon of board games together. It’s not about when we spend the time together but HOW we spend the time we have together.
What is your favourite takeaway dinner?
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner KFC.
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