Getting dinner made each night when you have young kids is no small feat. In fact, it may even seem impossible when a baby needs fed, a toddler needs supervised, and a preschooler needs your attention.
I certainly struggled with it for awhile, and now that my kids are 2 and 5, they don’t need me to do as much for them, but they like hang out in the kitchen while I’m cooking which isn’t always the best thing for their safety or the outcome for supper.
So I’ve figured out that there are specific things moms can do to make it easier to actually get dinner made and on the table without taking a bunch of time and without a lot of frustration.
Get Dinner on the Table with Young Kids
1. Look ahead 24 hours.
Do you ever go to make supper and realize your meat is frozen? Or worse, you thought you had a pound of ground beef for tacos and realize at 5:00 that you are out!
Believe me, I have done the same thing! I learned the secret to preventing these problems is to look ahead to the next night’s dinner.
Once tonight’s dinner is cleaned up and put away, Look at your meal plan for tomorrow’s dinner. Let’s say you plan to have pork chops the following night, that means you should transfer the pork chops from the freezer to the fridge, so that they have time to thaw.
It’s also a good time to do a quick look in the fridge and pantry to make sure you have what you need to complete the meal and mentally prepare for the next night’s dinner.
2. Prep as much as possible earlier in the day.
When you have little kids, you have limited time. The less you have to prepare at supper time, the better. Here are a few tips.
Instead of fresh veggies, use frozen. They are still packed with nutrients and can be roasted just like you would fresh vegetables, but you don’t have to spend time washing and cutting them.
After lunch, do as much prep work for dinner as you can. If your kids are like mine, they take their time eating and usually I’m done before them. I like to use this time to cut up any fruit or veggies I need for supper. It’s aslo a great time to cut up chicken or pound pork chops and put them in a marinade so they are ready to go at dinner time.
When you prep dinner food right after lunch while your kids are still eating, this will help you tremendously. The kids are preoccupied with their lunch, and you can clean up the kitchen at one time instead of messing up the kitchen later in the afternoon when they take a nap.
3. Only follow one recipe for each meal.
If you use a recipe for the main dish and sides, you may be juggling 3 different recipes. That takes more work and more mental capacity.
It’s best to keep dinner as simple as possible by only following one recipe per meal. That means if your main dish has several steps involved, then keep your sides easy. Or vice versa. You may decide to serve a simple main dish from the crockpot. That means it will be easier to follow a recipe for your main dish.
MEAL IDEA #1
Main Dish: Marinated Chicken
Side Dish 1: Steamed Broccoli
Side Dish 2: Garlic Parmesan Roasted Potatoes (the recipe)
MEAL IDEA #2
Main Dish: Taco Casserole (the recipe)
Side Dish 1: Refried Beans
Side Dish 2: Frozen Corn
4. Designate specific activities for kids during dinner prep time.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t include your toddlers and young children in the cooking preperation every night.
I love letting my kids involved in the kitchen, but dinner is not that time. They will usually bake with me at least once or twice throughout the week, but not right before supper when everyone is hungry and we are on time constraints.
Until they get a little older there isn’t a whole lot they can or even should be doing. Every once in awhile, I’ll let my kids put food on pans or stir the fruit salad, but they aren’t in the kitchen with me the whole time I’m cooking. It’s so much easier for me and they still get some experience in the kitchen.
If you don’t want your young kids in the kitchen the whole time you are cooking, have specific activities for them to do during this prep time.
The key is to make sure these activities are saved specifically for dinner prep time and they haven’t done them earlier in the day.
Here’s what works at our house.
TV –My kids don’t watch it during the day, so I don’t feel bad at all if they watch 45 minutes of TV while I cook supper. It’s all about balance.
Playdoh – The key to having your kids play with the Playdoh for an extended amount of time is to have the tools. If you just give your little one a jar of Playdoh, they probably won’t do much with it. My kids love using the tools and will play for a long time.
Coloring and Drawing – This is the time of day, my 2 year old is allowed to use washable markers. I just give her a blank piece of paper and the markers. She LOVES it and will sit for long enough at the table. My 5 year old likes to draw, so that keeps him busy too.
Hands-on No Prep Activity. I’ve saved so many ideas on this Toddler Activities Pinterest Board. A couple of favorites at our house are stacking buttons on uncooked spaghetti noodles stuck in Playdoh and squishing lotion in a Ziploc bag.
Reading Eggs. My kids LOVE this online reading program. It’s great educational entertainment while I’m cooking.
5. Make sure your kids’ needs have been met.
You know that as soon as you start making dinner, the baby is hungry, the toddler needs to go to the bathroom, and the preschooler wants to play. Right?!
So instead of reacting to all of this, you can prevent some of it by making sure the baby is fed, you take the toddler to the bathroom, and you’ve spent some time with your preschooler like reading a book. Of course, you can’t prevent all interruptions while you are cooking, but if you are being proactive, you may be able to prevent some.
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