How to have a peaceful evening with the kids after a busy day at work.
We all want to have a peaceful dinner at home with the kids, especially after a busy day at work. However, it is usually a very tricky thing to do.
Imagine this – you’ve had a busy day at work, you are tired. Instead of coming home to relax, you find yourself having to prepare dinner for your family. Cooking one-handed, while holding your toddler and bending backwards. Sounds familiar?
When everyone finally make it to the table, the kids are fussy – they all want to eat something different. There are tears, screaming and stubbornness. At the end, most of the food, that took so much effort in to prepare, is on the floor. Then it’s bath time, bed time and by the time the kids are asleep, many parents are completely emotionally and physically exhausted.
I used to dread the mid-week evening, coming home after work, tired and hungry. The kids would have missed me during the day, so they would want my full attention. This makes preparing dinner on a week-day, very tricky and usually unpleasant activity, involving temper tantrums, emotional melt-downs and screaming. This could sometimes happen to the kids, too…
I have attempted to tackle this phenomenon using different strategies – some have been successful and some haven’t. Keep reading to find out my top 5 tips for a peaceful mid-week evening with the kids:
#1 Snacks in the car
It might sound a bit controversial, but I think this one is a life-saver. The short trip from nursery and after-school club to home could be a treacherous experience at the end of the day. The little ones on the back of the car are hungry, tired and usually not very well behaved. This situation could easily escalate and by the time we get home. Then, the rush to serve something on the table, starts – kids are not very good at waiting for food to be ready, when they are hungry, even if it’s something that needs couple of minutes in the microwave.
To tackle this issue I have started to keep some snacks in the car – usually something savoury like bread sticks or popcorn. The little ones are quietly munching on the back seat and when we arrive home, they are able to wait a little till dinner is ready. Many people are worried that snacks can spoil their appetite for later, however I have found that if dinner isn’t ready in the next 20 minutes or so, they are usually hungry again and eat all of their meal.
#2 Keep it cosy!
I hate it, when I arrive home on a winter evening, and the place is freezing. My kids hate it even more – the complaining and over-dramatising of this issue can be so difficult to withstand without loosing one’s patience.
The secret is to get the place as comfortable, as possible. For this purpose, for the cold months, I have purchased a cheap radiator with a timer, which switches on about 30 minutes before we are home. By the time we are back, the living room is nice and cosy. This reduces the chances of temperature-related drama, that could induce further bad behaviour later on.
#3 I hate mess!
This one is more relevant to the grown-ups (and mostly the mums). There are only few things, more enraging than stepping in the house, after a busy day at work, just to find that the place is a mess! Imagine the floor covered with toys and clothes, bits of food scattered around the room, suspicious “substances” smeared on the dining table and most likely a mountain of dirty dishes in the kitchen – not a pretty picture to arrive home to, after a busy day at work.
I admit it – am not the most organised person in the mornings. I am usually in a rush to get the kids ready for school and nursery, and I used to leave the house with a complete disregard of the state I am leaving it in – all in the spirit of not being late! Then, I used to regret it when I am back home in the evening, but it always seemed to be something impossible to be in control of.
I am sure that not all of you are early risers, with time to spare in the mornings. For those who are like me – my advise is to get everything prepared the night before. I found that if I get the place in some order before I go to bed, there is less mess left to deal with in the morning, which then pays off in the evening.
#4 It is all about food prep…
Right, in my experience, if the dinner is not on the table right after we enter the building, there is a high chance for someone loosing their temper. Obviously, having everything ready before the kids are home, is rarely possible. I have found 3 solutions:
Invest in a slow cooker (and use it)
Again this one is an obvious one, but why is it that it doesn’t work so easily in practice? Having to pre-cook something in the morning, so I can be ready in the evening is hard, especially if you are not a morning person like me.
My tip is – have all the prep and pre-cooking required, done in the evening. Then store everything in appropriate container(s) in the fridge. Have everything you need prepared, so in the morning you can just tip it all in the slow cooker and press the button to start. See my Essential Food Prep for tips on how to store different types of vegetables and herbs.
There is also the fact that my family never eats the same meal together – the kids always want something different, usually all ingredients separated on the plate and tasting very bland. However, the slow cooker is still quite useful for example I can prepare basic sauces and then build up everyone’s dinner as they please. Have a look at my Bolognese sauce recipe and my Vegetarian version here.
Cook and freeze
Another tip I have, for a smooth dinner preparation is to cook in double batches and freeze extra portions of your family’s favourite meals. It takes time to accumulate a decent number of meals in the freezer, to cater to everyone, but if you usually cook more during the weekend, you could plan for few extra portions to freeze and enjoy at some point during the week.
Plan, prep and cook fresh
This is what I do most of the time – I try to plan for mid-week meals and then prepare the most laborious bits the night before. For example, for my favourite Creamy Veggy Pasta, I chop all the vegetables and store them in a single box, in the fridge, overnight. For the kids I prepare variations – I cook some mushrooms on the side, the night before and then serve them the next evening on a bed of pasta, as a substitute of the Creamy Veggy sauce. On the next evening, I simply cook the rest of the ingredients – this way I save time and still have a freshly made dinner.
#5 Relax and try to enjoy it
Sometimes, no matter how much we prepare in advance, the evening could be a disaster and there is nothing we can do about it, however setting up our mindset for a disaster ahead, only makes it worse.
Some mindfulness and meditation during the day, or simply trying to remain patient and calm during a hectic evening can make a real difference. I like to reward myself with a treat for the hard work, after the kids are in bed. I try to recognise my efforts and be kind to myself. After all, I deserve it!
That is all the wisdom I have got from being a mum of two, who also works full time. It is never easy especially after an exhausting day at work. However, those 5 tricks have helped me to enjoy my evenings at home a lot more than before.
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