Is mealtime chaotic at your house? Do you deal with messy eaters, picky eaters and table talk that’s anything but peaceful? I’ve been there, too. When your kids are young, mealtimes are going to be a challenge. It’s really a lot of work. Cleanup is disheartening, too. The good news is, it does get easier. My kids are a big help in the kitchen now. Not always. But often.
Before you throw in the towel – and tuna casserole and cloth napkins – here are some key ways to simplify mealtimes and regain your sanity.
Keep messes off the table. No one wants to clean up a paper explosion during the middle of dinner preparations. Keep these activities in the living room or kids’ bedrooms. Invest in some lap desks so kids can draw and complete homework off the table. If you like using your table for this purpose, set a time in early afternoon when everything gets moved.
Hungry people are crabby people. If dinner is running late, set out some healthy snacks and indulge.
Chores are part of life. I feel like many families have an unrealistic sense of how long mealtimes and chores should take. We don’t have a housekeeper. That’s up to me and my family. It all takes time. I don’t always like doing it – truthfully, sometimes I hate to cook and clean – but this is life. It’s not always time to play.
Imagine how it was before modern conveniences – men and women worked themselves to the bone, sun up to sun down. With today’s conveniences, we do have more time for our children … but we still have to be realistic. And chores take time.
Picky eaters. We’ve always had a rule – Eat what’s set before you. That said, I don’t serve salad and brussel sprouts with our meals. Those items aren’t a hit. I stick to recipes and sides I know we all like, or at least tolerate.
Cleanup as a team. In our home, no one leaves until the kitchen is clean. We are all part of society, and we help each other. We don’t expect someone to clean up our messes. We do it as a team.
If your kids are younger, think of jobs they can “own” after mealtime. Can they use the handvac to suck up all the crumbs? (If you don’t have one of these, I’d highly recommend them. They are a life-saver for messy eaters.)
Teach them to bring their plates to the sink – they might even be old enough to put the dishes right into the dishwasher. By forming these habits early, they become second nature.
Cleanup smart. Complete jobs from top to bottom, left to right.
- Start with the table. Clear everything off, putting things were they belong as you go.
- Fill the sink with soapy water and soak pots & pans as you go.
- Stack the rest of the dishes next to the sink – you’ll get to those.
- Wipe the table and push in the chairs.
- Move on to the next nearest counter and follow the same idea.
- Put away leftovers as you go, too.
- Load the dishwasher.
- Wash, dry and put away the handwashed items (work in teams).
- A quick wipe of the sink area and you’re almost done – just clean up any major floor messes and move on with your life.
Simplify your menu. Cut down on the number of items you serve with dinner. If you normally serve three, cut down to two or even one. Stick to easy, healthy basics. You can still eat a variety of foods throughout the day at other mealtimes and snacks.
- Read more: How I Save Money on Groceries
Be realistic about how long it takes to cook. I used to go beserk about getting a meal on the table in 30 minutes or less. Now I take my time, do a few dishes as I go and try to be more mindful while I’m cooking.
For me, an hour feels right from prep to table. If you don’t have an hour to spare, find ways to simplify further. Try some crock pot meals. Plan a cooking day and make two week’s worth of dinners for the freezer. Save your tastiest recipes for weekends and eat simply during the week.
Cheat a little. Sometimes, I don’t feel like cooking. I don’t feel like cleaning up a mess, no matter how smart I am at doing it. Give yourself a break. Throw in a frozen pizza once in a while. Go out to eat. Have a few French fries. It happens.
The days are long, but the years are short. -Gretchen Rubin
Despite the chaos of mealtime, its so important to eat together – breakfast, lunch, dinner – whatever works for your family. This is when you get to teach your kids some very important social skills. Make them sit. Teach them manners. The early years are definitely a challenge – messy eaters, picky eaters and untimely bodily functions – but don’t lose heart. They are learning.
Ten years from now, you’ll sit down for dinner and look at your older children. They will sit calmly. They will eat over their plates. They’ll say please and thank you. And for a minute, you’ll wish they were still 5 years old, whining about beans and trying to run off to play.
What’s the biggest mealtime challenge in your home?
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Photo by toniwbusch