Yesterday I got a letter that took my mind back to the years when our boys were small and I was too busy, too tired and too stressed to cook.
Dear Mary: I know where the money is leaking out of our household: Fast food. We are expecting our fourth child and I am so bushed at the end of the day, we get take-out 2-3 times a week. What can I do? It gets to be dinnertime and out comes the phone book. It’s all I can do to just get through the day. Carly
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Dear Carly: The last thing you need is for someone to tell you to get a grip and plan ahead. So I won’t. Instead I’m going to tell you what worked for me when I was in somewhat your situation (two boys only 17 months apart) and a few things I’ve learned since.
Five-menu rotation. Come up with five simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. These don’t have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. Example: Monday: Spaghetti, salad and bread. Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans and so on. Ask your husband to handle one weekend dinner and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner or let the kids give it a title. That leaves one Family Fun Night or some other reason to order in pizza. Post your weekly menu on the refrigerator. Now everyone knows what to expect, including you. This will simplify your grocery shopping, too. As the children get older and you get more courageous you can expand your repertoire, but for now stick to the five-menu rotation.
Set the table. I know you’re going to think this is nutty, but it really works. Set the dinner table for the next day before you go to bed at night. Waking up to a nicely set table sends a silent message that dinner is so important, we eat around a table—not in front of the TV. And it will help you to start thinking about dinner long before you run out of steam. Hint: Even a five-year old can learn to set a table, so delegate.
Shine the sink. I learned this from Marla Cilley, author of Sink Reflections. Before you go to bed, clear out the sink of everything (either wash the dishes or load them in the dishwasher), scrub, rinse well and then shine it with a towel. Five minutes to a new attitude. There really is something magical about waking up in the morning to an empty, clean and shining sink no matter what condition the rest of the house is in.
Surely there’s no more difficult job in the entire world than being a mom to four young children. And nothing more rewarding. Make dinnertime an anchor in your day now while your kids are young. The tradition will come back to bless you as they get older.
Even though they’ll never tell you, dinnertime will become something they know they can count on in an otherwise uncertain world. So enjoy these precious days and take it from me: It gets easier.
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