The children's mezze plate is what I make on "easy dinner night" (that or eggs + soldiers) - lots of fresh vegies, avocado on sourdough, hummus and olives. Every piece of nutritional information I have read has stressed the importance of children eating good fats with raw vegies so they are easily digested and absorbed. Poet will have a cup of chicken broth + soba noodles with this plate and Che will have a generous serve of feta on his sourdough (becasue try as I might, he's not a fan of broth). I should also point out that yes, there are many foods that my children won't eat. My home is not immune to fussy foodies.
You know the picture: hungry, tired children, a screaming baby and a messy kitchen with no dinner in sight. Uninspiring, isn't it.
Last week I decided to do something about it. Daylight savings had really thrown me in the past few weeks and as a result I was preparing and serving dinner far later that I cared for. It was stressful and strained - every night. So, on Sunday I announced on facebook that the best thing for everyone involved would be a 4:30pm dinner. It was one of those comments made on a whim and yet the response motivated me to make early dinners an everyday occurrence. It turns out that early dinners are what many mothers do in order to maintain their sanity. Yes it requires forethought and a certain amount of organisation but the rewards are plentiful.
A few things required to get dinner on the table by 5pm (I did make 4:30pm a few times but 5pm is more realistic for us)
- know exactly what you're making for dinner by lunchtime. I'm not a strict meal planner (even though I need to be) hence I often decide what we're having for dinner a few hours in advance. In order to make the early dinner a reality I have to do a little bit of preparation before the kids get home from school. If potatoes need to be baked I'll make sure they're all cut up and ready to go well before dinner time, for example.
- prepare a light afternoon tea. Perhaps the biggest benefit of an early dinner is the fact that it cuts short the "I'm hungry" whines that so often accompany the after-school routine. I serve a light afternoon tea of fruit, cheese muffins or banana bread and if they ask for more I suggest a glass of water or (rather smugly) tell them that dinner will be ready soon.
- Start on dinner as soon as you walk in the door from the school/afternoon activity run. This new routine involves a cup of tea (of course) and while the kids play outside or draw at the table (or squabble about this and that) I cook and keep an eye on Percy.
Perhaps what's most surprising is that the children haven't even noticed the change - again I'm reminded that they really aren't aware of time in the same way adults are. I am, however, reaping the benefits from this fabulous concept that is early dinner time...
- Percy now eats with the children which, overall, means less time in the kitchen and less food preparation (he is basically eating a smaller, chopped up version of the family meal).
- Once dinner is finished I can get the kitchen cleaned up well before the children are in bed (saves the dreaded sight of a messy kitchen after the sleepiness that accompanies story time).
- The kids are in the shower and dressed in their PJs with minimal fuss. Overall, the bath-pjs-bed routine is much smoother when dinner is served early.
- I don't have to stop making dinner to feed or soothe Percy. He eats with the big kids and then I settle him for bed while they have their showers and get dressed into PJs.
- if the kids are still hungry after dinner I'll serve a light supper - usually a bit of fruit with greek yogurt or crackers with cheese.
- because dinner is served early the kitchen is cleaned up early, too which means my evening is extended. Essentially this equals a much bigger chunk of free time in the evening - so very necessary for productive story writing and photo editing.
- sometimes Daniel and I will eat with the children and on other nights we'll eat once everyone is tucked up in bed (hello romantic meal!).
Switching to an early dinnertime is simply a matter of adopting a new habit. Yes it requires discipline on your behalf but if you've got small children it really does save the witching hour.