Recently I had a couple revelations about dinner.
1) A little meal planning can go a long way.
2) It doesn't have to look like dinner to count.
We had slipped into some bad habits with dinner (summertime and vacation are great at sabotaging routine) and I needed something to help get me back on track.
It seemed every single night I was surprised we had to eat again. "But didn't we just have dinner? I swear I figured this whole thing out last night..." Then I'd whip up some scrambled eggs or quesadillas for the kids or we'd head out the door for pizza.
I knew there was a time when I was cooking healthy balanced meals but I honestly couldn't remember what that was like. Did we sit down to eat every night? What in the heck did I cook?!
I desperately wanted to get back in the saddle but I couldn't remember how to ride the horse.
So one night I asked some friends what they do about dinner. Their approaches couldn't have been more different. One meal plans, one scrambles. Oddly enough, the two methods combined are what helped get me back on track.
Meal planning is a great way to know what to expect come 5:00. And, if you're smart, it will totally cut down on grocery runs and cost (I'm not there yet). But it's a lot of pressure. It means you're definitely cooking dinner most nights of the week. That is so much work. And if you have a kid in your family who kind of hates to eat (ahem, Liam...), it can feel like a huge, frustrating waste of time.
Scrambling probably doesn't sound like much of a plan but it's where I found this little treasure: dinner doesn't have to look like dinner. It can be anything you want! Cheese plate, breakfast, popcorn and cantaloupe...as long as everyone goes to bed with a full belly, mission accomplished.
Did that just blow your mind? I'm not going to lie - IT BLEW MY MIND. I tend to get caught up in doing things the way they are "supposed to be" done (yes! still! even after dropping out of school and trying so hard to unlearn all that stuff!) so I can put a lot of pressure on myself to make things "right". If I didn't have the ingredients (or motivation) to make dinner dinner, I would just throw up my hands and suggest we go out.
You can imagine how liberating it felt to realize dinner just had to be calories. Calories consumed together? FAMILY DINNER!
I have learned this before (I even wrote about it!) but sometimes things take me a while. Plus, I knew I wouldn't be able to just plop a big tray of nachos on the table without feeling like a fraud. Not yet. But if I planned to make nachos for dinner? That I could handle!
So we enlisted the help of a spinner app and sat down to come up with all the dinners we could think of. Some tried and true (stir fry, rice and beans, ravioli...), some we pulled from breakfast or lunch (migas, grilled cheese...), some we had never tried before (quinoa enchilada casserole), some that just seemed plain crazy (free for all, fondue, popcorn!), and as many things as the kids wanted to add (pizza, macaroni and cheese, pizza...).
On Sunday, the boys take turns spinning the wheel to see what we will have for dinner that week. It adds a bit of fun as well as makes them feel like they have some control. Plus, it takes the burden of dinner mostly off my back (cooking is fun but figuring out what to make can be a nightmare).
We've done this three weeks now and it's going really well. The boys love spinning the wheel and get super excited when they land on a dinner they like. All week they looked forward to cheese plate Thursday and grilled cheese and tots last night. And when it came time to eat? It was a pleasure for all of us. (Partly because I finally figured out how to nail grilled cheese. The secret? Good bread, low heat and plenty of butter.)
Since not all of our dinners are nutritional powerhouses (it's a pretty kid-friendly spinner...), I found a way to make peace with that as well. Every day the boys have an afternoon shake. So no matter what they eat at night, I at least know they had kale and blueberries for snack.
Now if we can just quit being bullies at the table, we'll be all set. So, Liam's super picky and eats slower than Christmas? Big deal! It's annoying as all get out but certainly not the kind of thing I want to ruin our relationship over. I think I need to treat it like some people do the birds and the bees - stash a book in his room and call it a day.