Mommas, is dinnertime at your house a sweet, peaceful, loving time where the family gathers around the table to break bread? No? Neither is mine. In reality, there is a lot of screaming, spilling, running (oddly enough), and everyone needs a million different things. What’s more, actually making it to the dinner table has its own obstacles. Preparing dinner with three little kids running around underfoot, wanting every snack they can think of, and crying when they have to wait until dinner is tough enough. But, for me, the real kicker is when my sweet husband comes home from work. I always think I will finally get to make dinner in peace while he is only thinking about how hungry he is. My husband either hovers over my shoulder, desperate to see how long dinner will take or he makes himself a huge snack (usually a bag of chips that is suppose to last us a week’s worth of lunches) and is no longer hungry when dinner is ready. He isn’t trying to put pressure on me to have everything ready when he gets home, but I still feel it.
I want dinner time to be a relaxing (considering we have three kids under five years old) family experience. Not just a shovel-food-into-your-mouth-as-fast-as-you-can-so-mom-can-eat-her-cold-food-alone experience. Or a throw-a-fit-and-then-throw-your-food-on-the-floor kind of experience. As soon as dinner is over, I go straight to dishes, sweeping, and clearing the table if I am not completely worn out. The whole dinner event is a huge undertaking at the end of a busy day. Even if everything is going smoothly during the morning and afternoon, just knowing that the dinner marathon sits waiting to swallowed up my last ounces of patience and energy looms over me like the memory of a bad dream.
Almost every dinner is me rushing around in a huff, getting everyone’s plates on the table, forgetting their drinks, and finally sitting in my seat while my family is half way through their meal. I needed something to change because this just wasn’t working for me. Hopefully, you can identify with this daily issue of mine. If you have found a solution that works for your family, please share! We all could use more advice in this department, I think.
I decided that something had to change. So I took some time to really analyze the problem and tried to picture an ideal situation in which no one had to take on a ridiculous amount of responsibility so someone else could relax. I came up with a plan that seemed completely out of left field for me. The basic plan was to make an appetizer before each dinner and have it waiting on the table next to a family board game for my husband and kids to enjoy while I finished up dinner. Sound crazy? I thought so. First, more work usually only means more work and not less stress. Second, I would be inviting my entire family into the kitchen while I cooked. Usually I banish everyone to the other side of the house and I lock the baby gate that leads into the kitchen. Or I encourage my husband to take the kids outside. Despite my initial doubt, I decided to go ahead and try this appetizer plan. But would it actually work or would the appetizer only create more chaos and stress? I am pleased to say that it has been going quite well so far!
Before I started, I thought about the things that I knew to be true:
- When I am less stressed, my family functions better.
- Dinnertime is a small amount of time to cram in prayer, eating a full plate, talking about our day and sharing our good things (We each tell about a good experience or a person that made our day better).
- My husband needs to be able to relax, as well. And putting him in charge of three screaming kids with no game plan wasn’t working.
- My kids are craving time with their dad.
- I also want to enjoy time with the family even when I am cooking.
- 5 o’clock means everyone is starving…including me.
The appetizer plan seemed to satisfy all of these truths. The appetizers themselves, need to be simple and quick to pull together. But they don’t necessarily need to be extra to the meal. Instead of packing each dinner plate with sides and extras just to give my kids variety and hoping to hit all the food groups, I could work the appetizer into my dinner plan. This would make the main meal less chaotic and the time pressure much more manageable. Coordinating several sides along with a main dish to be ready at the same time has been incredibly difficult for me in the past. The appetizer could be what I usually served as a side, but now, it comes before the rest of the meal. I would basically be spacing out the whole dinner experience. Are any of your heads exploding yet!? If not, let me give you a few examples.
The first night I tried out my appetizer plan, I cut up carrots, celery, and apples and plated them with a handful of pretzels and a ramekin of peanut butter as a dip. I put the plate of veggie snacks on the table with The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel, one of our favorite family board games (seriously, if you need a game that is great for toddlers, this one is really so much fun. Click the link to check it out!). Each of my kids liked at least one thing on the plate and my husband seemed to enjoy it as well (though he probably would have preferred something a little dirtier like chips or brownies). They played the game and I got to play a round when dinner was peacefully simmering away. I knocked out the need to have vegetables on the dinner plate, so the main course was just a small bowl each of Kielbasa Pepper Potato Hash!
The next night, I went a step farther. I made this delicious appetizer, Garlic Pull apart Bread that I found on Pinterest. It was surprisingly easy and made the whole kitchen smell delicious! My husband and kids played War (some people call it Battle) with a deck of cards and everyone peacefully ate and played. We were ready to eat a simple bowl of spaghetti when it was ready, and still had some bread to soak up the sauce.
The ingredients are:
1/4 cup of chives (I didn’t have these on hand so I skipped it)
6 garlic cloves (I used garlic powder)
8 oz of Monterrey Jack cheese with jalapenos (I used sliced pepper jack. Is this the same thing?)
3/4 tsp of Red pepper flakes (Too spicy for the little ones so I skipped it)
1 Artisan bread loaf
1/4 cup of unsalted melted butter (I used salted, because I always use salted.)
Please click on the link below the picture if you want to actually follow the recipe! I didn’t realize how much I modify recipes until I just typed this out. I also had fresh basil so I chopped some up and stuck it in the slits of bread. Amazing!
My last example is one night when I did not have a plan for an appetizer. I didn’t think I had anything to put out for the troops.
All I had was a tomato, a few fresh basil leaves, and less than half of a home-made Amish bread loaf that I had made a few days before. I decided to slice the rest of the loaf up in thin slices, toasted them on each side under the broiler, and made a tiny amount of bruschetta with the remaining basil and tomato. It was lovely! And just enough of an appetizer before dinner. It took me less than 10 minutes to whip up.
I can’t remember what the dinner was that night, but my husband and Jenkie played chess while Del watched and Pammy snacked in her high chair. A peaceful evening experience three nights in a row! Unheard of!
Every time I take just a couple minutes to prepare an appetizer, things just go well.
Here are the benefits that I have observed so far:
- My husband has the snack he needs.
- My kids aren’t screaming that they are hungry as they try to crawl up my leg while I am stirring a hot pot on the stove.
- I can be apart of the family discussion while I am cooking.
- I don’t feel the need to rush things to the table before I am completely ready.
- Everyone is in the kitchen already so no rounding everyone up when dinner is ready.
- Everyone can help take things to the table!
- We don’t have to keep hounding the kids to hurry up and eat because there is less food on their plates. We can just sit and enjoy each other as we eat. It has been lovely.
I can’t tell you how wonderful this plan has been for my family and for myself!
On weekends, when I don’t tend to make appetizers, things start to get hectic again. Weekends are never as bad as week days because my husband has access to the fridge all day and doesn’t come home starving. And everyone is usually outside when I start making dinner. But I still find myself wishing I had made a little something before diving into dinner prep. Never in a million years would I have thought that a little more work at dinner time could actually be the thing that made everything easier and so much sweeter.
Take the challenge and try out my appetizer plan for just a week to see if it works for your family! And let me know what appetizers you try. I could always use new ideas!
Check out my other Tips and Tidbits. Thanks so much for reading and God bless!
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