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The Gift of Time, Part 2: Evening Mayhem — by Shiro Torquato, PhD

Here is a guest piece, written by clinical psychologist Shiro Torquato. You can learn more about her by visiting her page on our website.

If you are a parent with school-aged children then the weekday hours between 5:00 and 7:00pm may be the most stressful time of day for the entire family. You are tired. The children are tired. And everyone is probably hungry! Then comes the dreaded question that must be answered…”What’s for dinner?” Many families resort to fast food, delivery pizza or whatever is left over from the night before. Other parents try to make a quick meal, while dealing with cranky children and unfinished chores-sometimes unfinished homework gets added to the mix. Does this sound like your home life?

Well, there are many solutions to making the evening mayhem a little less stressful and a little more time efficient. First of all, there are several dinner options that may make that dreaded question,”What’s for dinner?” easier to answer. There are companies that have emerged in the last few years to make the evening meal more manageable for busy families. Two of these companies are Dream Dinners (www.dreamdinners.com) and Super Suppers www.supersuppers.com).

The concept is surprisingly simple. One goes to the website, reviews and chooses their meals for that month and places an order. You can schedule a time to assemble your meals (A typical session requires 1 ½ hours to assemble 10-12 entrees) or have them assembled for you for a nominal fee and pick them up. Some stores even have the option of dropping in and selecting pre-assembled/ready to cook meals for that evening or the whole week. Imagine having 10-12 meals in your freezer to select from, ready to cook and serve in about 30 minutes. Not only does this save time preparing, cooking and cleaning up after dinner (most entrees are cooked in one pan or in the oven), but it saves time and money shopping for ingredients at the grocery store.

Well, what about the cost? Aren’t these “home cooked” meals as pricey as eating out? In fact, most meals average $15-20 per family and can be assembled in portion sizes of three or six, depending on the size of your family. The ingredients are also fresh/frozen meats and vegetables with low fat sauces and seasonings. So, where else can you find a healthy meal that is economical and cooked fresh at home? An added bonus is that with portion control and low fat ingredients, some people have even lost weight by eating these meals.

If this strategy is not your style, then some families make double portions of meals on the weekends and freeze one portion and save the other for dinner during the week. They also buy pre-cut vegetables and seasoning packets to save preparation time during the week. Let’s face it, if you have ever tried to cook a meal from one of those 30-minute meal shows it takes much longer than 30 minutes! By the time you have dinner on the table, your spouse and children have eaten most of the snacks in the house or gone out for fast food. What they fail to mention in the 30-minute meal shows is that the chefs have other people prepare all of the ingredients before the show starts filming.

A final option is setting up a “dinner co-op”. Have friends, neighbors or family members gather once a month at the home of one member who had a large kitchen. Each person is responsible for bringing all of the ingredients for one meal that is made by everyone in the co-op. All the meals are prepared, assembled and frozen to take home and use during the rest of the month. This technique was used by the founders of Dream Dinners, which has grown into a national franchise business.

Now that you have dinner covered, what about the cranky children? If the children have been at school and after-school care or daycare all day they are probably tired, hungry and desperate for your attention. However, if you are tired and hungry you probably have little energy to give them attention. What evolves from this common dynamic is tantrums and short tempers — maybe even a time-out or two.

So, what can you do to save your sanity and not dread the evening mayhem? The first step is to make sure that there are light and healthy snacks ready for the children to have when they arrive home. These might include cut veggies or fruit in Ziploc bags or cheese and crackers. Most of these snacks can be bought pre-packaged and easy for children to help themselves. Tired children who are not famished tend to be much more pleasant and agreeable. As the children are having their snack you or your spouse can start working on dinner. The other partner can spend a few minutes reading or playing with the children. If you are a single parent, take 10-15 minutes with the children before you start on dinner. In the long run, a few minutes of attention can save a lot of time and frustration. If the children are older and enjoy telling you about their day, make a place in the kitchen where they can sit and eat their pre-dinner snack while you are making dinner. That little time spent together will put all of you in a better mood and make the rest of the evening more pleasant.

The holidays are fast approaching, and the days grow shorter and busier. So, this might be a good time to try some of these strategies to decrease the stress and increase the amount of time you spend enjoying your home and family. May everyone have a happy and safe holiday season.

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