Meal Prep: Dinner Under Duress - Baby Steps in High Heels

Friday, April 24, 2015

Meal Prep: Dinner Under Duress

If you are here looking for actual food prep tips, you have come to the wrong place. I apologize. Today we are going to talk about how in the world we are ever able to prepare meals at the end of a busy work day with clingy children who have missed mommy all day long hanging from our necks with all their might.

I don’t blame the kids. I have missed them, too! I would love to just sit and snuggle and play all evening; but, alas, it is my responsibility as the parent to also feed their little bellies with proper nourishment and to do so before any “hangry” meltdowns ensue.

You would think their little hungry-all-the-time selves would be understanding of the fact that food must first be prepared in order for them to eat, but this concept has never seemed to resonate in their little heads. They have one-track minds, and they want to play. No, snuggle. No, play. No, eat. NOW! “I HUNGRY, MOMMA!!”

So, it is not unusual that I find myself at the end of every work day attempting to make dinner under duress. I am opening food containers and digging out pots and pans, pouring from a heavy gallon of milk into teeeny-tiny sippy cups, plating food on the right color plates (“norange” no “gween”), and bribing my toddler to {please, just please} sit in his high chair with treats that are sure to ruin his supper.

Did I mention that I usually do all of that with said toddler in one arm? So, yeah, I do meal prep with my left hand, which wouldn’t be a problem except that I am right-handed. It ain’t pretty, y’all. Especially when we have breakfast for dinner, which is fairly often. Have you ever cracked eggs with your non-dominant hand?

Meanwhile, my five-year-old is also vying for my attention to watch her dance/twirl/jump amidst our granite countertops and sharp-cornered coffee table. Or help her spell a friend’s name for a picture she is coloring. Or, “Pick me up, too, Mommy. You always hold the baby!”

Dinner under duress might be an understatement, if I am really honest about it. When I truly need both hands to cook, I use them at the very onerous protest of my children. I try to distract them with fleeting suggestions like, “Go look for Daddy’s truck at the front door. Is he here? Oh, I think I hear him! Check again!” I can usually repeat this cycle 5-6 times before they catch on, and that tends to buy me a solid minute before at least one child returns to climb my leg.

Occasionally they will sit together and play for a few minutes, which in turn distracts me, because I love watching them interact. There is just something special about those sweet, innocent moments that draws me in, completely diverting my attention from the high-pressure task at hand, and squanders the precious, precious time I should have used for slicing, dicing, peeling, and plating.

So, what is a momma to do? How do we survive this necessary task that invariably falls during the witching hour every single day? I do have a few tricks up my sleeve. Though they’re nothing magical, mind you, I thought it my duty to share the few survival tactics I have stumbled upon with those of you in my same boat.

Prep when they’re gone. I know, this seems obvious, but it took a good long while to sink in for me. I must have been suffering from some delusion that I would be a better mom if I could gracefully balance meal prep and parenting a la the 1950’s-style motherhood images I had in my head. Either I am incapable of grace and balance, or those ideals are pure BS. Whatever the case may be, life runs smoother when I take 10 minutes without the kids to do what typically takes half an hour when they’re home. Who knew you could pour two cups of milk without spilling a drop and tighten the lids and return everything to the fridge in under 30 seconds? I only just figured this out.

Cook ahead and make enough for several days. Another obvious tip that works like a charm. Whether my husband grills enough burgers to feed an army or I make crock pot chicken tortilla soup, meal time runs so much more smoothly when we are reheating instead of cooking from scratch. Even still, I refer you back to my first suggestion – please do not assume that because the food has been cooked in advance that it will be easier to prepare. This devastating assumption will ultimately be your demise. Have you ever attempted to ladle soup from one bowl to another with a needy child as your sous chef? I do not recommend it.

Keep it simple. I really enjoy cooking, and for years I operated under the illusion that my kids would, at some point, transform into those mystical sushi-loving toddlers I have heard whispers of, if only I just kept serving them ornate meals full of variety. Or, at least I should be doing the responsible suburban-mom thing by hiding zucchini in their muffins and pureed carrots in their mac and cheese. (FYI – gross) Well, I have come to realize that this notion that children can willingly embrace exotic food is pure urban legend, or, as we say in the south, hog wash. At least, it is in my household, and it is just not worth the battle every night of the week. A simple well-balanced meal is good enough for us.

I know moms who also embrace baby-wearing slings during meal prep; and we have been known to pop on a movie during this time, as well. Though this may be yet another urban legend, I have also heard about other braver, more patient moms who involve their kids in the process with age-appropriate tasks. Whatever you do, and however you do it, it is nice when you can find a balance, reduce the stress, and actually enjoy your family time around the table.


Do you have any tried and true tips for surviving meal prep? Please share, because it is entirely possible that everything I have written here is more wishful thinking than something that actually works on a consistent basis. A momma can hope though, right? 

16 comments:

  1. Great post, haha. Luckily for me Mr J does all the cookong because I wouldn't even know where to begin. There aren't enough hours in the day! 🙈

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  2. I prep as much stuff as I can on Sunday nights and have an air tight meal plan. :) You're doing awesome. Hang in there!

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    1. That's where the wheels fall off the cart for me ...I could maybe do a meal plan, but it would never be air tight. Good for you!

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  3. I have had such a hard time with meal prepping. Like you said, even when I do cook enough meat for an entire week at a time, somehow our dinners still take a lot of time to fix. I'm not sure how it works out that way. haha

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    1. The kids, I tell you! That's how it works out that way. lol good luck!

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  4. Such great tips!! Thanks for sharing.

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  5. We have to cook and use left overs for a couple of days. It's just easier!

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  6. This reminds me of my foster brother who at 2 would stand by us and just yell EAT!!!!!!! over and over. It was... trying. :)

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    1. Yep, that sounds like a 2-year-old!

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  7. Great post! Not sure how I'll handle dinner time once baby #2 gets here. If our current preggo meals are any indication, there's gonna be a lot of cereal and quesadillas in rotation. Also, pre-chopped fruit and veggies are a staple. Even though they cost more, at least we actually wind up eating them, vs. throwing them away once they go bad because I was too unmotivated to chop them up.

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    1. Good luck! The wheels totally fell off the cart for me after baby #2. The crock pot is your friend!

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  8. I'm a 26 yr old who has been married for 5 years and I'm just now cooking more and more- any advice? I love this post it helps me feel more confident about trying new things and getting ready to cook! :)

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    1. Oh my, you want advice from me? Not sure you want to go there, but that sure is flattering! I say, cook what you like to eat and don't be afraid to be creative! Good luck to you!

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