I love the idea of nightly family dinner, but when 5 or 6 p.m. rolls around, I can suddenly find myself completely overwhelmed and tempted by the takeout menus (or cold cereal!). And, of course, that’s usually the time when babies and toddlers get fussy and want extra attention.
Three kids later, here are my best secrets for making dinner happen without losing my mind.
Try to keep your little one entertained while you cook. Dinnertime tends to be the witching hour for most kids, which means it is extra important to have a game plan for keeping them entertained. When my babies are little, I like setting up a play yard so they can see me in the kitchen but I don’t have to worry about stepping on them. As they get older, I pull the high chair into the kitchen so I can talk or sing to them while I cook without worrying about them grabbing things.
Make sure dinner includes at least one thing they like. It’s frustrating when your little one refuses to eat anything you’ve made, so make sure that there is at least one item they’ll like, whether it’s peas or garlic bread or watermelon. Then they can participate in the meal happily. You may be able to convince them to try something new, but if not, at least they won’t starve and they know you took their taste into account when you made dinner.
Have a back-up plan. Occasionally (or more often than occasionally) your baby is going to have a complete meltdown during the time you need to be getting dinner ready. They’ll want to nurse non-stop, refuse to be put down, or nap so long that you can’t make a necessary grocery store run. Keep a freezer meal or two on hand, a couple of frozen pizzas, or some pasta and jarred sauce so that you’re not eating cereal when that happens. Or make pancakes and call it a day (that’s my go-to when my dinner menu is obviously not going to happen).