Dinner Solutions for Families

A friend called me last week, and as we discussed our day, we inevitably came to the question that plagues us every day at 3pm.

“What are you making for dinner tonight?

I have to be honest, on the days I feel ill prepared, this question makes me sweat with panic.

I could hear my friend suffering through that familiar place.  The one that dreads family mealtime and the begging and pleading and uneaten food.  The rut of dinner.

I have three dinner solutions in my pocket that I call on when I need to shake things up.  So far, they haven’t failed me yet.  I don’t do them often.  Just on the days when I feel I just can’t bare to make it through another dinner. So I started sharing some ideas with my friend.

She tried a couple of them, and reported back that her kids LOVED it.  I’m talking peaceful meal, everyone ate, mom and dad were happy kind of dinners.

So, I thought, why not share them with you?

Here are three dinner solutions that work for me when I’m in a rut.

Mexcillent Meals

It all started with from Kelley Nettles of Kelley’s Breakroom.


One night, while the kids begged to snack on tortilla chips as I scrambled to make tacos, I remembered this post and saw the light.

“Welcome to Thomasita’s!” I yelled to the kids in my best hostess voice.

Then I poured the bag of tortilla chips in to a bowl, brought paper and crayons for them to color, and took their order.

Since then, what was once a plain taco dinner has turned in to a Mexican fiesta.  Pandora has a great Mariachi station and I fire that up before the kids begin to loiter around the kitchen.  I set up their placemats, serve chips and salsa, and await their seating.  It’s all Chi-Chi’s and Don Pablo’s up in here.

Dinner solutions 1

Jon and I sip margaritas (a.k.a. “adult lemonade”) while the kids get to drink lemonade instead of milk, and they happily sit at the counter munching chips while we make dinner.


Everyone makes his or her own tacos, buffet style, and dinner suddenly feels like a treat rather than a chore.  It’s like going to a restaurant without having to fork over your credit card at the end.  Or apologize to patrons behind you that have been accidentally showered with shredded Monterey Jack.


Bad Manners Night

This tactic may not be for everyone, as it requires relinquishing control a bit.  If you get all twitchy at the notion of your kids being gross at the dinner table, then maybe skip this one.

It’s a night where the kids get to do whatever the heck they want (within reason).  They’re allowed to burp, put their feet on the table, talk with their mouths full, wipe their mouths on their forearms, shun utensils.   We established some ground rules before we started (throwing food is a no-no), and I usually try to pick something that’s easy to clean up, like hot dogs or pizza. The hardest part is keeping my mouth shut and letting them have fun.

My kids loved this so much that we’ve designated a day a month to do this, and henceforth, the 16th of the month is Bad Manners Night.  It makes sitting through all of the other 29 dinners a month manageable, because they know eventually they’ll get to break some rules.  And some months my kids completely forget, as if they’ve already gotten it out of their system.

Tapas for Toddlers

Okay, so my kids aren’t toddlers anymore.  But occasionally, we decide to deviate from our traditional meal and opt for tapas night.  It’s your basic “snack dinner.”

I usually put out a variety of appetizers, like crudité and dip, some pretzels, cheese and crackers, and if I have them on hand, some frozen items I can heat quickly like dumplings or chicken tenders.  The kids aren’t required to eat at the dinner table, but instead we gather around a coffee table in the living room.  The kids feel like they get to be a bit sneaky by not having an official sit-down dinner, and I get to skip stirring anything on a stove. Boom!  Dinner solved.

Essentially, when I find myself in a dinner rut, escaping the confines of a traditional dinner and creating a new environment does wonders for my kids’ eating habits and our family’s psyche.  These dinner solutions are like a reset button for our family meals.  And, I’m always open to new suggestions.

Especially around 3pm.

Have a dinner solution you’d like to share?  I’d love to hear it!  Drop me a comment below, or continue the discussion with me on or .


A holiday of apocalyptic proportions…

Photo by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr

On Friday morning, they day of the proposed Mayan apocalypse, the power went off in the entire house at 5:45 in the morning. At first I just rolled over and grunted “power, off” to my husband.

Then the screams began.

Mr. B’s was more of an informative “Dad! The power’s out!”

Miss P’s was a blood-curdling shriek of fear and confusion, as she couldn’t figure out why her night light, Christmas tree, and the vortex of sound creating machines (sound machine AND humidifier) suddenly shut down.

At 5:45 am.

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr

Have you tried getting a child back to sleep after getting the crap scared out of them at the crack of dawn? It’s darn near impossible. I kept trying to cuddle, to lull her back to sleep, to even sprinkle her with sleepy dust, but to no avail.

We were all up. And in the dark. And at any moment, a meteor was going to collide with earth, the solar flares were going to burn us all to smithereens, and the poles’ reversal would doubtingly mess up our internal organs.


While none of that nonsense really happened, it was my first foray in to managing a power outage with small children. One that I would hope I don’t have to experience again for a while.

Seeing as we had 6 pounds of stew meat and a ton of other food in our fridge for our huge family gathering the next day, I was beginning to sweat. Luckily the power came back on about a half our before our deadline to start throwing food out on to the snow covered lawn like the fishmongers in Seattle.

Our big fete on Saturday was a blast. In part, because it meant I didn’t have to spend Christmas day somewhere other than my home. And in other ways, because we got to show off our home. But mainly because there was more space for everyone to spread out and relax. I have to admit, I’m a bit like a toddler. Give me a crowded room with lots of people, noise, and too much sugar and I get a bit overstimulated.

I even managed to feed all of these people without a single report of e coli or salmonella poisoning.  Merry Christmas indeed!

The only thing I have left to avoid is the rabid and furious stomach bug that’s going around.

And now, here we stand, less than 24 hours before the big day.  The kids have already dragged out the presents from the tree and performed very scientific predictions and calculations on the quantity of bounty.  My pants already reject my indulgence of way too much salt and sugar and have hit critical mass.  Our trash and recycling cans are already overtaxed.

But I can still feel the excitement.  The newness of being in our home for the very first time on Christmas morning.  The fun of indecisiveness in figuring out what traditions we’ll begin on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  It’s uncharted territory.  One I’ve been looking forward to exploring for a while.  And I get to do it with a great group of scouts with me.

May you and your family have a merry adventure ahead!

Falling off the wagon…

Two things occurred this weekend that I’m not proud of. The first minor offense?  I broke my no-soda-for-lent streak and splurged on a Diet Coke yesterday.  I felt naughty and guilty the entire time I consumed it.  But, man, it tasted nice.  I think I’m just so bored with water that it was good to get a break from the norm.

Speaking of getting a break from the norm, I took the kids to a nearby hotel Saturday night to play in the pool and get some fun time away.  Also, hopefully to give Daddy a mini-break, since I’d been away visiting my father.  The kids loved playing for hours alternating from the frigid pool to the toasty hot tub.  We had crappy fast food for dinner, curled up on the bed and ate popcorn and chocolate while watching a movie, and went to bed really late.  What’s not to like about that?  Well, I’ll tell ya.  I slept horribly.  Let me change that.  When I DID sleep, it was yummy, hard sleep.  But I kept waking up every hour or so, totally convinced that it was morning, and would pop upright to see if the kids were still asleep.  We don’t sleep in the same room as our kids, never have unless we’re in a hotel.  But we usually try to get a suite, so that we can still be Adults after early bedtimes.  Then we’ll sneak in to the bedroom, drag a small one, still asleep in the pack and play, out in to the living room, close the door and go to sleep.  I thought when I woke up in the morning that I had gotten rest, but by the time mid-afternoon came around, I was toast.

And with my energy went my “positive outlook.”  I found myself doing that horrible spiral in to Woe-is-me land.  The second thing I’m not proud of.  Snapping at my husband and kids, getting cranky and passive/aggressive. 

You would think that after five days of trying to see the bright side of things, concentrating on breathing and relaxing, being patient and not blowing up, I would have gotten the hang of things.  But see, that’s my problem.  All of this work I do?  It has a shelf life of 4-5 days.  That is as long as I can sustain it.

However, I’m trying to give myself a break.  Life is a marathon, not a sprint, right?

Girls just wanna have fun…

I’ve been trying to give myself one goal each week, with the added agenda that every morning, I will decide what one thing I can do that day to move yourself further towards that goal.

Last week’s goal was Acceptance. Dealing with the things I cannot change, and changing the things I can. And it worked pretty well. I could bitch and moan about getting stuck in the center seat, or just accept it and enjoy the fact that I was flying without children.  Choosing between feeling pissed off and frustrated that Miss P was über-clingy and wanted to be held all the time, getting angry that I had this growth on my hip; r, enjoying the simple fact that she needed me, wanted me, and that the time of her not wanting anything to do with me will come soon enough.  It’s all about directions, and what path I want to take.  It’s an easier path to feeling miserable.  But the harder path to being content is worth it.  It’s been an interesting experiment. Not entirely easy, but it DID make things easy-er.  The women in my family have a long history of enjoying playing the victim.  I’ve inherited that as much as I’ve inherited my brown eyes.  And I don’t want to pass that way of being on to my daughter.  It’s a pattern I want stopped, now.

This week’s goal?  Have Fun.  FUN.  F.  U.  N.  I miss being carefree.  And it’s no one’s fault by my own.  I’ve gotten used to that feeling of misery and burden.  But I’m really the only one that’s placed that burden on myself.  I have the most supportive husband, who is the most involved father I’ve ever met.  I have kids that are fairly well behaved.  And my dear husband works so freakin’ hard for everything we have, the roof over our heads, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and so that I don’t have to work.  AND, I’m given the luxury of being able to dance twice a week.  What more could I ask for?  I feel nothing but grateful.  So, instead of getting miffed about the little things (and, c’mon, dishes and clutter ARE little things in the grand scheme of life), I want to let my anger go and just enjoy what good things we do have.  I want to be silly with my kids.  Be in a good mood.

Norman Vincent Peale writes in his book, The Power of Positive Thinking about a man who seemed overly happy and someone said sarcastically,

“You certainly seem to be happy this morning. Why all the cheer?” “Yes,” the man answered, “I am happy. I make it a habit to be happy.”

Why stew in a foul mood, right?  I find myself telling the kids that no one likes a crabby patty.  And I have to walk the walk.  So, today, I won’t worry.  I’ll be happy.  Oooooh, ooh ooh, ooh ooh ooh ooooooooooohhhh….(insert whistle)