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 .


When Google Fails…

What do I do when my kids ask me questions I don’t know the answer to? I turn to The Almighty Google.


Need to know the square root of 354? Google can answer that in .59 seconds.

square root google search

Someone has a dire need to know when bread was invented? The Big G can steer you to the answer toot suite.

bread search

Crave some quick entertainment? Google works wonders. (Seriously, do this search. You’re welcome.)

barrel roll search


But there are some searches that don’t end so well. Some that don’t produce accurate results. Some that could have catastrophic outcomes if seen by a three year-old.


A few years ago, before SEO and page rankings and the internet police, I was trying to find a video to show my young son. He has sitting on my lap as we surfed the web, basking in the glow of my laptop and enjoying the information highway.


We were trying to learn the difference between beavers and otters. We saw a cute video of how otters eat, swimming on their backs and cracking open their food with a rock clutched in their adorable little paws.


My son asked, “Do beavers eat that way, too?”


Hell if I know, kid. But I have my resources. Google will know the answer!


So we performed a comparative search.


beaver search

Yes, we looked up Beaver Eating.
And, let’s just say, the search results were not as clean as they are today.


Splattered all over the first page of our search was eating of another kind. That’s right. If your mind is in the gutter, then it’s at the right restaurant. On the menu? What “beaver” is a euphemism for.


Horrified by the graphic thumbnails on the screen, I panicked. My fingers flew over the keyboard trying to escape the visual horror of that Google return. To something more appropriate. To something I didn’t have to explain. To something that wouldn’t require a therapy visit later.


And then I closed my laptop and moved us over to something more predictable, like the banality of Thomas the Train.


I considered this a lesson learned. Be wary of the Google searches I perform in front of my kids.


Because you never know when The Almighty Google might fail you.


Has a Google search ever steered you wrong in front of young and innocent eyes? I’d love to hear about it!

Be sure to continue the conversation by FOLLOWING ME on and


Bonbon Break

What Alex Rodriguez Taught My Son

Days after my son was born, I received a package on my porch from my father.  It was a gift for my first born child.

A black, kid-sized Rawlings baseball glove.  The Players Series.  “Signed” by Alex Rodriguez.


A-Rod had just signed to the Yankees a couple of years earlier, which was pretty big news when we were living in New York City.  My father, a lifelong baseball fan, hoped to bestow a gift to my son that he would be proud to use as he got older.  Maybe even play catch together with that glove someday.

While I would have been more enamored with a Derek Jeter version, A-Rod seemed like a great choice.  My dad recognized a player who had power.  Who had longevity.  An All-Star.  An MVP.  Great qualities that a small baseball fan might look up to as a role model.

Say what you will about Rodriguez’s salary (and I agree, it’s cray-cray), he was exciting to watch for a while.  Being the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs and 600 home runs are pretty impressive stats.  Ladies love the long ball, and I was no exception.  Yankee Stadium after an A-Rod home run was nothing short of ear splitting.

And yet, all that has been contaminated by his poor choices.

My son received this glove before A-Rod tarnished his reputation with performance-enhancing drug admission.  Before his stats deserved as asterisk.  All my son knew about Alex Rodriguez was that he was a good baseball player with a cool nickname.

He wore that glove to his first t-ball practice a few years ago with pride.  And why shouldn’t he have felt that way?  He was using a future Hall Of Famer glove, hoping it would give him some luck in actually catching a ball that day.

Collecting baseball cards has been a habit of my son’s for the past year, and he has his favorites separated in to their own pile.  Troy Tulowitzki. Carlos Gonzalez.  Buster Posey.  Robinson Cano.  Mariano Rivera.

And Alex Rodriguez.

Monday my son found out that Alex Rodriguez was suspended for 211 games for using steroids.  While it’s not the first time I’ve ever associated A-Rod with drugs, it was the first time I had to have a drug discussion surrounding sports with my kid.  Lance Armstrong went under his radar, but this one hit way too close to home.  Pun intended.

In the days after the suspension, my son has been asking for a new baseball glove.  He knows the name stamped on his glove is tainted in fraud.  That the name doesn’t mean the same as it used to.  He doesn’t want to be associated with Alex Rodriguez, even by leather goods.

Rather than shunning a player and judging, we’ve started talking about what the suspension means.  What lesson we can learn from Alex Rodriguez.

What A-Rod taught my son was that getting accolades by way of cheating isn’t worth it.  That achieving goals and breaking records with good old fashioned Hard Work is difficult but extremely rewarding.  That respect is more important than money.  Lose that, and you’re toast.

He’s taken this to heart and come away with the knowledge that he’d much rather be a good player with honesty than an phenomenal player by cheating.

We’ll go shopping soon for a new glove.  Maybe one with a player’s name on it.  Or plain.   Will my son be a Major League player one day?  Probably not.

But if he does?  I’d hope some kid would be honored to have my son’s name on their glove.


How to navigate existential preschooler conversations…

Somewhere in the mix of discussions I have with my kids, wedged in between the debate about what show is better to watch (SpongeBob or Woody Woodpecker?) and the rebuttals to dessert choices, my kids pull some existential questions out of thin air that make me feel inadequate as a parent.

existential convos

The most difficult one occurred with my daughter, about where, EXACTLY she was before she was in my tummy.

My first answer was that she wasn’t anywhere, yet.  She hadn’t been created.  She didn’t exist.  In general, this is a pretty hard concept to understand.

If you’ve had this discussion, you KNOW this answer isn’t satisfactory.  She had to be SOMEWHERE, right? So WHERE?

She kept on asking.  Pleading.  Almost to tears.  For, if she wasn’t in me, then obviously, she was being left out.

I stammered.  I looked to my husband for help.  I tried skirting the issue and pushing more watermelon.  Yet, my daughter wouldn’t relent until she knew an exact location of her whereabouts before I carried her around in my abdomen.

To tell her she was just a glimmer of hope, a thought, etc, didn’t suffice.  Those were too vague.  Not specific enough.  She wanted an address, preferably in my body cavity..

So, I caved and gave her some cheap answer like “you were in my heart.”

And wouldn’t you know it, that worked.

Sometimes these complicated conversations can be frustrating, having no firm answer to provide my kids when they ask something I don’t know the answer to.  But sometimes we can mull that complicated question over and over together.  Answering questions with questions, we can create solutions that work for everyone.

The key is giving just enough information to get them thinking for themselves, without imposing your own opinion or bias.

Tricky territory, believe me.  Sometimes that age-old “Well, what to you think?” just doesn’t work.  Because, sometimes, my kids just want an answer that will make them feel loved and secure.

I’m being hit with them a lot lately.  My son has been asking me about what heaven is and what it looks like.  Do they have snacks there?  A pool?  Comfy beds?

Yes, I realize my son had just described heaven as a Westin.  Or some fancy, all-inclusive four-start hotel.

And who knows, perhaps it is?  I don’t have a concrete answer to this one, but it is fun to lie in bed and ponder the accommodations and amenities of the afterlife.  Usually, once my son hears that Mommy and Daddy will be there with him, he’s content.

What’s phenomenal about these conversations is that I get a little glimpse in to how my kids’ brains are working.  What they’re thinking.  How they’re processing their world.

It’s a nice change of pace from some of our other, less pensive conversations: rehashing scenes from the last movie we watched, flushing out who needs to clean up various piles of toys, or rating farts based on longevity and volume.

While I usually feel inept at answering some of these harder questions, it’s in these conversations that I feel like I’m parenting at my hardest, and hopefully my best.  In the midst of these discussions, I try to provide enough guidance so that my kids can come up with their own solutions, but also help steer them towards something that seems like truth.  Or at least, to what I know to be true.

All the while, keeping my fingers crossed that I’m at least half right.

The other day, several months after we’d had the “where was I before I was in your belly” chat, my daughter chirped her “Mommy?” from the backseat.  The one that usually indicates her desire for a snack or a Macklemore song.

Instead I got hit with a statement so adorable I almost had to pull over, weakened by its cuteness.

“Mommy, it was fun to be in your heart before I was in your tummy.”

At least there’s ONE answer I nailed.

Parenting Amnesia: What I can’t remember about my daughter…

parenting amnesiaMy daughter’s sound-activated monitor goes off at weird times throughout the night.  Most of the time, it’s just a fluke.

Perhaps I tossed the comforter the wrong way, interrupting the reception.  Or maybe my daughter has moved loudly.  Or I’ve farted.  Or she’s farted.  Or there’s a sudden solar flare.  Who knows why, but it’s rarely because she’s up and needs assistance.  9 times out of 10, it’s nothing.

Still, even knowing this track record, I get startled when I hear her monitor go off.  My chest gets that familiar nervous feeling I used to get when she was a baby and I’d hear the crackle of the monitor.  The one that signaled an end to my “nap” and the beginning of a long night.  It was later replaced with a sense of dread, thinking “what illness or nightmare is waiting for me?”

All of this got me thinking that I can’t even remember what her cries were like when she’d wake at night as a baby.

Were they needy? Angry? Whimpers, or full-on she-devil screams?

I can’t remember. It’s funny how your mind blocks all that out after only four short years.  I can remember a handful of really bad moments where she was screaming at the top of her lungs.  But the like-clockwork sounds of her readiness to eat?  I don’t recall what they were like.  You would think, after hearing them for over a year, I’d have them committed to memory.

She was not an easy baby at first.  She was intense.  Not colicky, but a girl that, from birth, knew what she wanted and what she didn’t want.  Meaning, most of the time, she wanted Mommy, and those who were not Mommy were not allowed in her inner circle of comfort and trust in the wee hours of the morning.

And while I remember a couple of moments when she seemed like the most unhappy baby in the world, when I think back to her infancy, what comes to mind now is how happy she was.

Was she really? Am I suffering from Mothering Amnesia Disorder (a.k.a. MADness)?

Or is it that she’s just so bubbly now that it has replaced any kind of negative memory I have of her?  That her Big Girl verbal requests when she needs us in the middle of the night are far more welcome than the screeches she’d utter as a baby?  That I’ve grown so accustomed to this preschooler who has long since outgrown her initial clingy-ness that the other memories are irrelevant?

Really, it doesn’t matter. I’ll take these happy memories over the frustrated ones from her first year any day.  I’m comfortable not remembering what those cries sound like.  They’ve been replaced with giddy laughter and nightly secrets of “I love you.”

And these sounds?  I want to remember them forever.