Family Dinners and Working Parents

family dinners and working parentsToday’s fun topic: how does your family navigate dinnertime with two parents working outside the home? Are you able to be together for family dinners on weeknights? Who cooks, who plans, who shops? (Or, who picks up takeout?) How early do you start dinner to negotiate bedtime rituals like a bath and storytime? More fun questions about family dinners and working parents:

  • does one parent always work late? both?
  • does one parent have an unpredictable schedule that leaves the other parent guessing?
  • do you have an agreement, like “if you’re not home by 6:30, the kids and I are going to start eating” or “I will call by 6:00 if I think I’m going to be working late tonight”?
  • does one parent come home to eat with the family and then return to the office to continue working?
  • are there certain days of the week when you make sure to have a family dinner?
  • do you have any mealtime “rituals,” like “what was the best/worst part of your day?”?
  • do you make and freeze food ahead of time to make dinnertime easier, or maybe a nanny helps get food ready?
  • how has dinnertime changed since your days pre-kids?

I know this is probably a much easier question for me because I work from home, and I’m grateful for that. Still, for my $.02, I tend to plan and shop for dinner (usually via FreshDirect). If we’re thinking far enough ahead I will ask my husband to help with prep such as opening cans, chopping vegetables, etc. Because I work from home (and especially because I’m on kinda-sorta maternity leave now) I tend to do about 80% of dinner prep — depending on the recipe I’ll move ingredients from the freezer to the refrigerator in the morning, throw food in the crockpot midday, or preheat the oven (and sometimes even toss whatever we’re having into the oven) before my husband comes home. (I also usually try to have all final ingredients either on the counter or at eye level in the freezer or refrigerator.)

My husband will often finish the last 20% of dinner — shredding crockpot chicken, tending pasta or rice while it cooks, sauteing or microwaving vegetables, rinsing salad. I’ve noted before that I’m a bit of a lazy cook; it’s even more rare for us to make a really involved dish now — when we do something like lasagna that requires a lot of assembly and prep it tends to be a joint weekend project.

My husband is usually home by 6 or 6:30; we find that if he comes home much later it’s difficult to have a family dinner with our toddler. (I know some families where the father purposely stays out of the home until the kiddo is down for an early bedtime, so as to avoid that “daddy’s home!” excitement.) If my husband is working late I know about it well in advance — we use a shared Google calendar to keep track of appointments and nights out with friends; I think both of us would consider it rude if we didn’t know about someone missing dinner by at least 10 AM the day of. In terms of rituals, when we’re being good we talk about the best thing that happened to us each day.

As for the kids — my newborn, Harry, is often fussy during this time period, so we’re lucky if both of us get to sit at the table at the same time. Jack (almost 3) is served a smaller portion of the same thing we are — if he doesn’t like it (which is often) we always offer to make him scrambled eggs. (We like that he only has one option for what to eat if he rejects dinner.)

When I was in BigLaw pre-kids, I would often eat at the office and come home by 10 or 11 at night. When I was working at the nonprofit, 7 PM was still an early night for me — I would often meet my husband at a restaurant or at home for dinner. Until recently (last fall, I’d say) we often ate at local restaurants with Jack — then he hit a fussy period, and combined with it being so dark, so early, we found it much easier to eat at home.

(Picture credit: Pixabay. Original image: Weekend meals, originally uploaded to Flickr by eltpics.)

Readers, over to you — what does dinnertime look like at your house? How do you share responsibilities (or not) with your partner (or other folks around the house such as nannies) at dinnertime?

family dinners and working parents -- how to navigate dinnertime when both parents work outside the home!

Comments

  1. Mrs. Jones says:

    My husband and I both work outside the home. My new government-law job lets me leave the office around 4:45 most days. So I usually fix dinner, and we usually eat around 6:30-7, after my husband gets home. Our son is 3. We serve him what we eat, and if he doesn’t like it, he can have a peanut butter sandwich and/or fruit. We don’t have a mealtime ritual, and we don’t do a lot of big-batch cooking/freezing. We usually go out for dinner once a week. This year we’ve been using The Fresh 20 recipes.

  2. So there’s a great book/blog on this subject – Dinner: A Love Story. It’s all about how the authors (husband and wife) have prioritized family dinners with two working spouses.

    We grew up having family dinners whenever everyone was in town. So it’s important to me to also emphasize family dinners. It’s a little difficult right now with a 2.5 year old and an 11 month old, so often times it’s just the toddler and us eating dinner after the baby goes to bed. I figure we’ll work our way into the family dinner habit once the kids are slightly older.

    Logistically, I do all the cooking. We sort of menu plan on the weekends – either defrosting the chicken or pork that we’ll cook (or I’ll buy fish on Sunday to eat Monday night). And I’ll buy the staples that we’ll need to cook dinners throughout the week: onions, other veggies, spinach, etc. We always have pasta, bread, pasta sauce, cheese, tortillas, etc on hand, so it’s pretty easy to plan something up.

    For instance, this week we did oven roasted salmon with veggies and rice on Monday. Tuesday was Greek grilled chicken with hummus, pita, a cucumber relish, and feta cheese in pita bread. Wednesday we used the leftover chicken in quesadillas, and I filled mine with sauteed veggies and spinach. Last night I was exhausted, so we just did a simple migas scramble with eggs, chorizo, cheese, and tortilla chips. My toddler will pick and choose what he wants to eat from everything above, and if he doesn’t want anything, we always have back up toddler-friendly food.

    Both my husband and I leave from work around 5. Whoever gets to daycare first does the pickup and the other person will start prepping the house/baby food. We usually eat between 7 and 7:30, as the baby wants to be asleep by 6:30.

  3. I pick up the baby from daycare and we get home by 6. It’s pretty much impossible to start dinner and take care of her, so dinner doesn’t get started until my husband gets home around 7. Then one of us will cook a super simple dinner – spaghetti, burgers, burritos, and grilled sausages are staples. I do more pre-cooking, slow-cooking, and freezing in the winter because lasagna, enchiladas, chili, stew, pot roast, etc are more winter foods. In the summer we tend to do quick grilling.

  4. My husband works long hours so we don’t have family dinners. We do family breakfast instead.

    In the evenings, I do daycare pickup at 5:30, take the kids home, and cook something ridiculously simple while the toddler plays and the baby sleeps (or fusses, and then I wear her on my back while getting everything ready).

    I order all our food from an online grocery store here, and dinner is without fail a three-part affair of protein (grilled fish or chicken breast), veggies and rice. I eat my first dinner with the toddler around 6:30, then my second with my husband when he gets home around 9:30. I eat two dinners because I’m breastfeeding and hungry all the time, so why not?

    The 2.5 year old eats what we eat. If she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t get an alternative dinner. Harsh, maybe? I dunno. That’s how I grew up.

    On days when I just don’t feel like it, we go out for dinner. Lots of good, cheap options for eating out in my neighborhood, so once a week or so I just don’t bother cooking.

    • Spirograph says:

      We don’t do separate toddler food either, but he gets fruit for dessert every night whether or not he ate much of the main course. I figure he can subsist on blueberries (and maybe a cheese stick if he REALLY didn’t eat anything) ’til morning. He’s pretty much a goat, so we haven’t run into too much that he won’t eat.

      • lol on the goat comment ;) mine has a pretty goat-like approach to food too. there’s not much she won’t eat.

        when she was still drinking from a bottle we used a slanted one that kind of looked like what goats at the petting zoo drink from. hence her nickname, Goat.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi,

      I write about food for the Wall Street Journal Personal Journal section. I’d like to chat with parents who do family breakfast (in some form, at least some weekdays)instead of or in addition to family dinner. It sounds like this might be the case for you. If so, I’d love to chat with you. Please email me the best place to reach you. sarah.nassauer(at)wsj(dot)com

      Thank you!
      Sarah

  5. This is a great article (as always) Kat. My husband and I (both attorneys) work full time and who would have thought preparing dinner would be one of the most stressful things on my agenda? I hate shopping, especially food shopping, and order everything possible online. Add to that the complication that I leave my house at about 5:30am (yes) and sometimes don’t get home until 9:00pm (but usually around 6:00pm). I also have a house full of picky eaters (especially my husband), an au pair, and usually some random friends who often drop in for dinner. I actually love to cook, so I don’t mind the headache of making things myself, and it is a top priority for me to have dinner with my family most nights of the week. Here’s how I do it. I plan all of the menus for the week on my iphone (and have over time created a massive spreadsheet with all of my menus from prior weeks in case i get stuck for inspiration). I then order groceries online (from either peapod.com or amazon.com’s subscribe and save store, it’s amazing if you’ve never tried it).

    My girls are 8 and 11 and so for the last 11 years I have been doing what I call “psycho sundays” where I cook or assemble all dinners for the week on Sunday afternoon. I put everything into labeled containers so that all my girls, husband or babysitter need to do is stick it in the microwave. Depending on what I’m making that week, I almost always make double batches for the freezer to save time down the road on really hectic weekends. It is a ton of work, but I find cooking relaxing, my girls help me, and I’m able to go about my week in peace knowing that dinner is taken care of.

    • hoola hoopa says:

      “Who would have thought preparing dinner would be one of the most stressful things on my agenda?”

      Yes, yes, YES!

      • Lorelai Gilmore says:

        I actually really like cooking, but the period of time between getting home at 6 and getting dinner on the table is hands down the most stressful part of my day.

  6. just Karen says:

    I am happy to see this post and hope to hear more feedback – this is the type of post that makes me a little sad to have separate from the regular Corpor*tte site however, since it will get fewer responses here. I am 6 months pregnant with our first child, and right now I am primarily in charge of meals, as my husband fails to see the necessity in meal planning, resulting in a lot of take-out/restaurants if I don’t. That will need to even out once the baby is here though – maybe I can still do the planning but he can do more of the grocery shopping or actual cooking (for meals we use recipes for)? We are planning on buying a small standalone freezer, which hopefully will help facilitate more freeze-ahead cooking, but I know it will be a big challenge and require us to change our habits once baby comes.

  7. mascot says:

    For the first two years as parents, we didn’t really stress weeknight family dinners. It’s survival mode during that time and we really just focused on getting through it. Our child now is 4 and can handle waiting a bit longer to eat. Ideally, our weeks look something like this. I meal plan and grocery shop on the weekend. If I am feeling ambitious, I will cook something like spaghetti sauce or a stew that I can portion out and freeze for those really busy weeks. Sunday dinner is reserved for time-consuming recipes and many times, we also take time to grill/cook extra protein for the week. Weeknights, DH generally does school pickup (5:30+), I get home 6-6:30 and star immediately on dinner (sometimes DH has already started what he knows). We eat around 6:30 -7 and then move to the bedtime routine with a goal of 8 pm lights-out. Dinners during the week are pretty simple. We are flexible about grabbing dinner out/ takeout one weeknight a week. Also, we still do the occasional adult dinner after the kid is in bed. Having at least three meals planned out and shopped for makes the weeks much easier.

    If everyone is eating together, we try to all eat the same thing. We are more inclined to offer another food (fruit, cheese, yogurt) if he is still hungry after eating his food and doesn’t want a second helping than we are when he is just being picky. There is at least one kid-approved component to the meal so we know he isn’t going to starve. Also, he eats well the rest of the day so I don’t stress if there if dinner is really light.

    We make an effort to be home for dinner and give each other as much notice as possible for meetings. Even if we miss dinner, we sometimes can still catch bedtime. As he has gotten older, our child doesn’t get quite as over-stimulated when he sees us so we don’t have to delay coming home until after bedtime (those days are rough).

    • anon eagle says:

      I am in a similar situation with survival mode. My children are 4 months and 18 months. Our day starts at 4:30am (5:15am wake up for the babies). They go to daycare and we (this is a 2 person operation because of the car seat carrier, 2 daycare bags and the 18 month old can’t walk to the car) pick them up at 4:40 pm. Once we set foot in the house, my partner cuddles the 18 month old and they play and wrestle while I breastfeed the 4 month old. Then I hand him the baby or wear a baby wrap thingy and I start making dinner. On work days, I make a special toddler meal. I prep adult dinner while 18 month old eats her toddler meal. I put the food in the oven and we all march upstairs to the bathtub. 18 month old sits in the bathtub and 4 month old is in a bath chair. I bathe them while my partner is finishing up the veggies/rice. When the 4 month old is done in the bathtub, I roll her in a towel and holler for partner. He runs upstairs and takes 4 month old and does lotion/PJs. I finish bathing the 18 month old and do PJs. By then, the veggies/rice is about ready and I take everything out of the oven/stove. The food cools while partner reads 18 month old her books and I nurse the 4 month old to sleep (I know, I know). The babies are in bed by 6:30-7pm. Once the babies are in bed, partner and I eat dinner zoned out in front of the TV. Even though partner is in the kitchen area I always use a kitchen timer for each item (oven or pan) because I go upstairs away from the kitchen to bathe the babies. “2nd shift” is extremely tiring. Some days I don’t even come close to making dinner. I just stand at the counter and eat a greek yogurt. Partner and I both make sure we eat a large breakfast and lunch at work because we really gotta give it all we got for “2nd shift” with our precious babies.

      • I know you’re in the thick of it now, but I remember those days and it was just survival. I promise it will be get better soon – once the baby can sit up unattended and your toddler will be a LOT more self-sufficient once he hits 2ish.

        But yeah, back when I had 2 under 2, I honestly don’t even remember our “dinners” as they were. It was just chaotic survival until the kids went to bed and we zoned out on the couch in exhaustion.

  8. Toffee says:

    This is the one thing we don’t outsource-yet. I’m thinking about one of these food services that prepares meals weekly that we just pop in the oven. DH gets home at 4, but he does all of the baby care (feeding, entertaining, bathing, prepping bottles and food for the next day, washing bottles, etc.) He still manages to have dinner waiting on me sometimes, which always surprises and impresses me. But I usually end up eating alone when I get home at 7, which depresses me.

  9. I am sure this has been discussed a number of times on the main site, but does anyone have favorite slow cooker recipes they can share? I just got one in anticipation of wanting/needing to eat at home more once the babies arrive (any day now). I had good results with pulled pork, but am overwhelmed with the sheer volume of recipes out there, especially as most seem more suited to cold-weather

    • The Cook’s Illustrated authors have made an AMAZING (sorry for all caps) slow cooker cookbook. It’s called Slow Cooker Revolution and has awesome, easy, tasty (not just chicken and salsa) slow cooker meals for every season and meal. Highly recommend it.

      • hoola hoopa says:

        +1

        If you start following top crockpot-ish pinners on pinterest, you can see a wide range of recipes. Like all internet recipes, some are less stellar than others, but often I get a novel idea for something I hadn’t considered even if I heavily tweak the recipe. There are a ton. You can start with Once A Month Meals – not exclusively crockpot, but they have quite a few: http://www.pinterest.com/onceamonthmeals/

    • Katherine K says:

      SLOW COOKERS ALL THE WAY!

      We have a 2-year-old and a 5-month old. I’m an attorney, and my husband is a funeral director, meaning that at any given day we could be both working until 10 pm, and weekends as well. That said, we hold the 6 pm to 7:30 pm time sacrosanct, because it’s the only time during the week that we see our little guys. With very few exceptions, we always eat together as a family.

      From the time I hit the door with the guys at 6 pm, we have about four minutes before 2-year-old will melt down, so we have really cut back on cooking during the week. I also don’t want to spend my entire weekend in the kitchen (which is tough, trying to balance two competing nap schedules!) So the slow cooker is my best friend these days :)

      We typically make one large slow cooker meal for the majority of the week, and accompany with salads, veggies (cooked or raw), and fruit. (My husband has Type I diabetes, so we put a premium on eating healthful, well-rounded meals.) My husband will get home at 5:30 pm or so, gets the food ready (heating/chopping), and gets it on the table so we can eat immediately.

      We make most of our slow cooker meals from “America’s Test Kitchen: Slow Cooker Revolution”, which is AMAZING. We cooked quite a bit before the boys were born, and weren’t really interested in sacrificing taste for expediency, so it has been MARVELOUS to find something that allows us to cook interesting food, rather than yet another casserole with canned cream of mushroom soup :) (No disrespect!)

      We also use 365daysofcrockpot (dot) com, although I find the recipes to be much more hit or miss. There’s a whole section on “78 summer suppers”, which I pinned and go through while nursing in the middle of the night for ideas …

      As far as meal planning, we live in a fairly rural area, so online shopping isn’t an option (although it would be fabulous!) I plan the meals, make the grocery list, and put the menu and shopping checklist on our single Evernote account, then my husband does the shopping with our 2-year-old on Saturdays. We typically have to run out for staples (milk, bread, etc.) mid-week, but that’s pretty doable.

      Anybody else have any fantastic make-ahead meal ideas?

    • NewMomAnon says:

      I know I’m late to the game, but I just discovered an awesome crock pot use – I threw in a couple pounds of chicken thighs, some salt, pepper, thyme and garlic, and then barely covered the chicken with low-sodium chicken stock from the grocery store. Left it to cook overnight on low and shredded it in the morning. I ate the shredded chicken on a bun for lunch (you could add barbeque sauce or guac but it was good plain), we are having it in quesadillas tonight, and it would be great in pasta or salad or for a quick chicken soup recipe. I think I’ll be doing this with some type of meat every week now.

  10. Spirograph says:

    DH and I are lucky to both have pretty predictable schedules that get us home by 5-5:30. One of us cooks while the other hangs out with the little guy, depending on who has more energy that day. During the ~50% of weeks that I’m on top of things (this week! yay!), I make a meal plan of dinners with <30 min active prep time and go/send DH shopping with a grocery list. We always try to make enough for leftovers, which live in little individual-serving pyrex containers in my fridge so they can be takenfor lunch or rescue dinner another night.

    If I don't have a plan, we end up "foraging." I always have frozen vegetables, sandwich fixings and Bisquick for pancakes/waffles if all else fails. Other go-to meals with things I always have on hand: black bean & cheese quesadillas (or fajitas if we also have peppers and onions). Pasta+Prego sauce. Canned/pouched tuna + noodles + frozen peas + cream of whatever soup = casserole. Or we order pizza or run for take-out, but I try to limit that to a few times a month.

    We have dinner much earlier than pre-kid, cook much less involved/exciting recipes, and drink much less wine. Bedtime is 8, and bath+story is at least a half hour, so now we usually eat around 6 – 6:30 instead of 9. We still go out to eat a few times a month, and we go early for that too. The service is faster, fellow diners are mostly families and are less likely to get angry about a few flung napkins or shrieks, and it just works out much better in every possible way.

    When I was little, we had a calendar of dinner conversation topics… I just unsuccessfully tried to search for something similar, but it was a tear-off calendar that had random factoids, questions, "this day in history," etc. Not something I do wih my unintelligible toddler, but I'll make a more concerted effort to find one in a few years. It was fun, and it kept things from stagnating after "how was your day?".

    • We eat so much earlier now too. My husband and I used to work out when we got home and then have dinner around 9. Now with a baby who likes to wake up at 5:30 I am in bed by 9 half the time. Oh, how things change…

    • There are tons of “table topics” products out there, ranging from little cards in a box (pull one each night) to this hilarious book, Dinner Talk, by Emily Hall et al. I like them all. I think we ran through all our cards and Dinner Talk has questions that are just really odd and bizarre so they are more likely to catch my children’s attention now that they are 12 & 14 years old.

  11. Katherine K says:

    Out of interest, how do people handle meal choices for toddlers? Our 2-year-old isn’t much of an eater on the best of days (but he’s a great sleeper! I heard somebody say once that every kid is good at one of them) :)

    I serve our 2-year-old smaller portions of whatever we’re eating, but some nights he’ll eat absolutely nothing. He can be pretty wiped out at the end of a long day at daycare, and I think it has less to do with what’s being served, and more to do with just being “done.” I don’t want to start a pattern of being a short order cook (especially if he’s likely to reject the second thing I serve him!) but I also want him to, you know, EAT SOMETHING.

    What do other people do?

    • Two things seem to matter with our 2.5 year old — (1) FORMAT – she will not eat full orange slices but will eat them if they are cut in half; she will not take bites from a full size fajita or taco but she will eat ‘tacos’ (one half of a taco shell- spread with guacamole and add fixings (one of meat/diced tomatoes/cheese) – the guacamole prevents the toppings from falling off – she hated when the toppings fell off. (2) DIPS – e.g. Ketchup – we let her dip just about anything in ketchup – we just try to control the amount of ketchup by only putting small amounts on her plate at a time- I have no idea why she likes chicken breasts with ketchup but she eats it.

    • mascot says:

      How does he eat the rest of the day? Even as a baby, my guy ate well for breakfast, lunch, snacks, but by dinner he was full. I figure that by that point he had gotten 80% of his calories for the day already, so I didn’t worry when he failed to finish a feeding. Same principle holds true now that he is 4. He eats well at breakfast and lunch, plus gets am/pm snacks at school. So if he blows off dinner, I don’t really worry.

    • anon eagle says:

      http://www.amazon.com/Child-Mine-Feeding-Love-Sense-ebook/dp/B008WNSOVY/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

      This is a phenom book. I think it’s free if you have a kindle/amazon prime.

      If my 18 month old refused to eat, that’s fine. I remove her from the high chair and offer a snack in 2 hours. She is not allowed to panhandle food. If she refuses dinner, she usually at least drinks a bit of milk and I am fine putting her to bed without eating. She eats when she is hungry. Some days she eats a lot. Some days she doesn’t eat anything at dinner. This book saved my sanity.

    • hoola hoopa says:

      My thoughts after raising a couple of toddlers. It’s a bit different with your first because you generally can and will be more flexible:

      If he’s not hungry, don’t worry about it. Seriously, if he needs to eat he will. Some kids (even large for age kids) eat very little. Don’t pressure or try to override their innate feelings.

      If he’s passing on dinner and then asking for food before or after, consider changing dinner time. It helps to serve food while they are hungry. If that doesn’t work for your schedule, then serve ‘dinner’ as pre- and post- dinner snacks.

      If he’s passing on dinner because he – like most 2 year olds – are just too darn busy for dinner, then leave his plate out and let him go and come. It’s a PITA, but this phase will pass. I promise. Do practice staying at the table for restaurants, etc, but also consider just skipping restaurants for a while. If you model sitting at the table until you finish dinner (if they want you to play with them, for example, say ‘not now, I’m eating my dinner. I’ll play when I’m done’), they’ll see you modeling and will grow into it.

      If you do that and he’s still passing on dinner but asking for food at other times, then you decide how much you’re willing to give in *and be consistent*. With subsequent kids, you have the advantage of a role model with whom you are more strict. With the first, it’s a bit tricker (haha, very tricky) to communicate the ‘this is dinner, you eat this or nothing’ concept at 2. It’s say it starts to make sense at 3 or 4. What I’d recommend is having one simple and acceptable alternate. Same option (or two – no more!) every day. You want it to be appealing enough to get them to eat enough to be sane in the evening but not so exciting that they’ll immediately pass on whatever is really for dinner. Something like plain yogurt and steamed broccoli, or sliced deli meat and carrot sticks. Similar to what mss suggested below.

      If passing on dinner and then begging for food at bedtime because they finally accept that they are, in fact, hungry is an issue, then I recommend having a consistent bedtime snack. Again, something likeable but not too exciting. This is not dessert. This is not a ‘reward’ for finishing dinner and is not held back if dinner was not eaten. It’s part of the bedtime routine. You can wean it out when ‘dinner is dinner’ makes cognitive sense to him, if you want.

  12. We have a few “anytime” foods – milk, frozen peas, baby carrots and 100% whole wheat bread. My kids are allowed to eat any of those at any time (unless a meal is being served shortly, like the next 30-60 minutes). This way we don’t worry about what they eat/won’t eat/going to bed hungry etc. If they are hungry, they can eat, but they can’t have whatever they want.

  13. hoola hoopa says:

    We also use the general rule of “if you’re not home by 6:30, dinner is happening without you”. Most of the time I do daycare pick up (~5:30) and my husband is home by 6pm, but often he (or occasionally me) won’t be home until later.

    We meal plan and shop on the weekends. That alone has saved us money and a great deal of sanity.

    We prep meals in advance when possible, which ranges from chopping to ready to bake to fully cooked for reheating. Weekends are opportunities for lengthy recipes, made in double batches to stock the freezer. We’ve definitely gotten cleverer at getting a nutritious, interesting meal done in 30 minutes over the years.

    With kids, we eat earlier and different foods. More bland and routine. We’re foodies at heart, so a couple of times a week we make something for us and another meal (often related ingredients or prep) for the kids – but still eat together. It’s more enjoyable for us and I feel like the kids are at least exposed to wider foods. Sometimes they surprise us and ask for a bite. We do miss the days of fixing ourselves an antipasto plate and pouring a glass of wine to enjoy while making a meal together. Meal time just isn’t as leisurely as it used to be.

    • stephanie says:

      I’m dumbfounded by how many moms have time to cook. My husband and I have 3 young kids—6 year old twin girls and a 2 year old boy. He does activities with the boy until mid-day and does the after school activities with the girls and does the grocery shopping. He has some babysitter help, but does as much household repairs and chores during the week as he can, and works from home when possible, so he’s very busy. I work outside the home 40+ hours, so on the weekend he leaves all meals, some chores and childcare to me except for a family outing on Sunday where he participates ONLY if I don’t run late in preparing breakfast. On the weekends I struggle with keeping the house in order, cleaning the floors, tending to the pets, getting at least one load of laundry done, making breakfast, keeping to our lunch time/nap schedule, dishes washed, homework done, outdoor activities for the kids, feeding the kids dinner by 5:30, getting all 3 kids ready for bed, all while keeping the baby from crying (my husband hates crying, it stresses him out). My weekends are exhausting (my husband and I eat at 9:30-ish, my husband really hates eating late)…I don’t have much time to cook, let alone cook in advance or sitting down to plan …? I bought a pressure cooker to help, it’s still sitting in it’s box for the last year. I used to love cooking. Weekends are my only time to do it as weekdays are busy with work sandwiched by my busy mornings and evenings. I’m the first to get up in the morning, get all 3 kids ready, make school lunches and breakfasts, bring kids to school. In the evenings I come home, get my boy ready for bed, help girls with homework, get the girls ready for bed, storytime with girls, whip up a quick bite to eat for my husband and me, shower, get the table set and sit down to dinner at 9:30 pm. I want to have family dinners but I simply don’t know how to do it. I’ve asked my husband to help, maybe set the table, start/finish up a crockpot meal so we could eat together by 6-6:15 with the kids, but he feels I should be able to figure it out and make it happen for us since he does so much. I’d love ANY insights or ideas??

      • Katherine K says:

        Hi Stephanie,

        Your family is super busy, and it sounds like you’re handling a tough situation with grace under pressure!

        From your post, I’m not sure if you’re asking for advice about cooking, or balancing “household tasks” with your husband. If I understand you, it sounds like you both work, but because he does childcare/household tasks in the mornings and late afternoons (with some babysitter assistance), he has issued an edict that you are therefore responsible for ALL the childcare and most household tasks on evenings and weekends. Your story reminds me a lot of some of the anecdotes/research from Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” (a great read!), about how some working couples internalize traditional gender roles that are a holdover from when only one spouse worked, meaning that mom ends up working AND doing all the chores she would do if she was a stay-at-home spouse. That doesn’t sound very equitable, and from your post, it sounds like you don’t think it is, either. In addition, without criticizing, it sounds churlish for your husband to withhold his presence from family time as a “punishment” for you failing to meet his standards.

        Of course every family (and every relationship) is different, but my husband and I tend to conceptualize ourselves as a team, asking “what can I do to help?” instead of one of us saying “you should be able to figure it out on your own” and letting the other person drown, as your husband has said to you with family dinners. My $.02 would be to begin by talking with your husband about the division of labor, and more importantly, why he is refusing and withholding his help instead of supporting and encouraging. If marital counseling isn’t your style, I’ve found that “state of the union dinners” work for us: we tell each other what we’d like to discuss in advance, and ask the other person to come with some ideas for how to improve it, almost like a board meeting :) We also try to use a lot of “I feel” language (e.g. “It hurts my feelings when you don’t acknowledge my contributions” vs. “You don’t appreciate me!”)

        As far as cooking and meal advice, a slow cooker is your best friend! I really like America’s Test Kitchen “Slow Cooker Revolution” books, that have make very good meals that don’t taste like “slow cooker slop” (as our neighbor so appealingly put it). Pinterest has good slow cooker recipes, although you have to dig because the recipes can be hit or miss. I keep a Pinterest board with favorite recipes that I can pull out so that meal planning doesn’t take a lot of time.

        My husband and I use Evernote (the same account on both our phones): I will prepare the grocery list and meal “list” for the week, and one of us (whoever has time) will do grocery shopping since it’s already on our phone. We usually cook two entrees during the week (one meat and one vegetarian), and eat the leftovers for the next few night. We talk the night before about who is going to throw the stuff into the slow cooker in the morning. My husband gets home before I do, so he puts dinner together (slow cooker entree, simple or raw veggies, fruit, and milk), and we sit down to dinner the moment I walk in the door with our two kids. Everybody (including our 2- and 3-year-old) clears their own place, I scrape the plates, put away food and load the dishwasher, and my husband does any dishes. If one of us isn’t around, needs to work after dinner, or doesn’t feel well, the other spouse will pick up the extra slack, or we’ll try to get the kids more involved.

        Best of luck, and hang in there!

        • stephanie says:

          Hi Katherine,
          Lots of great input. I’ll look into Sandberg’s book, I think it might be very therapeutic for my situation. Slow Cooker Revolution sounds great. Unless it’s beef or lentil stew, I haven’t been a big fan of slow cooker meals, so I’m really excited to check it out.

          Yes…the “churlish” adjective fits exactly…unfortunately.

          I very much appreciate your time and consideration in your reply,
          thanks so much!

  14. Advice needed says:

    We cook on weekends so we can just reheat during the week. We all get home at 7 and try to eat by 7:30. My husband usually does meal prep since my toddler always wants me to play. If I get home before my husband and kid, which is rare, I’ll start cooking.

    My husband is going on a several month business trip in a few months. Doing food prep on the weekends requires about a 3 hour block of time, which I won’t have when he is away because my 2 year-old won’t nap on weekends any more. Any suggestions? Meal delivery services are super-expensive ($60-$80 a day in my city), and I really don’t want to eat out or eat frozen food for months. I don’t have the freezer space to precook before he leaves.

    • Spirograph says:

      Do you have any friends who will 1. Invite you for dinners sometimes or 2. Watch the kid for a couple hours on the weekend while you prep? If I had a friend in this situation I would be happy to do both occasionally. 3 months on your own with a 2 two year old (fittingly, my phone just tried to autocorrect that to “tyrant”) is a time to ask for help and call in favors if I ever heard one! Or a mother’s helper while you prep on the weekends… I’m thinking that downtime will be necessary for sanity as well as meal prep. Good luck!

      • Advice needed says:

        Good ideas. Friends aren’t really a realistic option but hiring a babysitter for a few hours each weekend is a good plan.

    • just Karen says:

      I would also consider whether a small chest freezer is an option – the one I am theoretically getting for my birthday (my birthday that was five months ago, we just haven’t gotten around to actually purchasing it yet) got great reviews and isn’t that big, but should make a huge difference on being able to prep ahead and freeze.
      http://www.homedepot.com/p/GE-7-0-cu-ft-Chest-Freezer-in-White-FCM7SUWW/203547578#.UtbyF_RDv8g
      You can then stock up with double batches of things you make now and utilize any babysitter prep time for more meals while DH is gone.

      • hoola hoopa says:

        +1 to deep freezer.

        Love the babysitter idea. This is a great opportunity to use a mother’s helper, actually. Ours was a 13 year old neighbor who charged $2.50/hr. (Going rate for babysitter is ~$14/hr).

      • Advice needed says:

        I wish we had room for a deep freezer, but unless I put it in my living room, there’s no way. So a babysitter it is.

  15. Kat, I love this topic! As a new mom, I am really interested in hearing about how people handle these small but important and tough tasks in families with two working parents. Sometime I would love to see a post on people’s post-baby grooming routines. I know I spend much, much, much less time on make-up, hair, nails, skincare, etc, since I had my daughter, and I’d love to hear about how other people prioritize and find time for the things they still do.

    • mascot says:

      I do pedicures at home. Not really into manicures or facials unless it is a special spa day. For cut and color on my hair, I do that over my lunch break at a salon that is walking distance from my office. As far as daily grooming, I get up and get myself mostly ready (workout/shower/hair/makeup) before my child gets up. It’s easier now that he is old enough to feed himself and self-amuse watching PBS or playing while I finish getting ready. I am responsible for the morning routine and school drop-off and my husband handles the evening routine/pickup. Obviously we help out as needed, but whoever has that “shift” is primarily the caregiver.

      • Spirograph says:

        My kingdom for a salon walking distance from my office! I used to work somewhere with a little nail salon accross the street — it was the best thing ever to go sit in a massage chair and get a pedicure after (or during lunch of) a terrible day at work.

    • The vast majority of my pedicures are at home now. I never really got manicures or facials, so those weren’t a factor for me. I get my eyebrows/lip waxed probably half as often as I used to, but mine aren’t “unruly” such that it’s incredibly noticeable. I went from October until last week before I managed to get a haircut, but that was more a function of my hairdresser getting sick on the two weekends that I was available and had remembered to make hair appointments during that time. If I get hair cuts/waxes/pedicures, I’ll block out some of a Saturday afternoon and do them during our kids’ nap times.

      I’ve gotten into a habit of doing an “everything shower” once a weekend (when I remember). I’ll put on a mask 15 minutes or so before I shower, do an exfoliating scrub, a careful shave (unlike the haphazard quick jobs during the week), and a deep conditioning.

      During the week, I wear my hair either up in a clip or let it air dry wavy more often than I’d like to admit. I run in the mornings and never really get a chance to “cool down” because it’s usually 85+ degrees outside, so not hairdrying is more of an effect of not wanting to sweat while I dry my hair than of time, though.

    • hoola hoopa says:

      Agree this would make a good topic.

      I also have gone to home services. Eyebrow waxing at home with the Sally Hansen tub-o-wax – recommended to me on the main site years ago. Brazilian waxes have been changed to in-home Veet removal. My husband does it for me, actually, and loves it. lol.

      Hair cuts are the only thing I still do in salon. I do them during work time or sometimes immediately after so DH can do daycare pick up and I’m home around dinner time.

      My shower and hair styling routine is very similar to JJ’s.

  16. Nikki says:

    This post makes me realize that my husband and I need to step it up. We both get home from work around 6-6:30 most days, and whoever’s earlier picks our 2 year old up from my parents’ place, so we’re home with our kiddo any time from 6:30 to 7:30. He usually eats dinner at my parents house, where thankfully my dad is always cooking, so there’s never a shortage of good food for him to eat. We really just read some stories and get him ready for bed once we’re all home. Occasionally my husband can get home early enough that he’ll pick up our son and bring him home to give him dinner, but dinner (for the toddler) at our house is like.. Macaroni with oil and adobo (kiddo demands the adobo!)? Or even, don’t judge, a plate of cut up tomatoes and olives and cheese (we call that one his Mediterranean dinner). Either way, my husband and I are having our grown-up dinner (in front of the tv) (shame) at like 8:30-9:00, once our son is asleep and we’ve figured out what we can throw together quickly, or have delivered (takeout probably twice a week). On weekends we do eat all together, but it’s sort of a random assortment of well thought out dinners, thrown together dinners, and restaurant dinners.

    Like I said, I need to step it up. My family always had dinner together every night when I was growing up, and it’s important to me that we do that with my son. It’s just, he was just a little baby, and family dinners were impossible, but now all of a sudden he just turned 2 and we’re still in that sort of crazy, random, survival mode that comes with having a baby. But I don’t think we have to be anymore. I just have to figure out how I’m going to change things up. I’m thinking, prep dinners over the weekends, less chit chat with my parents when I pick up my son (although my mom feels neglected by me enough already!), and.. I feel like I need more to this plan.

    • mascot says:

      It doesn’t have to be all at once. We do a couple of family dinners a week, but many of those are rushed to get him into bed at the right time. I like to think that we make up for it on the weekend when we spend most of our time as a family (lazy breakfasts, outings, etc) It’s quality, not quantity for the amount of family time in our house. Also, your child is getting family dinners if you think about it. They may not be with you, but they are dinner and they are with loved ones. So it still counts!

    • Samantha says:

      Totally hear you that the first two years are rushed and crazy so don’t worry that you aren’t doing family dinners yet. One way to ease into it may be to eat something with your toddler when he’s eating dinner. It can be a little bit of what he’s eating, or if it’s too early for you maybe you have a beverage and carrot sticks or the chopped tomatoes with the Mediterranean dinner, etc. It’s the companionship and shared nature of the ritual that’s important, so sitting with him and eating something is a great start! Then you and hubby can have a second grown up dinner in front of the tv!

      Eventually maybe one of you can pick up the takeout you would have had a little earlier so that you can have some of it with your son, and find a happy medium for his dinnertime. e.g. explore having him eat a snack at 5:30 so he has dinner with you both at 7:30.

    • Meg Murry says:

      My parents watch my kids a couple of days too, and we eat dinner with them at least 2x a week, and then take dinner to them or I cook with them on occasion as well. Any chance your husband could join you at their house for dinner once a week, and maybe they could bring your son home and have dinner at your place once a week? Family dinners are a good thing, but extended family dinners could be just as good, or even better. My kids love the nights we have dinner at grandma & grandpa’s, especially since my dad loves to cook. And on the nights they eat with us, it really isn’t much more work to cook for 6 instead of 4. Just something to think about -trading off meals is great for our family.

    • Julia S. says:

      Please don’t guilt yourself. I don’t even remember what we did when the kids were young, especially when we just had our oldest – and I was a part-time SAHM at the time. The most important thing is to find little spurts of time when you can be together. For us, bath time was always really special, but now that our kids are older, we all pile on the bed at night for family reading night, or we’ll watch part of a movie, or clips of silly shows on YouTube, or occasionally play a game. Once kids are in school, your schedule will completely revolve around theirs and evenings will be sports and other activities that make family dinners nearly impossible.

      What about having a healthy dessert together when you all get back to the house? or if you all eat together one night now and then at your parents’ house, or you meet for a rotisserie chicken or pizza at home? Making our own goofy traditions is part of the fun of the craziness, and it’s what our kids remember most.

  17. Katherine K says:

    I get my hair cut about every 4-6 weeks, and go around 8 pm, after the kids have gone to sleep. Otherwise, I don’t really have the time for any salon services. I do an at-home pedicure about once a month, and if I take the time to soak my feet, buff out the ridges, and remove callouses, it usually lasts me about 3 weeks.

    As far as a daily routine, I like to work out and shower at night, so unless I have a big hearing or meeting, I let my hair air dry, and just flatiron in the morning before work … some days look better than others :) I spend about 5 minutes on makeup every morning, and that’s certainly sped up from the pre-kid days! I’m a big fan of these for making it easy to do my eye makeup, along with liner and mascara:

    https://www.toofaced.com/c/eye-shadow-palettes/

    (The “naked eye” and “boudoir eye” are wonderful, and have lasted forever even with daily use!)

    I don’t really do a skincare routine, beyond applying face cream (with spf) and eye cream, body lotion, and using a Clairsonic every few days.

    Aaah, remember those fabulous pre-baby days, with bath scrubs and masks and exfoliators?? :) Someday!

    No manicures for me, but I try to do an at-home pedicure once a month or so, and that lasts for about 3 weeks.

  18. Tiffany says:

    We subscribe to a weekly meal planning feed (there are a lot of options out there). It prepares the weekly grocery list and recipes. You can select your preference- we do low fat, and most of the dinners are supposed to take less than 30 minutes. You can also personalize most things- i.e. how many people, how many dinners, etc. It is a nominal amount for a monthly subscription, but it saves you from having to plan much.

    Sometimes we just give up and go out, but now that our LO is a toddler, she is a bit difficult to keep in a high chair for long periods of time.

    It was so difficult until I found the weekly meal planning sites. I love that I can go to the store once and each meal is healthy and quick.

  19. Julia S. says:

    We have two boys, 8 & 10, and between sports, scouts, and two working parents, family dinners are not as frequent as I’d like. We eat together on the weekends and whenever we can, but usually we tag team – one of us does school drop off at 8:15 (and thus is late to get into work at 9:45) and the other does pickup from homework club or relieving the housekeeper/nanny at 6 (and thus leaves work at 4:30). We both commute about an hour from our house, and when you add leaving the office, walking to the parking garage, getting in the car… it’s a little under 90 minutes door-to-door each way.

    Right now, we have a housekeeper/nanny to help with the kids after school, cooking & cleaning, but she’s leaving at the end of the summer, and the boys are switching to a school 3 towns over this fall. I work off-campus 2 days a week, and I’m hoping to hire a new housekeeper to help the remaining 3 days, with homework club filling in when we have inevitable schedule conflicts.

    We tried to have one of us do the crockpot in the morning, but that only seems to work on the days I work from home. It’s too insane getting out of the house with backpacks, lunch boxes, briefcases, permission slips, homework and getting everyone fed.

    Two things that work well for me – 3 Google Calendars (my personal, his work, and the kids) on iCal with my work Outlook calendar so I can see everything, and pre-making breakfasts for me to eat in the car. I either make chia pudding with almond milk and berries, or plain nonfat greek yogurt with stevia, vanilla, and fruit. Then I grab a wasa cracker with almond butter or toss a few flax seeds or nuts on top of the pudding or yogurt. Easy and healthy breakfast for me in the car as I enjoy the rare silence of my commute!

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