Is Family Mealtime Possible when Both Parents Work Out of the House?

Guest post written by Mom Made's Founder, Heather, for onehungrymama.com: Before I had kids, my husband and I lived and worked in London. We enjoyed cooking at home most weekdays and eating out on weekends. We’d roll in from work around 7:30 or 8 p.m. and sit down to dinner around 9 p.m. Name the ethnic food, and we made it. Going out to eat was also relaxing and fun; we had our favorite places and got to know the wait staff and bartenders in those restaurants. But making dinner at home was my favorite, cherished time together, even though it required our “cooking dance”: avoiding bumping into each other in the tiny hallway that served as the kitchen in our London flat. We promised each other when we had kids, we wouldn’t change a thing.

Well, that’s not quite what happened…After having two kids and launching a nation-wide, organic food company of frozen meals, munchies and bites, Mom Made Foods, mealtimes have shifted things slightly. Here are my top 5 secrets to upholding your adventures with food, even after having kids:

1) Meal O’Clock. Mealtimes at our house are 5:30/6:00pm. Yes, early. The second that the first parent arrives home, the kids are clamoring for our love and hungry for dinner. Pushing dinner time later (which we’ve tried from time to time) means cranky kids who are too tired to eat.  So we work on their clock in order to have a happy dinner time together—it’s still our favorite time of day.

2) Planning Meals. The dinner menu is still diverse but recipes have become much simpler. Prep time is minimal as we rush in the door after busy work days. We also have become much more organized about planning meals, especially dinners. We subscribe to a weekly meal plan company, The Six O’Clock Scramble, and one of us shops on Sundays for the week of planned dinners. Our workdays are packed and there’s hardly ever a minute to spare to pick up an extra ingredient on the way home.

3) Eating out. We’ve never stopped going to the restaurants we liked before having kids. We’ve kept a few special ones for date nights, but we’re not afraid to take the family to a restaurant without a kids menu AND white table cloths. Yes, you might have to walk out of one or two to teach a lesson to an misbehaved child, but that’s how they learn! Kids need to be taught manners. They’re not born with table manners.

4) Kids Palates. Research says it takes a child 10-20 times to be exposed to a food before they decide whether they like it. An exposure can mean the food is on the table and not on their plate, then they might put it in their mouth the next time then take it out of their mouth. After a few more exposures, they will be eating it with you. These things take time and a lot of patience! We high-fived recently when our son requested Pakistani food for his 7th birthday dinner. And it’s music to my ears when he asks for salad with dinner. He proudly told his 1st grade class about how and why his favorite vegetable is red peppers.

5) Running a Diner. If you’re not careful as a parent, you can find yourself running a diner, making food to order for each child for every meal. The rule in our house is that the kids can make requests at breakfast and lunch. But when it comes to dinner, their choice is whatever we’re making that night. We eat family-style, so they can help themselves to the foods as they wish, but we’re not hopping up from the table to make a p-b-j the night we make Thai Green Curry. Rather, they can choose to eat the curry or one of the sides as they’d like. We typically have some familiar food in each meal that they’ll turn to if they’re not in the mood to be adventurous. Our daughter is picky and right now if it were up to her, we’d have mac ’n’ cheese for dinner every night. But she’s two years old, and we’re not running a diner.

We have to remind ourselves of these rules regularly, and it takes constant work to hold the boundaries, especially on that really busy week when a parent is traveling for work or life just gets crazy. But those are the times when it’s most important to stick to it. The hard work does pay off.