Here is the scene. You leave work at 5pm (to the envious glances of colleagues who have no idea what you are about to face). You bolt for the car/train and make the dash to the daycare centre/school, knowing you have to be there by six. Every minute you linger at your desk to finish an email, every missed traffic light, every late train, sets your heart racing and your mind stressing.
Against the odds, you arrive on time. You park the car and race inside, to your little one(s), which is a great moment - they smile, yell "Mummy!", run to your arms, and show you what they've been doing. You hug and kiss them, marvel at their achievements, catch up on their feed/sleep status with the carers, sign them out, grab their stuff and you all head to the car.
From that moment, the nice bit is over.
Assuming there are no dramas getting the kids into the car (big assumption - but let's move on), the drive home quickly turns into a battleground. The kids will start off happy but within five minutes it starts - "I'm hungry!" - "I need to do wee!" - "Stop it", "You stop it", "Mu-u-u-m!".
I chose a daycare centre close to home rather than close to work, and I am glad I did - that evening drive home is just awful. I love it now that school is only a five minute drive from home, and am thankful we went with our local school every night I make that drive (which is only two nights a week, but that is so enough).
When you get home, you need to get the kids out of the car, and into the house.
This is your only goal, though the need to move quickly onto dinner-homework-bath-bed is tapping at your skull like a woodpecker. "Come on, out of the car, come on, inside please, come on, come on, come on," you parrot endlessly while the kids fight, slump in their seats "I'm tired..." or fight over who is going in the front door first.
When they're babies you might have one fall asleep, or both crying by the time you get home.
So you get them in the door, and it's after six. They're hungry, they're tired, they're grumpy, and they have no tolerance for waiting fifteen or twenty minutes while you cook something from scratch.
You need to feed them ASAP or lose them to sleep, tears, your temptation to turn on the TV for them, or they start playing with toys and you can't get them to the dinner table.
So what are some really really quick ideas for dinner? Try these:
- scrambled eggs
- baked beans on toast
- macaroni cheese (yes, the one in the box)
- picnic on the table: pull out what you have in the fridge and put it on plates on the table for all to share: boiled eggs, left over rice or spaghetti/spirals cooked the evening before, slices of ham and cheese, cut up fruit, yoghurt, etc. Works well as little kids don't even like their food very hot - lukewarm is best (and easy)
- fish fingers and vegetables (cut up two veg and chuck in microwave/steamer while the fish fingers cook, so you don't have to wait for water to boil)
- half an avocado and a spoon, and some toast
- we always have a tub of tzatziki in the fridge and put it out with bread - the kids love it
- chicken tenderloins cook really fast - couple of minutes either side in a pan with a splash of hoi sin and soy, or butter and honey, and serve with rice and/or veg.
- (On the weekend when you have more time you can coat chicken tenderloins with egg and breadcumbs and make 'chicken nuggets')
- my kids love spiral pasta - on its own as a side dish. They're not big on potatoes, but we serve rice or spirals with dinner often.
- fried rice is fast - if you have cooked rice in the fridge. Chuck in some frozen mixed veg or if you only have fresh pick two veg and chop up a handful. Fry up 1-2 eggs, add the rice and veg and a splash of hoi sin and soy sauce, five minutes in the pan and it's ready
- in summer time, barbecues are great. We ate a lot of grilled/barbecued meat with rice and carrot and broccoli. Requires designated barbecue operator to be home at same time as parent bringing home the kids
You don't need to plate up meat and three veg, or produce a bowl of something made from all the food groups.
I also took advantage of the toddler years when my kids didn't mind eating the same thing for dinner two or three days in a row (no longer the case, alas).
I noticed evenings went a lot better once I took the pressure off myself to produce a "dinner" and just focused on easy fast and basic food.
Kids love simple food. So do mums.