Making Family Dinner Work

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One of the goals I have been working on, as a stay-at-home mother, is finding the joy my daily activities. Somehow, my life has become, dare I say, monotonous. Of course it is not that I don’t have enough to do, just that I often feel under-appreciated, overworked and that my efforts often are not working.  One of the things I struggle with the most is the daily chores. I detest the things that are never checked off my list, the making the beds, doing dishes, making dinner, sweeping the floor, etc. They are never done, and even when I do them and take pride in my work, I know they will be back to do all over again tomorrow.

One of the very worst times in my home I lovingly call “The Golden Hour.” This is the time right before my husband gets home from work. No matter how well things have gone during the day, it all falls apart in this blessed hour. I could have meditated that morning, had the patience of a saint all day, done fabulous, meaningful activities with my children, but as he walks through the door, the three of us are all in or close to a state of alternatively tears or rage. My children could have been angels all day, only to turn into beastly dragons.

Of course, during this time, I am supposed to be preparing dinner. I believe in providing a meal for our family and sitting down to eat it together. I used to feel this is my obligation as a stay-at-home mother, it is my job, poor me, I have to make dinner every night. And it was always a terrible experience!

My four-year-old is always in a bad mood at this time of day. The usual routine is, I cook, she sits in time out for some infraction, screaming and gnashing her teeth. My 14-month-old, who is in the 90th percentile on the weight chart, is always hungry and begs for food the entire time I am cooking. He pulls on my pant leg, and as a late blooming talker, just whines ‘mmmm, mmmmm, mmmm’ until I want to pull my hair out. I continue cooking, making a giant mess I know I will have to clean up later, and muttering under my breath, as hubby walks in from a long day at work. “Welcome to the nuthouse, dear, aren’t you glad you’re home.” I say it as a statement, because I wouldn’t want to hear the answer if it were proposed as a question!

I was speaking to a friend of mine, asking her about the family she grew up in and how her mom had managed four teenagers at the same time, who all turned out great. One of the things she said really hit home. She said they always had family dinner. That she had a testimony of that time, where family members shared their days, spent quality time together, and learned from one another. She explained how grateful she was that her mom kept that time sacred.

I realized that I wasn’t just having family dinner because I had to. I realized that the spirit of our family dinner needed an attitude adjustment, and that was up to me. I was providing meals for my family because I was growing a close, loving and connected family. I wasn’t just doing it because I ‘had’ to.

I began to simplify. I thought about my meal after breakfast, in case anything needed to thaw or be prepared. I created a file folder and box of supplies so that my four-year-old had worksheet type activities to do after she finished setting the table. I feed the hungry giant an appetizer while I prepare the meal; he certainly isn’t going to spoil his dinner. Finally, my husband cleans up afterwards, while I spend time with my children.

More importantly, I began repeating a mantra while preparing dinner, or when things started to turn sour: “I have a testimony of family dinner.” That is often all I need to remind myself of the bigger picture of what I’m doing. I am growing a family.

QUESTION: What can you do to help grow your family?

CHALLENGE: Figure out something you can do to make meal time less stressful/more enjoyable in your home.  Whether it’s simplifying the meals, letting everyone in the family take turns cooking, making the food in advance, or getting take-out more often, decide what (if any) improvements need to be made and then make them!


  1. Tifani says

    This was just what I needed to hear!!! Thank you so much for helping me’ see that having a testimony for family dinner is one of the most important things I can do for my family!!

  2. Carissa Leventis-Cox says

    We do a lot of green smoothies as we are a highly raw family… I find that making the smoothies first, then the salad, then the mains works for us. If my family is hungry before I finish the mains, they bulk up on the greens… Much healthier that way… And raw smoothie and raw salad is EASY and quick. 5 minutes of prep and done! I alternate between salads and veggies with dips.

  3. says

    This post made me smile multiple times as I could totally relate. I too have a daughter, 4, and son who is 19 months and still communicates quite like your 14 month old. When 4 o’clock we are experiencing the same late afternoon meltdown. Providing healthy meals for my family, esp. dinner is my passion. A few things that have helped me are weekly menu planning and taking advantage of naptime to do some meal prep. Not every day is perfect, but we make it work. One other thing that has helped me with the to do list problem is not to have a to do list :) Ta-da! It’s all checked off :)

  4. says

    I can so relate to this post! Except instead of “the golden hour” I call it the “bewitching hour!” Everyone seems to become possessed! Here are some things that have helped me.

    1) Like you said, keep it simple. I have long since given up my Bon Appetite magazines and rarely touch my Rosso and Lukens cookbooks! The simpler diner is, the less onery and stressed I am.

    2) I keep a cuboard full of things to do for my little ones while they are waiting.

    3) If I can recruit them to help I do. My son was recently told by a scoutmaster that he had Ninja pancake flipping skills, so know whenever I make pancakes for dinner he wants to help.

    4) we don’t follow anyone elses prescription for a successful family dinner. If siting at the bar is going to work then them that is what we do.

    5) We have breakfast for dinner alot!

    6)And the number one thing that has helped our family the most is for my husband to go to work earlier and then come home earlier. Now i know that is not always possible for everyone, but if it is, it is wonderful to have an extra pair of adult hands. My husband is not always able to make it work, but when he does, it is heaven!

  5. says

    I love cooking, however, sometimes I am not patient with my kids if they want to help with dinner time. I found that when I just let it go and let them help, dinner time was more meaningful and actually fun.I went to a local kitchen store and found a child’s knife that they could use. (My kids LOVE cutting things) So when they want to help I find something pretty easy that they can chop with me instead of cutting things that could hurt them or each other. I have to remind myself that the way a 5 year old cuts is not perfect, but by letting them try, hopefully I am teaching them skills in the kitchen.
    After school one day, I asked her what she loved the most. Her answer was dinner time! That was the best compliment EVER!!!!
    Thanks for this post! It is way to familiar!

  6. danielletaylor.porter says

    Thank you…this is great for me to remember. One thing I am working on is doing early prep in the day. IF parts of dinner can be prepped earlier then I try to do it. Also I am learning from my girls..when we have more conversations on what they pick, it is funner and more enjoyable for everyone. :)

  7. says

    We uusally don’t have lots of time for a sit down dinner during the week- but we found a way to make up for that.. sat and Sunday breakfast =) we call take a part in the cooking and ( although I thought it would be more drama) its actually pretty fun and everyone gets involved

  8. Tara says

    Like another poster, I’ve always thought of that time as “the witching hour” because everyone seems to melt down no matter how wonderful the day is! I find when I stop trying to do multiple things at once and focus on preparing dinner for my family, things go much better. I loved this article’s focus on “family dinner time” which is at the heart of what is most important to me. Being less critical of myself, and remembering the point of gathering our family together–and that I have accomplished this–is a key to peace & happiness. Thanks for the reminder!

  9. Suzanne says

    Thanks, Tara. This is one of my most favorite POM pieces ever, for it rings so true for us as well. I wish I could say that as the kids have gotten older (now 6, 7 and 8) this time of day has become easier, but I’d be lying. The truth is the moods, chaos and related energy have just changed. But, as you said, it’s really in my control. I realized just now that when I’m more focused on the family, everything just flows better. So thanks to you, I am going to continue holding our dinner hour as sacred and stop thinking of the time before as our ‘witching hour’ and just consider it to be GOLDEN.

  10. says

    Great post! I have a few tricks up my sleeve – mostly involving being prepared (I offer a whole course on this in my health coaching business) and setting out a “snack” of cut veggies or fruit to keep the kids busy while I’m finishing up dinner. If they fill up on that, frankly I’m not too concerned!

  11. Kathy Hill says

    I can see now that I am not the only one who struggles with this time. Dinnertime is when my energy is at an all time low. It helps me to remember how grateful I need to be, that have the food to feed my family. Imagine the heartache of a mother who has the little children crying out in hunger, and she has not the food or means to provide for them. There are so many people who don’t understand the power of this time. As mothers we must be Guardians of this time because we live in a world that is increasingly trying to fit in more and more. It is ok to have it at a different time some days, but to have it reserved. For me it is healing to eat a satisfying simple meal, rest and talk. Thank you for your insights!! I am really inspired!

  12. beth says

    Crockpots are amazing! When I manage myself and make dinner after breakfast, when energy levels are high and the kids are playing happily, then it’s done and “the golden hour” can be spent letting the kids help me with the last minute prep, reading or going for a walk. Thanks for the reminder, my crockpot is a little dusty, time to get it out!

  13. Daisy says

    I call it happy hour here but for the most part, my kids now rotate between watching a show while mom cooks for an hour or playing with the food toys which are up in the kitchen with me. I agree – attitude is everything! I also have mini-goals, instead of thinking ugh I just have to do this again tomorrow, I try to think of – oh yay, I finished! And there is always a day or two with leftovers or crock pot and that’s when we got out and play on bikes and scooters during happy hour.

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