Get Dinner on the Table: 5 Things To Do Before You Start Dinner

How to get dinner on the table can be one of the most stressful times of your day. This is especially true when you have a toddler pulling at your legs, or teenagers arguing as they try to avoid their homework, or a partner coming home late from work, or – well, any of the other myriad of things that can go wrong during the dreaded dinner hour. Today – I’m sharing 5 Things to Do Before You Start Dinner. These will put you in the best possible position to get started and help you get dinner on the table. Once done, you can start preparing dinner with a clear mind, clear space and without distraction. Come on – let me show you.

The Empowered Cook shares 5 things to do BEFORE you start dinner that will help you get dinner on the table for your family.

#1 – Make Space

I don’t know about you, by in my home, my kitchen is the centre of our home. We congregate there – we dump our lunchboxes on the bench, the mail goes on the counter, we have glasses and plates on the sink – you get the drift.

Before I even start to contemplate dinner – I need to clear this away. I need space to prepare a meal. And I can’t do that amongst lunchboxes and dirty dishes.

Ideally, you’ll have adopted a clear sink in the morning (we do this – and it makes the world of difference). This means that whomever is last to leave (normally me) – makes sure that everything is loaded into the dishwasher. We run our dishwasher after dinner – so that in the morning it is clean. We simply unload it while making breakfast, and then reload it after breakfast. This keeps the bench and sink clear.

If you don’t have a dishwasher, then try and do the breakfast dishes before you leave the house. Even if they are left on the sink to dry naturally – this will help at the end of the day.

Generally – the more you do in the morning, the easier your night routine will be.

Spend a few minutes putting away anything that is lying on your bench. This could be the mail you’ve just collected from the letterbox or your hat and scarf. Or toy cars. Whatever it is in your house. Put it away.

When we get home – the priority is to unpack lunchbags and wash lunchboxes. I pack lunches after dinner – so we need the lunchboxes clean and ready to go. So whomever is home first (normally my partner), will wash and dry our little one’s lunchbox. If you have older kids, this could be part of their after school routine. It was when we were little – we would come home, unpack our bags, clean our lunchboxes, have a snack and then get changed. Once homework was done, we were then free to do whatever we wanted until dinner time. This also gave Mum the room to actually make dinner. Bringing me to the next item on the list…

#2 Distract the Kids

Not having kids at your feet will not only make preparing dinner easier – it is also safer. I can still hear Mum’s voice in mine when I say: “Out of the kitchen, the oven is on”. Having kids run around in the kitchen is just not a good idea – especially when you’re trying to multi-task amongst the oven and stove and cooking a family meal.

So we need those kids outta there. If they are older, this can be the easier – simply get them doing homework – or if they are finished, give them free time. We used to have to do homework at the dining table – a social activity, but also so that Mum can answer questions or just supervise I guess.

If they are younger – try to have special activities that they only get to do during dinner hour. This could be some sort of Art and Craft activity that keeps them focused and therefore engaged and quiet for a period of time. Let’s be honest, 10 minutes of engagement is a lot for a toddler – so set them up with something, and then use this time. I’ve never known how much I can get done in 10 minutes until I had a toddler. I can whip up dinner, do some laundry, pack a lunch, and clean the kitchen – all in the 10 minutes of free time I get at the end of the day. Work fast, work hard.

#3 – Have a Plan

The value of those 10 minutes should not be eaten away with you wondering what you are going to cook, or what you’re going to do. You need a plan. You need to know what you are going to cook – BEFORE you even start dinner hour.

In our house, this is a weekly meal plan. But sometimes it is even just a conversation that morning as to what we’ll eat for dinner. And on some occasions, this is even a text message conversation between my partner and I, on my way home from work. Yes, even The Empowered Cook has those days.

But we rarely commence the dinner hour without already having decided on what we’ll be eating. That is just a disaster waiting to happen.

My Mum’s motto – and therefore now mine – was ‘If there’s going to be panic, let it be organised”. This is certainly true for the dinner hour. You need a plan, and you’ll be able to tackle whatever comes your way.

The added benefit of a plan is that you and your partner can also tag team. If we both know the plan – we can sub in and sub out as needed. My toddler will sometimes just want me – which means I need to stop and get out of the kitchen. At this point, my partner will sub in – and take over dinner duty. This works best if he knows what we’re having, and where I’m at with cooking it. If I’m making something that he has no idea about – you can bet your bottom dollar that that will be the night that my toddler will simply demand Mama time, and therefore dinner will be failure.

#4 Set the Table

Having a set table is important to me. I find that we eat better, and have a more enjoyable dinner if we sit at the table as a family. And it is a lesson that I want my little one to learn – that we eat dinner as a family at a table with placemats and napkins. It is something that we did as kids – and I am thankful for that. All the best conversations were over dinner – including when we were teenagers, and didn’t really want to talk to anyone – let alone our family. But dinner let us do that.

You can choose to set the table for dinner way earlier in the day too. Just set it whenever you have a spare 5 or 10 minutes. That way, it’s done – and you can concentrate on cooking dinner.

Or even better – allocate this to one of the kids. Being able to set the table is a critical development activity: knowing where to put knives and forks is a big step for a little one. The sooner they start doing this chore, the faster they’ll learn.

#5 – Put a Pinny On

Wearing an apron is synonymous with being in the kitchen. It is certainly critical for me when making dinner. It is the thing that triggers that cooking is about to begin, that dinner is going to be made. Even my toddler knows that when I wear my apron, something “yummy” is coming. He will even wear his apron if he wants to help me in the kitchen.

An apron is also just a really helpful kitchen tool. It protects your clothes, you can use it to wipe your hands, clean spills, etc. My sister even made me an apron with a tea-towel attached to the front – so useful! I have been grateful many a time when making a good bolognese sauce, and having it splatter my apron instead of my white shirt. Trust me – you need an apron.

 

And that’s it. These 5 things to do before you start dinner will help you actually get dinner on the table for your family. Give them a go.

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