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How to Stay Motivated in the Kitchen: And Still Get Dinner on the Table

Sometimes getting dinner on the table is the hardest part of the day – especially when you cannot stay motivated in the kitchen. There is no inspiration to begin. I know what it is like. You have kids hanging off you, you and your partner are trying to decide whether to fold up the mountain of laundry, tidy up the mess of toys or just open a bottle of wine and admit defeat.

And then The Question: “What’s for dinner?”

It can toll like a bell of dread in most households. It is difficult to make a decision when you are in the midst of chaos. So you opt for something less than great, which no one really enjoys let alone eats, and then you just have a mountain of dishes to do.

This is the chaos I want to help you change. I want the early evening to be a time of family – when you can enjoy each other’s company. And if there is a screaming toddler, it’s ok – because dinner is already organised and sitting in the slowcooker, ready to be served up for everyone.

HowtoStayMotivatedintheKitchen

If there is one thing I’ve learnt from being a Mama, it is this: that if you have to force it, it’s not the right thing for that moment. You can’t force a child to go to sleep. You can’t force a child to eat. You basically can’t force them to do anything.

But you can have a system or a routine, that gently shows them the sequence of things: that we eat dinner, we play and then we bath. After the bath we put on some warm jammies and read some books. And then pretty soon after that, it’s bedtime.

If we skip any of these steps, or try to rush them – we get pushback. We start to force the issue. And it won’t work. We all get frustrated, and someone is going to end up in tears.

So – I’ve started to use the same process in how I approach dinner. I set myself a system / routine that is simple, easy and is basically a set and forget. We all know what is going to happen and when, and if disaster strikes, we know what happens next, so either of us can jump in and do the next step.

My routine is made up several ‘fundamentals’ – and these don’t all happen on the night. They are things I do prior to the dinner hour – and they get me in a really good place early on in the week, so that when Thursday night rolls around and that takeaway pizza is looking so appealing, I can just fall back on these ‘fundamentals’ and we’re all good.

#1 – Meal Plan

I dedicate some time at the start of the week to meal plan. This is such a HUGE topic, and there are so many ways you can do this – but start simply. Just write down a list of the dinners that you’ll likely make this week. 

Meal Planning means I don’t have to decide each night what to cook. I can make all the decisions on a Sunday afternoon, while Ollie is playing with his Dad on the floor and I can have a cup of tea.

We discuss anything that is coming up during the week – late work nights, football games, etc – and plan easy meals (baked beans on toast! Or a meal from the freezer) for those nights.

For the weekends, I generally batch cook – so it’s big hearty meals that I can double up and freeze for leftovers.

Do we always eat what we plan? No. 80% of time though – yes we do. And if we don’t, it’ll likely be that we’ve swapped a day around, or changed our mind about what to eat from the freezer. We rarely just throw in the towel and buy take-away.

Whatever way you choose to do this – just take the time to write it down and then stick it on your fridge. Everyone sees it – and knows what is for dinner well in advance.

#2 – Make the Process Easy

No one wants to be rummaging around looking for stuff to help make dinner. So get yourself organised. Keep utensils close to the stove. Keep placemats and napkins on the table so that you can easily set the table. Set the table early in the afternoon (or even before you leave for work!), so it’s ready before the rush. Start dinner earlier in the day, and then reheat it later.

Use the same plates, cutlery and glasses each night. Use the same placemats and napkins. Less decisions means the process is easier.

While waiting for your toast to cook, or the kettle to boil in the morning – get out any serving dishes you need for dinner and pop them on the counter. Get the meal from the freezer to defrost. Grab the packet of pasta from the pantry. Break the process down into tiny steps that you can complete during the day.

When I was at home with my little one, I would often do dinner prep during his morning nap. The amount of times this saved me – I cannot recall. I remember being in tears when Brendon eventually came home at the end of the day some days – because I was tired and Ollie had worn me out. But it was such a relief to simply turn on the oven and pop a dish that I had already prepared in to cook. It just made everything better.

And you know if the process of getting dinner made is easy – you are more likely to actually do it.

#3 – Take the Path of Least Resistance

Sometimes, you just need to take the easy way out.

So your meal plan says that tonight you are going to eat spaghetti bolognaise. But your toddler is teething or your teenager has a last minute exam tomorrow, or your partner is stuck in traffic and will be late.

Change it. Take the path of least resistance.

Now this path will be different for everyone. Our path means we eat baked beans on toast, or bacon and pea pasta. Something so easy that we don’t need to think, and it takes less than 15mins to make.

Your path might be to let everyone get their own dinner. It might be to let the kids have cereal for dinner. It might mean that you whip up a big batch of french toast and everyone has breakfast for dinner.

Whatever it is – when you need to, do it.

Just don’t make this an everyday occurrence – if it is, then you need to take some time to really assess where the issue is. And go back to basics.

#4 – Play Music. Sing. Dance. And Be Silly.

I doubt that anyone can stay in a bad mood if you throw on some trashy music and dance like a crazy person. You will giggle. You will belly laugh. I guarantee it.

No one sees you in your own home. No one can see how bad you are at dancing. And if your windows are closed, no one can hear you belt out a good tune!

There is something about cooking with music on. I don’t know what it is exactly, but it just makes the process better. And I know that my food tastes better when I am happy cooking it. That is the truth.

And I am happy when I watch my little one bounce to a good song – or watch my partner twirl him around the room. Or even better, have my partner twirl me around the room.

Just take a moment to be a little silly. It helps shake out the dust of the day – and gets you back to you.

#5 – Clean Your Sink

I know what you’re thinking – this is the last thing you want to do. But it really does make a good starting point. I know that if I have a clean sink – all the dishes away, and the sink is nice and sparkly – then good things will happen.

This is a lesson from my Mum – she always started the day and ended the night, with a clean sink. And if she was ever stressed about something or didn’t quite know what to do, you’d be pretty sure that you’d find her in the kitchen scrubbing the sink with a tea towel over her shoulder. That’s just the way she was.

So I started to do this too. I will start dinner by first clearing the sink of dishes, and then giving it a quick wipe down and rinse. I’ll grab some fresh teatowels and cloths – and make it look welcoming.

Dinner always comes easier after that.

Adopt just one of these ideas and see how it changes your “Dinner Hour”. Tell us in the comments below any other suggestions you might have on staying motivated and getting dinner on the table.

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