Ideas in which I am a short order cook for my three kids
It's like a second-shift unpaid job that I love because I love my kids. They are hungry all of the time. It starts after school around 3:30/4 PM and doesn't end until about 7 PM.
1. Grocery shop for 3-5 days and meal plan for three dinner meals and two go-to snacks
Let's say that's pesto pasta with chicken and mushrooms, pot roast with carrots and potatoes, and steak with rice and broccoli. The snacks are apples with peanut butter, honey, and cheese quesadilla with bacon. That's my base. Sure, I buy other things, but my focus is only Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 7 PM.
2. Have the snack ready after school
My darlings are ages 13, 11, and 8. I wrangle them all together at the kitchen table. They're hungry after school.
3. Simply hold space in the kitchen
Once the snack is over, maybe the oldest needs to start studying for math. The 11-year-old wants to go outside and jump on the trampoline. The youngest wants to empty her backpack at the kitchen table and go over her work. This is good one-on-one time.
4. The oldest arrives to the kitchen, "Dad I'm still hungry"
'Of course you are, Sweetheart. You just solved for X and your brain needs food.' Easy! I pour her a glass of water. She sits at the kitchen table with the water while I am making a cheese quesadilla with bacon on the skillet. She loves it. She tells me about her day and we solve the one-word problem she saves for last. She actually thanks me and starts texting her friends. 'I'll call you down for dinner,' I say.
5. The 11 year old boy arrives from the trampoline and smells the quesadilla with bacon
"Oooh, I want one, too, Dad."
'Of course, I reply.' Then I hand him a cheese quesadilla with bacon. He tells me about recess and the girls that were chasing him. He departs the kitchen to read book two of the Harry Potter series. The kitchen is now empty for the first time and I've caught up with all the kids. Fed them all twice.
6. Supply with extras such as Kodiak pancake mix and PB & J
"Where's my quesadilla?" the youngest one asks. I'm literally chewing the last quesadilla. She's too late. Thankfully the youngest is going through a peanut butter and jelly phase, and she's agreeable to this suggestion. I make her a pb&j.
7. Prep dinner
The rice is cooking. The broccoli is saute'ing. The state is broiling. Pre-clean the kitchen. Begin making lunches for the following day. Holler at the nearest child to make the dinner table. Holler at the other two to empty their backpacks of their lunchbox - clean and take care. The activity comes into the kitchen and moves through the kitchen. I'm still holding space in the kitchen.
8. Serve dinner
Everyone is together again at the kitchen table. Everyone likes dinner because there are just three meals that everyone likes. This changes about 4-6 times per year, and the transition can be frustrating, but we're now in early October, and the last shift was when school restarted. There are always leftovers.
9. Serve the dinner early and offer left overs as "dinner plus"
The next day after school, serve the same snack. The apples aren't as exciting on day two, and I don't even bother with the quesadillas. That's more of an every-other-day thing, and when I do serve them again, it requires something "different" than from day one. Just add salsa and guac with chips. Anyway, because it's pot roast day, and that has been cooking since lunch break, it's ready by 5, which is a bit early. So by 6:45/7:15, someone is hungry again. Reheat the steak and rice. Add melted butter. Do math homework with the oldest at the kitchen table.
10. Serve leftovers as snack
Now we're into day three and there is no chance in hell the kids will delight in cut-up apples again. Not to worry. Reheat that crock pot roast for a snack. Add butter noodles and gravy. That's so nutrient-rich that they will truly be fulfilled. This gives me time to clean the kitchen properly. Then make lunches. When it's time to make pesto pasta with chicken and mushrooms. Call in one of the children to help. The helper child is usually the child with the most pressing current need. So utilize their help and let them talk about their problem as you do.