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Does your routine help get dinner on the table, or bore you to tears?

Posted by on Oct 23, 2012 in Blog Posts | 14 comments

We parent with routine and structure. Serious structure. Maybe it’s the German in me, or maybe it’s because we have had a relatively easy time of things when we are all rested and have even blood sugar levels…It’s worked well for our home from eating to sleeping.

Well last night we had to go to M’s school ‘family science night’ and the pork chops weren’t cooked through, and the mashed potatoes were too milky (I dumped too much in in my haste…) Having to eat dinner an hour earlier threw me off completely. I let M play at the park too long, I pulled out the photos from two years ago that need to go in an album, I lost track of time… (BTW, why do I pick now, when we move in three weeks, to pull out the albums and two years of old photos???)

We are creatures of routine. Unlike my French family, who made every effort to keep living the life they had, with the children fitting in, we fit our life around the schedule that worked best for our child. (This is not judging parents who don’t live by routine, just saying what worked for us. I watched my French relatives with awe and a little jealousy, as they biked to Parisian dinner parties that lasted until early in the morning with the kids along and they all did just fine. I think we had less of an exciting social life to sacrifice if I’m being honest…)

We have had a harmonious, if totally predictable routine. When did it start? I trace it back to when M was 7 1/2 weeks, we warmed up the bathroom with a space heater and gave her a warm bath (no soap, just a natural oil in the water). This was followed by 5-10 minutes of  massage, fresh diaper, last bottle, warm jammies, song, then I put her down awake and she slept six hours straight. I’ll tell you we did that same bedtime routine for months, and it sort of cemented our love of routine. Sleep will do that to you.

Meals and dinner are much the same. We eat every 3-4 hours.  I start cooking between 5:45 and 6 pm. I peel, wash, or start the potatoes—they ALWAYS take longer than you think. I lay the table while things are simmering, perhaps the rice cooker has been going while we were at the park. Sometimes M helps me lay the table, sometimes I let her play Legos or barbies. Then we sit down to eat between 6:30 and 6:45. Every. Night. And I like it that way, and it works for us, and I’m grateful that I have the time and the predictable routine at this point in time to make it happen. I know some day we will wrestle with evening activities that M desperately wants to do, but for now, I protect those evenings with a passion. I love dinner. I love the food I cook (mostly) and I love chatting with my family. I resent evening activities for cutting into that time. I turn down speaking engagements so I can walk the talk with family meals, because yes, it is that important to me.

We ate the squash standing up and ran out the door with the half-cooked meal on the stove. Sigh. We all did fine, and science night was a blast. We nuked the pork chops and potatoes when we got home, and it was edible, and we went to bed later, and we survived. I will be more careful planning my time when I’m out of my familiar routine, I will not chose those evenings to reminisce over photos of family vacations from years ago…

Are you a creature of routine? Does your routine help get dinner on the table, or bore you to tears?  Maybe somewhere in between? What does your afternoon look like?

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14 Comments

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  1. Samantha C

    I’m settling somewhat into routine now that I’m working a 9-5 job, figuring out what to eat when, and how to have it ready when I want it.

    It’s funny though, because I remember growing up in a house full of activities and running around, and to some extent I enjoyed the nights that we were all eating on our own. When it was Family Meal time, it was often earlier than I was really hungry, but dinner was Now and it never quite occurred to me to ask to save it for later. When I was eating by myself, no one was asking me if I really wanted that or noticing how much I ate, so I didn’t have to feel self-conscious about still being hungry and getting seconds. I also enjoy multitasking during meal time, reading or writing or being on the computer or watching TV, rather than grind my whole evening to a halt. I eat more slowly if I’m multitasking than if I have an activity I’m anxious to get back to.

    It makes me glad I don’t want kids – I really don’t feel like trying to make myself care about Family Meal Time, which is great and healthy and all but not something that was ever cemented as important to me when I was a kid.

    • katja

      Samantha, so many insights here… Too bad you weren’t allowed to just eat and not have comments made at family meals. It seems being watched and controlled spoiled it for you. Maybe if it was too early, had you just had the opportunity for a snack before bed, it would have been OK. I actually multi-task most lunches too. (e-gads, I am not “mindfully” eating every bite, and I’m still OK!) I’m so glad you are finding out what works best for you. I definitely eat differently having to prepare food for children, and that’s both good and bad. Thanks for the comment! So often, the comments from adult readers about their own eating and how they were fed as children brings wonderful new insights into the whole thing!

      • Samantha C

        It’s funny that you mention bedtime snacks – we did have those, but in my house, it was the only acceptable time to have a dessert. I never would have thought to have cheese and crackers or cereal or leftover dinner if taking that option meant I gave up my only opportunity all day for a cookie or ice cream. And honestly, given my mother’s track record and the post that started my blog (http://horriblefoodogre.blogspot.com/2010/12/last-straw-or-blog-namer.html) I wonder if I”d have even been allowed to eat a significant snack.

        I am glad my comments are helpful and not just derailing :) I’ve just found a lot of luck with UN-structuring my eating, giving permission to relax, to eat at any time and any amount, so I like chiming in.

        • katja

          Samantha, so sorry it sounded like you didn’t have the greatest introduction to the wonderful world of food and meals. Sounds like a bedtime snack would not have helped in your case. It’s why I do what I do, to help families, and children grow up feeling good about food. Intuitive eating (which is unstructured, with permission) works well for many, many people, and it doesn’t work well for many others. Glad you found what worked for you. I’ve often heard from those in recovery, particularly from mothers in recovery that IE was difficult because they felt like ALL they did was think about food, what they wanted, how much, when…. To them it didn’t free them from the anxiety and thinking, even though it is intended to. For these mothers and women I have talked to, the structure helped, and they were able to not think about food in between meals and snacks. One friend shared (paraphrased), “IE was great in theory for me for awhile, but as a mother, when I’m trying to feed my children and get homework done etc, it didn’t matter that what I really wanted was sushi. It just didn’t work for us as a family.”
          I’m glad you posted, and hope that we all find the ways of making peace with food that work best for ourselves and our families.I think the word Permission is critical, as well as following the appetite, whether it’s in a regular structure setting or not I think depends on what works best for each individual. Kids complicate things though as they are so wholly dependent on the adults to care for them, so I do recommend regular meals and snacks when feeding children (with permission and allowing children to decide how much to eat). It also seems that structure for children helps with self-regulation.

  2. Dawn

    We definitely have an evening routine and we all (two adults, one kid 7, one 2.5) eat dinner together probably 9 nights out of ten. We are just starting to deal with a significant number of evening activities, Brownies, swimming lessons and piano lessons. I shudder to think how we’ll manage when they’re both old enough for activities. Like you, I feel torn because I want my girls to do all the activities that I enjoyed when I was little but I also want to make sure that dinner is cooked at home and eaten together. So far for us the most important thing seems to be meal planning. Like a previous poster, I meal plan and shop on Sundays. I have an extra row in my meal planning spreadsheet to note any activities, evening commitments or reasons one parent might be late. I have a reasonable repertoire of things we all like that can be ready in 30 min or less. I also use the slow cooker at least once a week and I tend to make something complicated on Sundays in a double batch and freeze one dinner’s worth. All these things combined means we all sitting down to eat together most nights between 5:45 and 6:00, so the nights we need to be out again by 6:30 aren’t a problem.

  3. cecile

    Recently, I’ve been trying to plan meals for the week and then stick to it. Before, it was more like, it’s after school, I’m standing in front of the fridge deciding what to do… and as much as I love doing that, it was not working anymore between homework and just everything ! I bought a slow cooker and I’m using it more and more. It just does not feel the same to cook in the morning and then relax, knowing that everything will be ready for dinner. We usually eat around 6:30, some nights with Stefan, but usually not (he is on call 3 nights a week…). It’s not natural for me to follow a routine, but things go more smoothly if we do, so I keep trying !

  4. Heather

    We are also Sunday meal planners. Part of our weekly planning includes an inventory of which evenings we have activities, making sure we plan dinners we can put together quickly on those evenings, and plan whether we will eat before or after the activity. So we have a routine but flexibility is built into it. I’m an 8 to 5-er and my husband is a musician who often has evening rehearsals and performances, so working around his schedule is old hat to us by now, and we are able to eat family meals almost every night.

  5. Nikki

    I’m definitely for routine, and it’s so hard to come by with my son’s extracurricular activities. He just finished football this weekend so we have a little break. Last night we had a very simple supper but we were all home to sit down together and not have to rush and it was the best meal we’ve had in a while. Tonight I made a lasagna and I swear I’m in heaven.

    • katja

      nice! Lasagna does sound like heaven. I’m worried that I love family meals so much I won’t let M do anything! Then I have to remember that I did plays and soccer and debate and choir… and always remember family meals. Just will have to learn to be more flexible!

  6. Bobbini

    We are routine-ish at our house as well, but we eat dinner like a bunch of senior citizens–if dinner isn’t over by 5:45, I feel like we’re all running late! With two children and two parents involved in scouts, two nights a week half the family is gone from 5:45 to 7:15. When you add karate class one day a week from 3:45 to 4:45, that early weeknight dinner time hits the sweet spot. I can do it because I leave the office at 3 and my husband is home from work by 4:45 at the latest. If either of us had more than a 5 minute commute, we’d have to upend the whole thing.

    • katja

      That’s how I grew up and would love to go back to, the 5:30 dinner time, but my hub gets home later, so we chose to eat with him. When M was a toddler, we ate dinner when she got up from her nap, around 5 pm, then her “snack” was sitting with him while he ate dinner around 7 pm. Staying flexible helps, I just have to remind myself of that! Yes, we live as close as we can to hub’s work, and I am lucky for now to work from home. Best commute ever :)

  7. Nicole

    Sounds VERY familiar. We can’t be as consistent as you in terms of time because of different activities, but the rest is just about how we roll as well. Sometimes we make things easier for the evening by having my husband, who works from home, put some meat in a marinade or put soup on a crock pot at his lunchtime. The “chef” for the night depends on what activities we have and who’s driving or taking part. We plan our meals for the week on Sunday and make sure we have all the ingredients we need so that we only have to decide which of the six meals we’ll have that night, not what meal out of the infinite possibilities out there. :)

    We, too, started our parenting routine-ness with nighttime schedules for our son. Now both our kids know what to expect and when and we have had very few problems getting them to go to bed, whereas I know families who still have trouble establishing those boundaries with school-aged kids.

    I’m a routine fan.