The Dinner Cooking Blues

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Dinner meltdown: Is cooking dinner 5 times a week possible?

June 2005

I don't know whether I'm failing or trying to live up to unreasonable expectations. I have a 4.5 year old and a 6 month old, and I can't seem to make dinner for my family more than 2 or 3 nights a week. Although I stay at home and my older son is in preschool 3 days a week, shopping and cooking are very difficult for me. My husband expects/wants home cooked meals nightly and rarely helps. Even on weekends when our daily ''jobs'' have been the same, I am expected to provide dinner. When I do get him to cook, I somehow end up feeling like a failure when I should just feel relieved. In my previous life I enjoyed cooking and was fairly competent. Adding to the stress is that my husband is quite particular about his meals, and my four-year-old has become very picky plus we are vegetarians (so much chopping! ) I feel like my job has become family chef, and I can't do my job. I clean the kitchen four times a day. I'm getting depressed looking at this as what the rest of my life will be and starting to resent it. I'd like to add that my husband is not a total louse, but a wonderful, generous, kind man who works hard and is tired at the end of the day. Is cooking dinner 5 nights a week possible with an infant and a preschooler? If I should be able to do this, how? -Burned Out

I definitely relate. My husband is something of a foodie (as much as one can be without eating out), so I have had to keep higher standards in the kitchen than I would if it was just me - at least, I do my best to accomodate.

Planning meals a week at a time has helped me tremendously and cuts shopping down to one trip a week. I have also been trying to double recipes when practical and freeze part for no-fuss healthy meals a couple weeks later. Get your older child involved in preparing dinner. Maybe when the infant is napping, you and your preschooler can prep some of the ingredients for dinner - you chop a carrot and your child puts the pieces into a bowl.

I also took a page from Rachel Ray's show, 30-Minute Meals, and use store-bought prepared foods strategically to cut down on some of the work without compromising the nutrition. And I try to approximate amounts of ingredients instead of measuring them exactly when precision is not required (and it ususally isn't with dinner).

We tried an arrangement where I wrangle the kids and my husband cooks what I have planned, but he just gets home too late to make this work.

I've become aggressive about finding and recording new recipes that are easy to put together. has some fabulous recipes that are easy (and some that aren't - you have to be picky). I also like I've never become a crockpot person, mostly because it seems many crockpot recipes use processed foods for seasoning but would be a great place to start searching for healthier recipes. When we like a new, easy recipe, I print it onto an index card and put it in my recipe box for easy access later.

Finally, you probably need to negotiate some slack with your husband for the next 6 months. With both of my kids, the first year is just so hard to get routines established as things are always changing and they are so high-maintenance. As your infant settles down, you will be able to do more. Working at it, too

You know, you really do have a lot to contend with, and it's not unreasonable of you to need your husband to help with dinner. I'd suggest you talk with him: you've got two kids, one a baby, and dinner time is the witching hour when exhaustion and hunger are worst for everyone. It's just not fair to expect one person and one person only to rally each and every day. Try working out a schedule in which he cooks or prepares the dinner at leat twice a week, and you work together on weekends.

To make things easier for you all week long, you could cook big meals on weekends and freeze left overs so that one or two nights a week all you have to do is reheat the meal. You might also try shopping at places like Trader Joes where they have lots of almost ready meal ingredients that take little prep time and yet are healthy and delicious. Those kinds of things, AND regular help from your husband will go a log way towards making meal time more enjoyable for all of you. Besides, how cool is it to have a dad who cooks? Carolyn

Dear Dinner Meltown,

You need Dr. Phil. Your husband needs to GET REAL!!!! You should have known about him before your children and had guidelines set up when you were thinking about having children. I don't care what he does all day, it's his home, his family and his kids. Does he take care of them so you can cook?

I know how hard this will send, but leave the louse and you will have more time for everything. I was so much better off after my ex and I split and I had a newborn and 10 yr.old, had a very supportive family and friends group, found a job, found reliable care and my daughters are 20 and 30 and now I am a full time grandma at 50. I am a young 50 and would love to help you.

SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP before you lose it and do something that you might regret or worse get so sick you end up in a hospital. Then what??? Who will cook for him. You're a WONDERFUL, TERRIFIC PERSON AND DESERVE TO BE HAPPY AND HAVE TIME FOR YOU AND BY GOLLY, YOU'RE TIRED AFTER HAVING 2 CHILDREN ALL DAY!

Please e-mail and we can exchange #'s and talk. I do have a lot of great ideas and thoughts.

I am sorry for your pain. Karen

Yes, it is expecting too much for you to be Superwoman. Guess what? You don't have to be perfect, and trying to be so is just going to give you a nervous breakdown.

The trick is to keep it simple. You don't have to be a gourmet right now in your life.

Why the heck are you cleaning your kitchen 4 times per day?? A quick wipeup around kid areas after meals is fine. Even better is to eat snacks and lunch outside so the crumbs fall to the ground for the birds (less wiping for you).

Instead of making wonderful meals every night (and learning to hate your kitchen), develop a bunch of quick/easy meals, or cook every other night and have leftovers. Your husband may be picky, but he'll just have to compromise. And it's okay to order in!

Some quickies: Polenta (with parmesan or red sauce) - the long forgotten quick meal CousCous with Raisins/Coconut/Plantain Squash Burritos Quesadillas Pasta with jarred sauce Potato with onion, granny smith, milk and parm (bake, fry, roast, boil whatever) Rice made with milk, butter and nuts

You can always serve salads with these meals, or raw veggies such as carrots, snap peas, etc. Or... you can buy pre-cut veggies. Yes they cost more, but... your sanity? Hello, it's worth it. anon

Oh boy, burned out about dinner. How familiar. I love to cook but with small children its not that simple. Our situation is very similar so I do have a few suggestions with the caveat that we are not vegetarians.

1. Trader Joes has tons of ready to eat healthy frozen vegetables and vegetable dishes. Its cheaper and they have an interesting variety. And tofu chix nuggets, dog s ice cream.

2. Paper plates.

3. Explaining to my husband that its important that he set a good example for cleaning up after dinner for the kids sake. Trying to keep it light.

4. Bath for the kids is every night. One parent does the bath and the other cleans up the darn dinner mess.

5. One night a week is takeout.( more if you can while the baby is so young).Better if hubby can pick it up on the way home from work.

6.Do a family conference and talk about how everyone can help, what the ideas are. 4 year old can help too. 1x a month set up a calendar of dishes ala the old cafeteria. What each person can do.

And the old perky ' hey lets clean the dishes before we leave the house'!

Another great save is hiring someone to come in and clean at least 2x per month. Lightens the load a lot.

We are all working hard!
Perky hard worker.

I can relate. I am a stay at home mom of a school age child and a toddler. I think getting anything done with an infant/toddler is very hard. Cooking is especially difficult unless you have someone watching the kids. Personally, I have decided that having a family meal every night is important to me and my family's sanity, so I try hard to make it happen. That said, there are some days I am so exauhsted from the schleeping and car pooling I just can't pull it together. Luckily, my husband is very easy going on this issue.

So, here are my thoughts. First I would get clear as to what your own priorities/expectations for dinner are. Do you want to cook each night? Would 4 nights a week work? Can your husband help with the dishes? Can he committ to cook 1-2 nights per week (weekends)? Can you eat out once a week? eat frozen Trader Joe's Pizza (it's not bad). We also eat a lot of Amy's frozen cheese enchiladas (cheap at Costco). What about leftovers? I often cook a big pot of something and freeze some for another night when I am too tired to cook. Really sit down and figure this out. I think once you are both on the same page on this issue, or are clear that there must be a compromise until your infant gets older (goes to college?), then it may be easier to focus on getting the food on the table instead of the multi-layered issue it has become.

Second, I have found that in order to get dinner on the table, you really must do some planning. I know some folks who prepare a weekly menu, shop for those items, and know exactly what they will eat on each day. What I do is I buy tons of meat and freeze it- I don't know what I would do if I did not have a slap of chicken, beef, fish to work with!. I buy whatever veggies I know my family likes, pull out what is about to grow mold for each night, cook a pot of rice, and viola- dinner is served. We tend to go out 1-2 times a week which is not ideal because we can't really afford it. I have also heard of classes and books that teach you how to cook for a week in 1 day, or something like that. Maybe you need a new recipie book with fast and healthy veggie meals?

All in all, you are absolutely not a failure- you are a tired mom with an infant and small child. And it sounds like you have very little help. I hope talking to your husband will help. If not, you may have to decide what you are willing and able to do and just leave it at that. Either way, do what you can to forget the guilt. anon

Wow--your feelings sound familiar! I have a rough time making dinner, and I've only got one kid. We're also (mostly) vegetarian, and my husband is absurdly picky, but getting better. First, and most important, it's absolutely normal to have a hard time cooking when you have small children. Five nights a week sounds near impossible to me. So try to let the guilt go--to answer you question, it sounds like you are trying to live up to unreasonable expectations. Second, since it sounds like you do want to cook more, some things that might help. 1) is it possible to make a labor-sharing deal with your husband? Mine refuses to cook or shop, too, and if he did, we'd live on nachos. So I cook, and he cleans. There's no way I'd cook every night if I also had to do all the dishes. In fact, if I were in your spot, I'd give the dear sweet man a choice: do half the cooking, or all the cleaning. Honestly, looking after your kids is real job. You work hard, and you're tired at the end of the day, too. It's really tempting to feel like you should be able to keep All Things Household in order all the time, but again, it sounds like you're expecting more from yourself than one person can do! 2) let go of gourmet. Encorporate preprepared elements--like pasta sauce and salad dressing, or even whole frozen entrees. Don't feel guilty about buying bags of prewashed salad greens, or pre-cut stir fry veggies. Trader Joes is great for that. Pasta and sauce and a green salad is quick and easy. Tomato soup (from a box) and cheese toast & salad is another favorite at my house. 3) A brilliant idea from the bpn archives: think of a number of quick, easy meals that your family likes. Make a schedule--e.g., bean and cheese tacos on monday, pasta on tuesday, stir-fry wednesday, and so on. It really does make shopping and cooking a lot easier if you don't have to think about it, and you can still have variety by shifting what goes into your stir fry or whatever by what's in season or what looks good. If you have a regular shopping list, it might be easier for you husband to take on some of it. Mine gets overwhelmed by choices; if he knows *exactly* what to buy, it's not such a big deal. Good luck!

You might want to check out www.SavingDinner.Com. She has several tools to address just what you are talking about. One clever idea is the Menu Mailer. You can specify the vegetarian option.

''Our Menu-Mailer e-menus are made up of fun, easy-to-prepare, healthy meals that often taste like they're from a gourmet restaurant but are for real, every day families with budgets and time-challenged evenings. With new issues published each week, you'll love receiving a menu with 6 delicious dinner recipes timed to the seasons, serving suggestions, and a handy categorized shopping list. Nutritional information is included.'' Helena

You are doing great to manage dinner three nights a week with two small kids! My husband is picky too and is clueless in the kitchen, and these are some things that we have tried that have helped me to feel less isolated, burdened and underappreciated as the family cook. 1. We sit down together with recipe books before grocery shopping and settle on a few meals that are balanced and appealing to all: ingredients go on the list, and grocery shopping becomes more of a shared responsibilty because everyone has contributed to the menu. 2. He cooks dinner once a week: I agree to give help. It helps him see how much work it is. 3. He does all the dishes. 4. I don't plan anything involved unless my husband is there to take my toddler son out to play if he has a ''no cooking mommy'' meltdown. 5. Only one new thing each night: combined with leftovers from previous nights it still makes for a varied menu with a lot less cooking if you alternate cooking protein, vegetable and grain based dishes. good luck: I found cooking to be very unreliable before my son hit 18months. This isn't a permanant situation: a year of frozen food and take-out won't kill you: by then your youngest will be 18 months and much more reliable at dinner time! I'm sure that I'm not the only one to say this, but...You work all day too and are tired; there is no reason why you must be the full time family chef. family chef by default

I finally just gave up trying to achieve the ideal of serving up home cooked meals even close to five days a week (I do one or maybe two, use leftovers, eat salads, do simple stuff that hardly qualifies as ''cooking'', etc) It helps that my husband has also figured out that to keep his cholesterol down he needs to eat salad, salad, salad... but if you're determined, there are cooking services out there where you go for a couple of hours, cook, and come home with 6 or 8 meals that you throw in the freezer. I can't remember the names. I think if you do a google search you can find one, or someone else may recommend one! No longer stressing about dinner

I consider kid raising a more-than-full-time job so, even though I know my hubby is tired at the end of the day, so am I! so we share the kid care, dinner responsibilities including clening up. I cook once a week and he is expected to as well. we each cook a large amount to last a few days. we order in once a week and that seems to work well. right now I'm on maternity leave but when I return to work full time I don't expect my responsibilities to my family to lessen - the house will probably be less clean but the cooking will still get done - by both of us.

I earn more than twice what my husband earns and the belief some people have that work outside the home or the size of ones paycheck absolves one of family and household responsibilities holds no water with me.

tell your husband you need help and tell him specifically what you want him to do (cook x number of time per week or whatever) and then offer to help if he wants (he can pick out a recipe and make a shopping list and you'll do the shopping, for example) partner in ALL matters

Ah, the dinner problems. I don't have small kids anymore, but I work until 7 - 8 p.m. almost every night, so my dinner problem is similar.

Here's one simple suggestion: Safeway brand ravioli -- they have mushroom and cheese, plain cheese, asparagus, etc. They boil up in minutes and are very tasty. You can make it even easier on yourself by doing baked pasta: put frozen ravioli in a baking dish, cover with a couple jars of sauce and bake it (covered) for around 1 hour. It's a no brainer. Add a salad (buy your lettuce prewashed for ease), and dress it with some tomatoes and dressing.

As for feeling guilty: don't. Anything that's quick and nutritious is fine. Sandwiches and soup or eggs and toast are perfectly good foods to serve for dinner. Add an easy salad for some greens, and you're done. You work hard, don't feel you have to go that extra mile because others expect it of you. Talk to your husband and see if you can work out that both of you help with the cooking. Trade off days. Agree to get take out once/twice a week or as you can afford it. heather

If your husband is so particular about his meals, I think he should cook them. I think you should feel quite accomplished to be able to get a home-cooked meal on the table 2-3 times a week, considering all the other demands on your day. Personally, I refuse to clean the kitchen more than once a day, so bravo to you for cleaning it 4 times a day! You said your husband is ''a wonderful, generous, kind (person) who works hard and is tired at the end of the day.'' I bet you are all of those things too. If you are feeling depressed, I suggest you make a list of everything you do in a day, so you can see just how much you accomplish in a day and why you are too tired to cook. doesn't cook everyday either

In our household, if dinner is made for you, you have a choice of eating it without complaint or cooking something yourself. So try that. Also, try making enough for 2 meals at least 2 nites a week. Try chopping veggies ahead of time, to use the next day or two. Put things together when baby naps. Make soup once a week. Have takeout once a week. I'd lose it if hubby expected me to do everything, even if I was home all the time. janet

I had the same EXACT thing happen to me about 2 months ago! I have a 3year old daughter and 19 month old son. I found that it wasn't so much the love of cooking that was missing but the ''thinking'' of what to fix for these meals. Well, I found

There is a fee but minimal she gives you menues for the week and your shopping list (Whew ... even the brain dead can do it!) It has been a life saver ... now of course there are some things that I wouldn't dare try (picky eaters) but, it helps to have even the 2 meals that work that can be stretched out for a leftover night. She also gives one crockpot meal a week. I love this one too great for the days you are going to be out and busy all day. Give the website a look. She also has a book too.
Mommy Cooks Every Night Now

I love to cook, so I am answering your reply only to offer you advice on shortcuts. I am sure that both you and your husband are tired at the end of the day after a long day of work. Some things I have tried.

  • Make a list of 30 meals your family loves and rotate through them so that you don't have to think about what to make everyday.
  • Chop all of your vegetables like onions, celery, carrots, etcetera on one day of the week and store them in containers in the refrigerator. If you have a food processor it is more pratical to pull it out for big jobs once a week.
  • buy foods that are already shredded, chopped etc.
  • Use frozen vegetables on occasion they are easy to use, fast and some Organic veggies are available at Safeway.
  • Make a few meals that have some common ingredients and freeze them for later in the week.

    I try to plan out my meals as best as possible and shop on line. Although, it is difficult to get good produce that way. Cooking every night is very difficult. I love to cook and I still expect my husband to contribute to the cooking. My husband cleans up after a meal when I cook and vice versa. Good Luck Love to Cook

    Try and try her sample menu for free. If you subscribe, each week she sends you a menu with an organized shopping list for 6 dinners a week. There's a vegetarian option, and I've read that lots of people (even fussy eaters) like it. hates to cook too
    I can't say whether what you're trying to do is possible (I have only one child, and my family is not vegetarian, but my husband doesn't cook, and I do manage to get at least something on the table most nights). Some ideas that I use, that you could possibly try, to see if it becomes easier...
    1) let your 4-year-old watch a video when you cook. Maybe videos aren't the perfect way for a child to spend time, but they are better than a meltdown, on the part of child or mommy...
    2) give up on ''all-organic'' (if you currently go that route) in favor of less chopping: buy pre-chopped fresh veggies, like carrots, broccoli, caultiflower (available with salads in the produce section), or pre- chopped frozen veggies (various grocery stores have different combinations, including chopped sweet potatoes, onions, strips of bell peppers, and so on). Jars of crushed garlic, cans, cartons, or bottles of premade sauce... it's still very good for you, tastes good, and doesn't take forever.
    3) For me, I find that the worst time to plan and shop for dinner is just before dinnertime! For awhile, I was working on a set of 6 weekly pre- planned menus and shopping lists -- then I found the ''Saving Dinner'' book that has all that work done for you. The book isn't vegetarian, but if you go to, you can sign up for a weekly mailer that has a vegetarian version. Food tends to be good, meals quick to prepare. Maybe less imaginative than it could be, but in the grand scheme of things, well, so what? This way, you could maybe make a deal to leave the kids with your husband (perhaps during the baby's naptime) for an hour on the weekend, and go shop for the week.
    4) If you make stuff like chili, soup, lasagne, it doesn't really take much longer to make 2-3 times as much (you might have to get a bigger pot). You can then freeze it, and some night when you are really over your head, just microwave and throw on the table with salad and rolls, and you're done. I love my freezer.
    5) Resign yourself to a somewhat messy kitchen. You ought not have to clean 4 times a day. Or, can you enlist your 4-year-old's help? My son absolutely loves to put plates in the dishwasher, sort silverware, run around with a rag wiping stuff up. Or maybe just let it be a mess until after the kids go to bed? Somehow, some way, cut down on the cleaning... Best of luck. Just some thoughts...
    Believe me - I've been there! I would highly recommend the book ''Saving Dinner'' by Leanne Ely. It is filled with meal plans, easy recipes and best of all, SHOPPING LISTS!!! She also has a website - SavingDinner.Com and a very inexpensive menu-mailer service. For about 10 dollars for a three month service, you get a weekly email with 6 meals, recipes and the corresponding shopping lists. She offers regular, vegetarian and low-carb menus. I do the vegetarian option and most recipes are really good. I have a small home-based business and a preschooler as well and before I found this website we were eating a lot of mac and cheese out of the box. The other cool thing about this is that you can just hand your hubby the grocery list and have him do the shopping and/or let him start dinner since the recipes are right there. Good luck! Tara DeRosa
    Dinner Dinner Meltdown,

    I have a 3 1/2 yr old and a 10 month old and dinner has become a huge chore for me even though I love to cook. I totally understand where you are at. So I decided to find every way to simplify my life in this department. Here are a few helpful suggestions that have really helped me.
    - I double up on two dinners a week so I can freeze half of it for a future night.
    - On Sun night, I plan ahead (based on what I have in the freezer or go shopping for) for at least 5-6 dinners.
    - Once a month I go to Gourmade Dinners and pick up or prepare 6 or 12 dinners to put in the freezer. They have great vegetarian meals and it's very cost effective. Go to
    - I try to keep meals I prepare under 30 minutes prep time.
    - I do a lot of crockpot recipes because you can throw it in the morning and it's done at the end of the day.
    - One night a week I do something very simple like omlettes, mac & cheese or a frozen lasagna.
    - Keep meals simple and give your self a break. We moms need it.
    - On weekends when your husbands around and you have more time and energy you can make a more gourmet dinner. Hope this helps. Laurie

    If you are able to make dinner 3 nights a week with two children, you are doing an amazing job. Keep up the good work!!!!!! Not Making it in Oakland
    I have a 6yo, 5yo and a 5month old baby. I used to love to cook, but now...not so much. Though, since we made it against the rules for the kids to say ''yuck'' and stopped bugging the kids to try things it hasn't felt like the thankless task it used to. I hope others will have advice on how to balance responsibilities (maybe one night every week when your husband makes dinner? That way, it becomes habit, both of you know what to expect and after a while you won't feel guilty?) I am going to concentrate on my newfound secrets about making good dinners fast. I have recently redefined my opinion of what is homecooked. Trader Joes is my big secret. They have so many things to cut corners and make gourmet.

    Here are things to have on hand at all times, all available at TJs. I am sorry I sound like a commercial, but being able to make really good food fast has made me so much happier, and I owe it all to TJs:
    Creme Fraiche Garlic Croutons Garlic Olive Oil (sautee any veggie, salt and pepper, voila) Frozen Rice (white or brown) Candied Pecans (sweet and hot, if you like them) Frozen Corn Frozen Peas Frozen Meatballs (veggie if you like!) Frozen Vegetable (pick one you like--I like the haricot verts-- sautee with garlic olive oil, throw on some soy sauce and crumble the hot candied pecans on them) Jar of Pasta Sauce (I don't love any of TJs, though I haven't tried them all, my pick is Bertolli 4 cheese). Frozen Loaf of Undercooked Bread No Cook Rice: They have already cooked brown and white rice. Two kinds, in fact, frozen and in a bag. I prefer the frozen. It saves me from having to 1) think ahead to cook brown rice, 2) rinse and drain the rice and 3)scrub the pot. No Chop Salad: They also have little bags of salad called ''salad for 1 or 2''. These are much more convenient and I waste less salad because anything left in those big bags seems to spoil quickly, whereas I use the whole little bag. I throw in the lettuce, whole cherry tomatoes (try the splendidos---they are on the large side, but truly splendido), candied pecans, goat cheese, and voila, a salad without chopping. Easy Roasted Vegetables and Soup: TJs also sells vegetables already chopped in bags. Take their prechopped yams and butternut squash in a bag and peeled baby carrots, toss them with some good olive oil and salt and pepper and roast in oven at 425 for 35 minutes or so, turning once. Sprinkle with parsley if you've got the time, and serve. They are delicious. Make a large batch and if you have any leftovers puree them in a food processor and mix with TJs vegetable stock (in a box) and you have a fantastic soup for the next day. Garnish it with some of their garlic croutons and a splash of their black truffle oil or garlic olive oil and you have a masterpiece! In fact, you can garnish the Butternut Squash Soup in a box the same way (throw in a dollop of TJs Creme Fraiche to make it extra tasty). I have served this to guests with rave reviews. Emergency Crab Cakes: Do you eat seafood? TJs sells crab meat in a can. It stays good in the fridge for months, which means you can keep it on hand for when you are out of everything. Use the recipe for crab cakes on the side of the can. Except, instead of bread crumbs puree some garlic croutons for extra flavor. If you don't have some of the spices or other ingredients, don't worry, the garlic croutons add all the flavor you need! Prechopped onions for sauteeing: The prechopped onions in a bag are a nice timesaver. Sautee them in some butter. Throw in some prechopped broccoli or cauliflower. Pour on a jar of TJs Korma sauce and throw in frozen peas, corn and tofu. (or use the frozen ''soycotash'' which has edamame beans, corn and red peppers) Simmer for a bit. After everything is cooked stir in some cream, yogurt (the Greek style yogurt is manna from the gods) or sour cream or creme fraiche. Microwave the brown rice and you are done. Or you can serve TJs frozen naan (heated in the oven and brushed with melted butter just before serving---your 3yo will love this job). Quick fried rice: In a pinch you can make do with just the things on the short list, or a couple extra ingredients that are usually on hand, like eggs and onions. Sautee onions in garlic olive oil, scramble an egg in the pan, throw in frozen corn and peas and frozen brown rice and you have easy fried rice. Garnish with fresh or dried parsley. Old standby and child pleaser: Veggie meatballs with pasta sauce. Throw in a salad and a nice loaf of bread (you can freeze one of the ''undercooked'' ones so that you always have it on hand to pop in the oven) and you have dinner.
    They have a million other things I haven't even tried, or haven't mentioned. The swedish pancake mix, for example (just add water). You could make savory crepes using it. Corn bread mix is a nice side to veggie chili. The one essential cookbook I have is Chez Panisse Vegetables. While it has complicated recipes there are many simple ones, as well. For instance, the ginger asparagus has changed my life. Julienne ginger, sautee it in butter until browned, chop the asparagus on the diagonal and sautee. Salt and pepper to taste. So easy. So good.

    I sort of got into the streamlining a good dinner task. Just how fast, easy, and tasty can I make it? Hope this helps. susan

    I went through this after I had my child. These things have helped make life easier for me:

    1. Plan to make big batches of freezer friendly food: soups, stews, pasta sauces, and lasagnes freeze well. We actually bought a free standing, non-self defrosting, freezer that we keep in our basement. Food keeps longer and with less freezer burn in a non self defrosting one. When I make a big batch of something, I freeze meal size servings in freezer zip loc bags, date them, and store them flat. Sometimes it helps to put them on a cookie sheet while they freeze. The days when I know I won't be able to manage dinner, I take one out and let it defrost, buy some french bread, make a salad, and there's dinner.

    2. When you're too tired to cook, make your back up easiest ever meal: Ours is baked salmon with butter and dill, baked potatoes or steamed rice, and steamed broccoli. This takes about 3 min to prep.

    3. Plan your menu for the week: I was terrible at this before having a child, but now find that the weeks I do it the stress level drops dramatically. I always plan one night for leftovers or a freezer meal and another for take out. My husband always cooks at least one night on the weekend. Try to buy all the ingredients at once so you have everything on hand. If you find yourself with a spare 10 minutes, do some prep work and stick it in the fridge.

    4. Buy a cuisinart. Great for chopping onions and other veggies.

    5. Be easy on yourself: Don't always feel like you have to make gourmet food. Bean burritos are easy, kid friendly, and take no time. Save the gourmet cooking for the times when you are rested and feel like being creative in the kitchen. Also, don't fret if your toddler becomes picky and won't eat what you've made. It's not the end of the world if s/he eats scrambled eggs or mac n cheese for a week straight. Someday, s/he'll eat like a regular kid and appreciate more food. Until then, it's not worth fighting the battle. Good luck! anon

    You're making dinner 2-3 times per week? You're a goddess! I hardly ever manage that much (I've got little munchkins, too).

    Fortunately my hubby has low expectations, and is pathetically grateful if there happens to be food available when he comes home. He understands that with little ones it's just really hard to buy food and cook it. You have my sympathy and understanding.

    Don't feel bad about it--it's too bad your husband isn't a little more understanding, but what can you do. Hang in there.

    Don't be hard on yourself. There's lots of us out here who are struggling with all the day-to-day chores (did I mention my house is a disaster?) I'm sure there are plenty who cook every day but I don't understand those people :-) jennifer

    for some practical help: get a crock pot. You prepare the dinner part (chopping and prepping) either the night before or in the morning. It cooks 6-10 hours. either you refridgerate it during the day and heat it up, or it's bubbly and waiting at dinner time. explore vegetarian options first before buying, but I do vegetarian chilis and soups in mine.

    trader joes sells lots of short cuts, like premade organic brown rice frozen, great organic frozen pizzas, and sliced stir fry veggies.

    visit It provides you w/ a shopping list and coordinated menu for the can just browse the sample menus which change weekly or so, or subscribe and get regular emails w/ the shopping list, menu, and recipes.

    prechop on weekends. have carrots, peppers, brocoli etc. prechopped ahead of time. send hubby and kids to the zoo, turn on the tunes and fill the ziplock bags. you can also make spaghetti sauce and curry type things ahead and' mac and cheese, too.

    stop cleaning the kitchen 4 times a day. just make sure the dishes are done or in the dishwasher. do counters and other clean up once a day.

    get a neighborly 10 yr. old in to entertain the kids at the witching hour while you tune out and cook. or a neighborly 18 yr. old to cook/prep while you play w/ the kids.

    caring for children is work and it is labor and time intensive. your spouse can help with dinner. what if he grills meat a la 1950s and you bake potatoes and open a bag of salad?

    if you cook, you decide what the family eats. no complaining from the others.

    but on an emotional level I think you have to deal w/ letting go of guilt, perfection etc. and talk to your husband about how hard it is whilst refusing to personalize the problem. it's not you that's at fault it is the set up. the set up might not change, but you have to vent or you'll get really angry.
    cooking almost every day

    Hi, I'm very close to my neighbor who's got 4 kids and the two youngest are toddlers. The youngest one is only 21 months old. The whole family are vegetarians. Her husband is never home because he's always working. He's a great person but has to work to feed the family. So, please don't feel that you're alone. Our neighbor cooks everyday and her family get wholesome meals.

    She shops at Trader Joe's alot and sometimes make great already made meals for her family. They also enjoy rice and beans that's easy to make and will last if you store in freezer. I've seen her made gourmet burritos with just rice and beans,with avacodos,delicious ready made salsa and other wonderful toppings which her hurspand really enjoys.

    You can find all sorts of wonderful ready made vegetarian foods to cook and make a wholesome meal for your family. This is especially helpful when you're tired.

    I was even surprise to find out that there's tofu meatballs and sausages, etc. Our son loves the tofu meatballs with rice or in pasta. Also available at Trader Joe's.

    I think the trick is to keep the meals simple so that you don't tire yourself out and having good varieties in your diet.

    Also, my neighbor and I have just discover a wonderful book. Check it out for yourself! It's called (FEEDING THE WHOLE FAMILY( by Cynthia Lair. It's also important to have meals planned for each week, this doesn't take much time and it also gives you motivation to cook for your family. Also, ask around. Ask your friends or family if they have easy recipes that can be cooked in half an hour and if these recipes are not vegetarians, think of how that can be transformed into a an easy to make vegetarian meal. This is what I like to do. I home this helps a little, Mai

    Hi there! I totally relate! My husband NEVER cooks--not because he is a bad guy, but because he is tired at the end of the day.

    I have a 2 month old and a 2 year old and I cook dinner just about every night. The only way this is humanly possible is that I use the plan on Each week I plan the menu for the week, write it out and plan a shopping list accordingly. I used to think that menu planning was just crazy (I was a look inthe fridge at 6pm and wonder what is for dinner kind of person), but it has turned out to be a lifesaver! Not only does it save money and insure that we cook at home, but I remember to try things that I would otherwise forget.

    In the morning when I get up, I check to see what is for dinner (so yesterday it was ''Greek'' pasta-no prep needed). If I need to defrost something (usually chicken, wouldn't apply to you, but sometimes I already have a soup or sauce made) I do it then. Then at the start of naptime I do the prep for the dinner as quickly as possible-all of the chopping, or making a sauce or whatever (so yesterday-put a pot of water on the stove, chop tomatoes, slice zucchini and garlic, pit olives, julianne basil and cover under wet paper towel, crumble feta cheese, get pasta out). Finally about 1/2 hour before husband gets home I try to corral everyone into the kitchen for a snack/''helping'' to do the final steps on dinner (boil pasta, saute zucchini and garlic, toss everything together). Needless to say, I keep all meals very, very simple! We have a lot of one-pan meals and very often I'll make a dinner that lasts two nights and reheat the following night (chili, soup, pasta), so that I'm only actually cooking 4 or 5 nights a week. Finally, we usually go out once a week, usually on Friday when I really feel like I need a break. The other thing you could do is get ''ahead'' on Sunday by making a soup and a casserole (or whatever) for!

    the following week--this would le I hope this helps! I think its all in the planning--if I don't plan for some reason it all falls apart immediately! Good luck! Cooking all day, too!

    Hi there - I don't have the perfect advice - but I wanted to tell you you're not alone -- this is the one area where I also feel like I am failing.

    I have three young children (a 4 year old, a 3 year old and a 1 year old) and it is next to impossible for me to make dinner every night. I probably only make a ''fancy'' complete meal once every couple of weeks. And yes, my husband does complain.

    At least once a week we go out for something simple (burritos at Cactus for example) -- when we do this, I make sure to pick up a burrito to go for my husband. I also try to use the crockpot once a week. That way I can get it started in the morning -- and it will be ready in the evening. I used to use the crock pot like 3-4 times per week and that was perfect. Lots of easy, low-fat and nutritious meals. But with the birth of #3, it's become more difficult to even do this. It is much easier for me to cook in the beginning of the day than the end of the day. Plus if you cook in the morning, you can get the chopping, mess etc. over and done with. Plus the crockpot has tons of vegetarian meals (bean soups etc) and there are some really good cook books.

    It is just too discouraging to try to start something at like 4pm - I'm too tired and I usually feel like I *just* cleaned up the lunch mess.

    Other nights I try to just feed them nutritious meals which don't involve a lot of mess and cleaning, such as Ak-Mak with Peanut butter, fruits, steamed vegetables, plain pasta (yes, even mac and cheese), scrambled eggs, grilled tofu, etc.

    The hardest part for me is planning menus and then shopping for the food. I figure once my kids are in school, hopefully I'll be better. Good luck - I'll be curious to read your replies! mom of three little guys

    My mother-in-law had six kids the first seven years she was married. And her husband was even more picky than her oldest son (now my husband). Besides planning ahead, which is critical, the secret she taught me is do everything humanly possible the night before, after the kids are in bed. Even get out the pans you'll use. Think cooking show -- you want everything set up and ready to go. What takes one minute to do while you are alone can take 20 minutes with kids around, so make that solo time pay off. Good luck.

    Demoralized family cook

    Oct 2004

    I am a middle-aged mother of two who must try to find a meal--or meals--for my family every day against all odds. Over the last 2-3 years, my son, age 8, is becoming a vegetarian, my daughter, age 4, an extemely picky eater, and my husband has taken to walking in the door at dinnertime, looking at the food on the stove, opening the refrigerator door, and announcing that he is ''going up the street'' (where the takeout restaurants are) to get his dinner. Nobody seems to want to eat the same meal. If I simply try to make one thing--like a pasta dish or even some kind of ''tapas'' like display, I can always count on at least 2 family members to not eat it. I then have to search for something else and make it asap. This happens almost every day. It has affected the amount of food I buy (lots) and increased the grocery bill several-fold. Most demoralizing is my husband's reaction, since it sets a bad example for the kids, who then want to sample his carry-out food instead of my meals. For the four years before we had kids, I was the cook everynight and my husband ate the same food that he now rejects. I am so tired of trying that some days I just cruise the restaurants and load the refrigerator with Chinese takeout. Is there anyone out there who has dealt with this problem and found a solution? Lonely cook

    Wow! I gotta say that you don't need to take that!! Put your foot down, talk to your man, talk to your kids, and don't let them walk on you. and if they don't like what you're fixin' the heck with them....I say let them fix their own dinner if they complain about what you fix. Like it or lump it
    We've had a similar situation, but just with my kids. I think first, you and your husband need to team up and come to an agreement.

    My kids both eat different foods, don't like what I'm making for me and my husband, eat at different times, etc. A friend suggested we do the following, and it works great for us:

    On Sunday evening we make a dinner chart for the week. Each kid (2 boys,9 and 13)get to choose what they want for dinner 2 nights each. So for example, the 9 year old might choose Monday to have pizza, and Wed. to have hamburgers. The 13 year old may choose Tues, pasta and Thurs, salmon salad. So, that's what I make for them on those nights (they each have to eat what the other chooses). If they don't want what is made they can make their own dinner, which could be frozen pizza, peanut butter and jelly, cold cereal. I always make sure those things are available so they can do their own.

    This solved the huge dinner problem at our house. Friday, Sat and Sun is my choice...often we are out, or have guests over or just have a family dinner together.

    What this did for me was give me sanity over dinner prep. I found that even though I love to cook and am a good cook, I dreaded dinner time, trying to make 3 or 4 different dinners. I'd be in the kitchen for hours catering to everyone else. I felt very taken advantage of, which I had allowed by trying to please all of them.

    During the week we often all eat at separate times. I usually eat my dinner when I'm hungry and my husband can help himself when he's ready....but he does eat what I've made. Maybe you have to disconnect from your husband eating take out. Let everyone know that you're willing to go just so far. They have to eat what you've made (within compromisable reason) and if they don't like it, they can get their own, especially your husband. Good luck. no longer in the kitchen for hours at a time

    Time to put your foot down. Dinnertime is family time, and everyone must be willing to eat the food that you provide, starting most importantly with your husband. Tell him that you've written to the Parents Network advice and then show him how many people responded that he must GET ON BOARD and RESPECT YOU around this issue. I promise you, my letter won't be the only one. I think you should respect your son's vegatarianism (maybe you can keep something always available for him -- for example, I almost always have some pesto in the fridge and I'll make a quick pasta for it), but picky eaters need to learn to respect the cook. Get firm. You deserve this, and your family will benefit enormously from experiencing dinnertime as a shared experience. Good luck -- Letitia
    I'm sorry that is happening to you. It's really hard to cook for so many people, when even just the kids are hard to please. Your husband, though, seems to be acting like one of the them!! Have you talked to him about the situation? The letter you posted seemed very reasonable, you might try approaching him like that. Maybe suggest that he cook some nights. I don't know what culture you are from, but I know that some men feel that they don't cook period! If that's the case some kind of solution for accepting your meals has to happen. Sit down with your family and make lists up of what everyone likes and try to incorporate a little from each person's list at meals. If they complain when it's served up, then they don't eat! Worse comes to worse have your husband bring home take-out chinese every night and see how long that lasts. Good luck! only cooking for two
    Your post made me sad, as I can imagine how you feel in such a situation! In theory, does your husband agree that you should eat the same things as a family? That you should not be spending extra money eating out when you have a nicely prepared meal at home? That it is disrespectful to the work you have put in preparing the meal to not eat it? That the kids should not witness their father marching off during the family dinner hour? If he does, perhaps you can enlist his help in making some changes that will make sure he is happy with the meals you are planning. What if you sat down together and worked out a menu for the week? Then he would have some say in what is prepared, and would be less able to complain when dinner time rolls around. Alternatively, get him to make a full dinner one night, and then you and the kids can turn your noses up and march out for take out! (just kidding, of course!). Your main issue is going to be to figure out why your husband does not want to participate in the family meal time and try to work with him on that. We have settled down into a routine where most weekday evenings, my children eat a little earlier than we do, and I prepare a separate (but often overlapping) meal for my husband and myself, which we eat when the kids are down for the night. Sometimes he does not seem as thrilled as I would like with what I have prepared, but usually I manage to find something that appeals to both of our tastes (or can be quickly and easily adapted). On the weekends, we eat together or go out together. Good luck, this is a difficult issue! Anon.
    Hi- I can sympathize with the picky kids, and my husband will get hungry just as I am starting to make a meal and pull several slices of meat and cheese out of the fridge and scarf them down, because he is ''starved'' when he could be helping me with the cooking (We both work full-time). However you can't allow your DH to set such a bad example for you kids- it's disresepctful to run out for take-out after all your efforts AND it fosters the idea that everyone in the family should have exactly what they want at every meal. Maybe you should just stop trying so hard and shift a little burden to Daddy. I say tell him that if he plans to eat take-out, he needs to bring enough home for the entire family, and include a veggie option. Otherwise he needs to eat with his family. Lots of families survive on takeout and at least you're not paying for wasted food. With rare exception I also don't make extra things for the kids if they reject what I'm serving (on occasion, something has come out yucky and I don't blames them). They have to try one bite of everything and several bites of one thing and then they can be excused, but no snacking later, except fruit and veggies they can help them selves to. Another challenged family cook
    Hi, I'm sure you will get many responses to this-some more able to relate because I am a single parent. But, first of all, your husband is killing any chance you have of a 'normal' mealtime. If anyone else did that you would never ask them to eat with you again, why should you put up with it from him? Secondly, it sounds like there is way too much choice about what to eat. If/when I cook, people get what I cook and nothing else. I obviously try to take into account known likes/dislikes, but there is only so much one person can do. It may help if you make each family member responsible for cooking one meal a week, with your help of course. Your husband could use his night to pick up take-out, but no other nights. Lastly, has a menu/dinner planner that may also help. I've never used it, but I know people that rave about it. It may add new recipes and tricks to your arsenal. Best of luck. Kean
    When my cousins faced a similar dilemma, they solved it by MENU PLANNING. May be anathema to you (it initially was for me), but it worked really well. Since your husband is undermining your good-faith feeding efforts, I would enlist him to help you come up with either a weekly meal plan, or even a montly one (my cousins did monthly). Choose things you parents both like, with some options for the veggie and the picky (including take-out nights, since your hubby enjoys it so much!). Then post the menu on your fridge, explaining to ALL that this dinner list if final. If, on the given night, anyone balks--and it sounds like they each will, at some point--they can have bread and/or breakfast cereal. The point is to give them something nutritious enough to be fillling, but not particularly desireable. No one will starve. It sounds like the key is really to get your husband on board. Perhaps a really frank talk about how his behavior is sabotauging your efforts, providing a bad example, etc.--coupled with a plea for his help, to make a united parental front for the kids--will help him see the value in this. You should not be a short- order cook every single night! Christine
    I am a subscriber to the menu mailer (, which is a weekly grocery list plus recipe. There are alternates (for vegetarians) and in general, the meals are general crowd pleasers. The food tends to be very healthy as it's done by a nutrionist. There is a low carb version too, which carb alternatives. The regular one has vegetarian options. There is a book too, broken up by seasons. I can only imagine how tough meal times are for you. The menu mailers have some variety, which may help. There is a bigger issue with the example your husband sets, which is a post on itself. Do you think your kids can help with dinner? Sometimes, helping to make dinner makes kids more willing to eat it. All in all, I would say that Mom's Diner is closed. They have one option-- or nothing at all. You are a mom, serving tasting healthy meals, not a short order cook. Hope you like the menu mailer, we really like it. There are samples on the website you can try. Janki
    Wow, that sounds horrible! No wonder you're demoralized. It sounds to me like the biggest problem is the lack of support from your husband. His actions are no doubt having an effect on your kids. I'm afraid I don't have great advice on that, but I think until he returns to the family dinner table without complaint, asking your children to do so will be difficult. Maybe sharing dinner preparation instead of making it completely your responsibility would help? As for the kids... have you read the book _Child of Mine_ by Ellen Satter? It's mostly about young kids, but it really helped me understand my role in feeding my child. I hope things get better soon. Stephanie
    Wow-you have a full plate! (pun intended!) I would suggest that everyone in your family over the age of 8 pick out what to eat for one meal a week. For example, your son could either tell you what he wants or help you make it. Your husband could either cook the meal himself or bring home take out for everyone. You could cook what you like on your night. That takes care of 3 dinners, then maybe go out a fourth night, or have everyone do their job twice a week and go out the seventh night (or get a babysitter and have a date.) Everyone should then agree to eat (or try to) whatever is on the table. The 4 year old, however, you'll probably have to cook for every day since flexibility is not in the picture...This plan has several goals: first, to take the pressure off of you. Secondly, to give more responsibility to the complainers. Thirdly, I have found once the focus is off, even picky kids will try new foods sometimes. That said, I think there are more issues going on here than just dinner. I definitely come from a family where food is nurture, and I work hard to understand that to have meals I've cooked rejected doesn't mean I've failed as a wife and mother. Your husband should try to understand that the kids are following his lead, and that if he has issues he needs to discuss with you privacy is of the essence. Maybe couples therapy? Good luck! Sahm of a typically picky 4yr old
    Golly, sounds like a puzzle. Perhaps it would be best to start with your husband. His going to get take out really does set a bad example for your kids. Try to talk to him about family dinners and what you feel they should be like. I recently read somewhere that one of the least obvious but most consistent factors in a kid's good performace in school is family dinners. Meaning they are eaten together. Perhaps you could ask your husband why he so often wants take out? Could it be that he needs the walk? Perhaps your whole family could start a before or after dinner walk ritual, too. Once you and your husband are in agreement--both in words and actions--then you might look at the kids' habits and see how they can be brought to the table together. Good luck. Carolyn
    I would refuse to be a short order cook. If they don't like what is being served, let them make themselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich. As far as your husband, I would have a heart-to-heart about while sitting down for family meals are important and how rude it is to dismiss your meals. Then I would sit down and make a list of about 15 menus that most everyone can agree on and then rotate those meals. Another alternative is ''Menu-Mailer is a six-day a week menu with recipes AND a categorized grocery list included! The menus are wonderful and healthy, the recipes are easy and the fact that the grocery list is already made up is a dream! Menu planning has never been so easy, because all the work is done for you. For just pennies a day, you will never have to panic about what's for dinner again. Menu-Mailer is a true bargain at only $9.95 for 3 months of menus, delivered weekly on Wednesdays to your email address.'' anon
    I've had the same problem, although I don't put up with it. My solution is to cook what I want to eat, allowing some preferences by children to guide my decisions. If they don't eat it, that's their problem. I do NOT fix individual meals for picky people when I know I'm cooking perfectly good food. Having weekly discussions and meal planning with your entire family (or at least those of whom are old enough to have real input) might also help. But frankly, if you're on a budget, the kids need to eat what you've fixed, or figure out how hungry they're going to get. If they simply refuse to eat what you've made, give them a snack later in the evening, but don't fix special meals to placate their whining. They'll eat what you cook eventually, and they won't starve in the interim. I would discuss your husband's issues outside of the context of ''trying to please everybody'' and get down to why he's being so incredibly rude. In reality, if he were my husband, I'd give him a piece of my mind, but not knowing your husband, perhaps something else on his mind and he's venting by buying take-out as some kind of immature ''punishment.'' I mean, how unfair is it that you get stuck with the cooking all the time, and HE gets the take-out??? This is a terrible example for your children, who as they grow older, will also treat the meals you make with the same disdain he apparently has. Ultimately: Tell the husband to get a grip on his childish and improper behavior. Fix food you know is good, that your kids should be able to eat without too much groaning, and if they don't eat it, let them figure it out by going hungry. Stop letting your household run you over, you deserve more respect from all of them! heather
    i would be totally demoralized too! your husband should be greatful that you are cooking anything at all. that seems so disrespectful to go out to get food after you have spent your time and money preparing a meal for your family. if he would like variaty in his diet or just has a thing for take-out then he should meet those needs at lunch while he is at work and show you more respect when he gets home. i agree with you that he is also setting a bad example for your kids. in my ownfamily i cook three dishes (example meat, veggie and starch)and if they can't find at least one out of the three dishes to eat then too bad. maybe as a comprimise for everyone you can all walk up the street one night a week to get take-out. that way you get a break from cooking and your kids and husband can pick off of the menu something they will like. good luck! riteous family cook
    I don't think this is a cooking problem -- this is a husband problem. You and he need to sit down and have a frank discussion about what kind of dinnertime behavior you want to model for your family. I have had a lot of trouble getting my husband to ''get with the program'' about dinnertime (although he is very diligent about eating what I put in front of him). I was raised in a household where dinner, at the dinner table, was sacrosanct -- you didn't start until Mother lifted her fork, you used a cloth napkin, and (except when eating bone-in chicken or asparagus) you used your ''company manners'' every single day (otherwise how would you know how to use them when company came?) It sounds like your husband is contributing to poor behavior on the part of your children -- and if you frame it in that light for him, you may be able to make some progress with reform. Sara
    I felt so sad to read your post and not sure I have any answers but wanted to write in some support for you. It seems there are two issues, one of everyone's differing taste preferences and the second, and quite serious, is your husband sabotaging your efforts, your family meal time, and your budget. I wonder what dinnertime was like for him growing up, as you say he ate everything prior to having kids, it seems something about having a peaceful meal together is triggering him in some way (or maybe he is anxious about being a parent and is separating himself in this way?). But the bottom line is this is very hurtful and undermining to you. Maybe you can start by a discussion of pulling your budget together and even if you can afford it as is, maybe you could afford a personal chef to cook a few meals a week and give you a break, instead of all that take out. I don't really have advice on how to make him see how hurtful it is to you and to your efforts with your kids; but I hope for you that he will be able to hear you if you tell him how it feels to you. Perhaps he can be assigned one (at least) meal a week to be in charge of (you are doing about 21!) As for the differing tastes I try to cook a smallish variety of things and everyone can have a limited choice and still get a reasonably nutricious meal. I haven't been able to adopt the eat what is served or wait for the next meal attitude fully, but they have to choose say, 2 out of 3 things available. Or, sometimes the kids can have more lunch-like EASY foods and just make one thing for the grown-ups. Or a big pot of noodle and veggie soup they can eat it with or without the broth. I have gone through some similar issues with my husband, but mainly him not cooking ever, and I have continually advocated for myself, how even though he is working full time I need a break from cooking every single meal, it took a year and several major fights, the results in short, he pulls together a few meals a week for the kids or family, something easy like pasta and a nice salad and definitely appreciates more simpler meals than before. We both have/ had a preference for restaurants,and were going out many times a week. We couldn't afford it, and were almost addicted to it. The other thing was that I try to buy organic and then by serving restaurant food to ourselves and our kids regularly, we end up getting all the pesticides, extra preservatives to keep the food fresher, hydrogenated oils, styrofoam leaching into the foods, etc. And we were so broke from it we couldn't afford a vacation, so that was my motivation to try to turn things around. Lastly, we had to both relax our dinner standards and idea about having a large elaborate meal and focus on nutritious, fast and easy cooking meals for the majority of mealtimes. Best wishes with your struggle. anon
    I haven't used this personally, but I've read emails from many people on a listserv I am on (, that these menu mailers have helped them tremendously with all the problems you mention around your family dinners. Hope it helps. Whitney
    Your family's ungrateful reaction to your cooking would send me through the roof, particularly your husband's. I agree with you that he is setting a bad example for your children. I read in a book somewhere that one family had the following rules for mealtime: no one has to eat anything they don't like, but they have to try everything to see if they like it. And, no one is allowed to complain about the food (words like ''yucky'') because that hurts Mom's feelings. We have instituted similar rules in our home. A couple of months ago my husband began ignoring the rules and calling what I made either ''unappetizing'' or ''tasteless'' (I'm a gourmet cook, so the food isn't really tasteless. It's just that my husband feels only spicy ethnic food is worth eating, and our 3 & 2 year old kids will absolutely not eat that) - I was so angry I stopped cooking. Completely. ''What's for dinner?'' was met by ''I don't know. What's for dinner?'' I didn't buy groceries. I didn't make meal suggestions. I didn't plan alternatives. He got the picture. He eats my meals and compliments them now. anon
    Ask your husband to eat what is on the table and let him know (one on one) why his behaviour is problemmatic for you. Perhaps make it a weekend family activity to plan (at least) a couple of meals for the coming week. Then your husband can get involved, and the kids can learn how it works, too. Perhpas your husband can do the shopping? Perhaps he can cook at least one meal a week (but then be sure that you eat it and not go out for our own take out meal!) so that he better understands how you feel, and so he can givge you a break. Give the kids healthy stuff for snacks in the afternoon. Once in a while if you have reached your limit of tapas prep, tell the kids that the kitchen is closed and you are now sitting down to eat, and if they don't want to eat what is on the table, it is okay (not a punishment, just a dose of reality and respect). anon family cook
    Maybe you and your husband could meal plan together every Sunday? or even once/month? If he helps makes the decisions of what's on the menu, then he is more apt to support you once the meal is made. As for making substitue food for when 2 family members don't want the offered meal, you are going to drive yourself nuts if this keeps up. Stop! If they know that you will run around trying to please them, then they have no reason to eat what is presented in the first place. However, if they know that the meal served is their only choice, then, if they are hungry, they will eat it. Don't worry, they won't starve. Just make sure you offer a variety of foods over the course of the week, and each meal has at least 3 different foods (e.g., meat/fish, veggie, starch), so they can choose to eat 1 or all three. You could also post the week's menu on your refridgerator for all to see, so that dinner is not a surprise, and they have a chance to chime in ahead of time for suggested tweaks. Lastly, check out the book, ''How to get your kid to eat,'' by Ellen Satter--she has a dynamite philosophy on feeding your family, the emphasis of which is to divide responsibility for feeding--you decide the where, when and what to offer, and they decide whether and how much to eat. Best of luck. anon
    Wow, that is demoralizing. Either your husband is cluelessly insensitive, or he is being downright hostile to you. If he's just clueless, you can try to get it in his head that you two have to act as a team in front of the kids, and when you make dinner, everyone (including himself) needs to sit down and eat it--no take-out allowed. If it's hostility, what is his reason for using the dinner/take-out battle as a passive-aggressive act of ''sticking it'' to you? As for the kids, end the picky-eater battles by sitting down with them (and your husband) ahead of time and coming up with a weekly menu for dinner that they all can agree upon...and stick to it. Those who refuse to eat the dinner don't get a special meal in its place. If your husband likes take-out so much, you can all decide on one day a week that everyone gets take-out--and make your husband pick up the tab! Of course, your husband has to agree to enforce the eating at home thing, because allowing the kids to use take-out as an escape strategy (as he does) on any given day will just torpedo all your efforts for a sane family dinnertime. anon
    Sounds like a marriage issue. He's brooding about something, but he isn't telling you what. It almost sounds like he is trying to provoke a confrontation. I don't know if I would take the bait; confronting him on the food issue might get you an explosion of anger, but very little information about what's really bothering him. Would marriage counseling be in the cards? Counseling might be a helpful place to explore things without shattering your marriage. I'd worry about what the kids are eating some other time. A few months of macaroni and cheese won't kill them.

    Dreading dinnertime - I used to like cooking!

    Jan. 2003

    How do other moms do it? I go grocery shopping once a week and buy lots of good stuff (fruit, veges, milk, eggs, bread, and then frozen organic pizzas, pasta sauce, frozen and fresh veges, ect.) but *somehow* most nights I cannot find anything interesting to make for dinner...I DREAD dinner time...the slow walk to the fridge at around 5:30 p.m. to open the door and wonder ''what's for dinner tonight?''

    To add to my problem is that my 3 year-old is going through the picky-eater stage so most nights she doesn't like what I make. Also, my husband works long high-tech hours so I'm on my own at dinner. I used to like cooking! Are there some cookbooks out there that are really easy to follow, using healthful ingredients, and somehting that tastes yummy to adults and acceptable to kids? Would also love to hear from naturally organized parents who could maybe share a few secrets. Thank you am

    You might be a vegetarian, and I'm not, but I'll tell you my ''system'' and maybe you can adapt it to your diet. Figure out five ''basic'' types of meals. For my family of meat eaters, this is chicken, pork, soup or fish, pasta or fried rice, and beef. That's Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. (Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Monday and Friday.) Knowing those elements tells me the ''foundation'' for each meal those 5 nights. With that part decided, the rest is easier - I can just pick a recipe or an option depending whether I'm feeling thrifty, lazy, creative, whatever. (Example, if I'm feeling lazy on soup night, I'll open a can, if energetic, a big batch of chili; lazy on pasta night, I'll buy pre-made; energetic on pasta night, I'll make something from Bon Appetit.) Monday's meal is developed from leftovers of Sunday's. Fridays we always go out, or get takeout. If you don't eat meat, your ''base'' elements will be different, but you get the idea. As for 3 year olds, mine is total hit or miss. Fried rice (I make it with lots of egg, shrimp, and broccoli) is usually a hit. Cooked rice freezes well, too, by the way, so making fried rice is FAST. Final tip: I've noticed that if my child is too tired, he won't eat well. Fran
    Boy, do I hear you. I have the same tendency.

    The only way I can avoid this problem is to make up a list of about 5 or 6 meals before I shop. If I don' t have any brilliant ideas, I spend about an hour looking through cook-books and browsing for recipe ideas. Our meals are often simple (baked potato, roast chicken, pasta dishes, polenta with a sauce, rice and beans, risotto, hummus and baba ghanoush, burritos, etc.), and I certainly don't always use recipes to cook from. But I always know that when I get home from the store, I'll have ingredients for 5 good dinners in the fridge. ANd I always post my list of meals on the fridge, so that at 5:30 I remember our options and don't just open a box of Mac and Cheese.

    As for your picky-eater problem, I'm a big believer in the idea that you put good food in front of your kid and don't worry about how much they eat. I have a 2yo and a 4yo. We serve them small portions of whatever we're eating, and the only concession we make to preschooler finnickiness is we add hot sauce or chili or salsa to our own portions, rather than mixing it into the foods. Some meals they ask for seconds and thirds. Some nights they eat one bite and then they're done. I figure they won't starve. I don't offer to make them other food. I just let them eat as much or little as they want with a minimum of discussion. We don't push them to eat food they don't want. We do ask them not to say bad things about other people's food. The result (and I believe the causality is fairly clear) is that they actually have quite broad, non-picky eating habits. Eating is *not* an area of power struggles in our house. In any case, I believe that (paradoxically) the less you pay attention to your 3yo's eating habits, the better they will be. Judith

    I don't even address the idea of *creativity* in my midweek cooking. I rely a lot on pastas and rice -- fresh or frozen raviolis are a great entree, for example, and you can boil them up in 5-10 minutes.

    I am big on vegetables and we eat a lot of steamed zucchini -- slice, steam 3 minutes, voila. Ditto green beans or broccholi. Very easy, and works as finger food for a little child as long as the zucchini are still firm.

    A little more work but a wintertime favorite for us is yams -- get the delicious garnet variety. I got this recipe from the Chronicle, paraphrased here:

    Preheat the oven with a cookie sheet in it to 400. Peel and slice a garnet yam; my slices are about 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick. Coat the slices with olive oil and salt them. When the oven and cookie sheet are ready, lay out the yam slices and bake for 15-20 minutes; then turn them over and bake 15 min more. These are delicious -- caramelly sweet, and can be eaten as finger food.

    I rely on yogurt or cheese/cottage cheese for proteins most evenings, but I also make bacon & eggs as an easy supper pretty often. Letitia

    Our method is to plan and shop for a set menu of meals in advance. About once a week, maybe a bit less often, one of us sits down and makes a menu, based on what's in season, what sounds good, what the kids like, what's already in the fridge and freezer, what our social and other engagements look like they'll be in the next week or so, and taking into account how much each planned dish will make and how time-consuming it is to prepare. Sometimes we find that, for any number of reasons, we will deviate from the menu, but it is nice not to have to be imaginative every single night. Wendy
    Dear Dinner Blues,

    Our kids are much older now but I remember what you are experiencing. I always wanted that Norman Rockwell family sit down to dinner experience, but with two active little boys, 3 years apart, it was impossible. Plus a late working husband and my own exhaustion from working made it worse.

    Here's how I approached it: The kids needed to eat earlier and go to bed earlier. Plus they had their likes and dislikes. I accomodated that with an early kids' dinner. They loved what we called ''nursery food'' til they were about 5. They ate oatmeal and fruit, or mashed potatoes and brocolli or plain pasta and cheese and sliced chicken during those times. They ate at around 5:30, leaving time for baths and stories and the ususal routines, with bedtime at 7 or 8. Dad would arrive home during bathtime. Then, the grownups got to have dinner later - something we liked, and it was blissfully quiet. This was a lifesaver - calming, a routine that worked and everyone was happy. I made something simple that we that we adults would eat together on the late shift. Key word here - simple.

    Gradually the kids' bedtimes extended along with their increasingly adventurous palates and vocabularies (!) and now we have a civilized four person dinner with everything you can imagine.

    We also used a delivery service called Jessie et Laurent (see their website at on and off for many years. Fully prepared, healthy dinner foods for a whole week. It was wonderful. Then i realized I didn't need it anymore and i wanted the boys to learn to cook.

    Now we shop the farmer's market together and they are my capable sous chefs at ages 13 and 10. It's so much more fun to cook for a hungry, appreciative, participatory audience and when they help it's a different world.

    I promise you it won't be difficult forever. I hope this offers some hope. Debby

    What has *really* helped me is to make a weekly menu prior to going grocery shopping. This way, I know how long each meal will take to prepare, I only buy the ingredients I will need, and I never have to do the what's-for-dinner struggle. It's nice, too, because I can plan for leftovers and have nights w/ little or no cooking at all. Molly G
    Boy oh boy, do I feel the same way. I don't have the problem licked entirely, but It's getting better. The first thing I did was get Pamela Anderson's ''how to cook without a book''. Its great. You learn a few basic recipes by memorizing a short limerick about the type of ingredients and cooking method, then you can vary the ingredients (for example spinach instead of kale) according to your food mood. She also tells you how to stock your kitchen so you can whip up stuff in a jiffy and not waste food. (Which is a big problem in our house) The second thing I did was cut out recipes in the paper or Martha Stewart or cooking light (or wherever I found them) that I found to be easy and tasty, and put them all in a clear plastic envelope. So now, I can find them easily, and I don't have oil stains all over them. Bottom line, I'm finding out that meal planning is just that: planning. Its almost impossible for me to plan out and shop for an entire week of delicious meals that we will feel like eating when the time comes (especially now, since I am pregnant again) so I just shop for the five week days, and then shop individually for the weekends. A lot of people I know who are good cooks and eat well every night shop more frequently, if not everyday. As for my toddler, I have just given up trying to get her to eat what we do. So she just gets steamed veggies, rice or pasta, a fruit or two. I'm looking forward to other people's tips! Good luck! Paula
    A favorite healthy cookbook of mine is Feeding the Whole Family. It is almost all vegetarian, most recipes have a limited number of basic ingrediants so you can stock up on them and thus have them on hand. The authors also suggest how to adapt part of the recipe for different age older babies and toddlers to suit their tastes (like mash uo some of the beans with the rice before adding the spice and set aside).

    Trader Joe's also sells a fun variety of coooking sauces that make dinner time easy. Just add tofu, chicken, veggies, whatever and serve over rice or noodles. The Spinach Sauce is a favorite of ours - we add chickpeas and maybe some chicken or tofu if we have it and some fresh or frozen spinach.

    Happy Eating! Jen

    What has worked for us is making a menu by having a 'theme' for each night (oh, this sounds lame, but it has saved us so much angst).

    For example:
    Monday - pasta, bread (and when really on top of things: salad) Tuesday - fish with chips or rice, plus veg Wednesday - soup (sometimes homemade) and/or leftovers Thursday - chicken or egg dish Friday - stir fry Saturday - husband cooks (otherwise known as cheap dinner out!) Sunday - roast pork/beef/chicken with potatoes and veg
    It might be a bit boring, but it makes the shopping lists easier, AND I don't hunt in the fridge for something each day of the week. Most dinners don't take more than 20 minutes to make (but you have to remember to put the Sunday roast on...just like Grandma used to!) I change the kind of pasta, use different meat in the stir fry, make either white or brown rice, use fresh or frozen veg, mash/bake/roast the potatoes, etc, etc so we still have variety. But the dinner 'idea' has already been decided, so the rest is easy. And, funny enough, the kids almost appreciate knowing what dinner will be ahead of time. And everyone just has to try what I make... I do not go into being a short order cook. It is a bit of tough rule (especially if my son cries at the sight of a SPOON because he likes FORK dinners), but I can't make any more food than I already do. He ends up eating what he likes...and eats a larger breakfast the next day if he has boycotted last night's dinner. I leave it up to him.

    Note that I also put in a cheap dinner out. I think everyone deserves a break in the routine, so this has been our 'ritual'. We usually just get burritos or order a pizza, but BOY do I like Saturdays!

    I have been doing this since I had my second child four years ago, but I also just noticed the magazine ''Real Simple'' has an article in the February 2003 issue on how to set up a menu a little more sophisticated than what I have. Check out (Although if you buy the magazine it has a month calendar with menu plus a shopping list, which could get you started that much easier.)

    I hope this helps a little. Oh, and I never knew I had so much to say about dinnertime..... Caroline

    My sister has 6 kids under 10 and one family income, so she really has to be organized about dinners. When I ran into the same problem you are having, here was her advice:

    -Plan out all dinners (meals, actually, but that was too much for me to do) for the week and buy groceries accordingly. If you know the 5 meals you want to make over the week, you will actually have all the right ingredients.

    -Keep your dinner lists for the last few weeks so you can make sure you are rotating enough. Variety was definitely a problem in my house.

    I'm sure you'll get lots of advice for healthy meals. I hope this healps with the organization. Good Luck. Elizabeth

    Boy, did your post resonate with me! I yearn for a system, something where I don't have to start from scratch every night, that results in nutritious, economical and yummy dinners appearing nightly in our kitchen! I haven't quite gotten there yet, but it is my New Year's resolution to work it out. Here's what I'm trying to do:

    1. Collect all the recipes that I like and have cooked before and know that will be at least somewhat appealing to my family.

    2. Sort them for seasonality - like now I'm cooking root vegetable recipes and other winter fare.

    3.Make up weekly menu plans. This includes:
    a. one soup, enough for accompanying dinner several nights (soup is a great way to get in the veggies for little ones!)
    b. a pasta dish with seasonal vegetables
    c. a stir fry of chicken or tofu with seasonal vegetables over rice
    d. a fish night e. two grains dishes with seasonal vegetables

    This makes 4 nights of what I consider real dinners: a soup and main course of protein and vegetables, and a starch.

    One night a week in our house is homemade or dressed up frozen pizza.

    Two nights, spread throughout the week are called A Festival of Past Favorites, i.e. leftovers. And if it is served on a different shape of pasta, it qualifies as an entirely new dish! And that pretty much takes care of a whole week, not to mention the occasional dinner out.

    I write down the menu plans and shop for them. I try and hit farmer's markets and pay attention to what's on sale at safeway. Keeping a price book, where I note what things sell for so that I can recognize a better-stock-up price, is also helpful.

    I don't believe in pandering to a toddler's taste buds too much; I offer a variety of foods that aren't too highly spiced, encourage my 4 and 2 year old to at least try it, and offer them bread and butter or pasta if they don't care for what I've made for dinner. They've come to like some surprising things this way.

    I would love to try dinner exchanges with other families in my area (near Terrace Park in Albany), where I cook one night a week and deliver dinner to, say two other families. Then two other nights a week, I would get dinner delivered to my house! Sounds pretty sweet.

    As to cooking with little ones, I don't have any magic bullets, except to try and do prep earlier in the day. My 2 year old likes to pour dried beans into pots on the floor near me while I'm chopping and cooking. Truthfully, it's often hard, and what saves me is my husband usually gets home at a decent hour and gives me a hand, wrestling with the kids in the living room while I finish up dinner. I'm very interested to hear how other folks handle this. nickatia

    Ah, I feel your pain. I'm also less than able in the kitchen, but I'm getting better (thank God I'm married to a man with a culinary imagination!)Here are some suggestions from me to you: Go out now and get Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. It's everything you need to know about how to cook, well, everything, in simple, hard to-screw-up recipes.

    Secondly, sit down and make up a menu for the week, before you go shopping. I know this sounds dreadfully June Cleaver-ish, but it will eliminate a lot of waste and you simply have to follow the list at night after a long day.

    Find the kid foods your child likes: pasta? Fish sticks? Mac and Cheese? Soup? Can you tart these up for a grown up (like Pasta and Pesto for you, plain pasta for your daughter?)

    A Mediterreanan (sp!) spread is always nice: fresh bread, cheese, olives, hummos and wine. Easy to make, nutritious, easy to clean up.

    Never overlook the eggs. All kids eat scrambled eggs (don't they?) And you can make Huevos Rancheros for dinner, or a fritatta, or a nice feta cheese and red pepper omlette...hmmm.

    Never overlook the soup. Fun to make, or get it out of a can and garnish with parmesan cheese and fresh bread.

    We've gotten much better over the six years we've had kids. But we still have ''burrito'' night at least once a week.

    Happy dining! Julie T.

    I start meal planning BEFORE I go to the grocery store. I'll decide on at least 4 meals we are going to have during the week and then buy all the ingredients I need to make them. This way I have it all planned out for the week. It has made dinner making much easier although it makes grocery shopping a bit more of a pain. It just takes more time to compile the list since I have to decide what we will have during the week. I don't go so far as to decide what we will have on each day. I give myself the choice of picking something off the list when I get home from work.

    As far as serving food to a picky eater, well, that is a whole other issue. But, I firmly believe that it is your job to put good healthly food on the table. It is your child's responsibility to eat it. I make sure there is at least one healthy thing at dinner that each kid will like. Our menu has certainly changed over the years. For the most part, there are just a few things we all like so I tend to concentrate on those. They sort of encompass various regions (we're vegetarian):
    - Mexican (tacos, burritos, mexican pizza) - Italian (ravioli, spaghetti or other pasta) - Japanese (miso soup, sushi, rice, edamame) - Other Asian (rice or noodles with veggies, tofu and different sauces, favorite is a Thai peanut sauce) - American (veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, fries, corn) - Soup and grilled cheese is a winter favorite
    If your more specific suggestions, email me. allison

    Well, I'm coming from the other direction (4 kids, homeschool, never have a minute think) but have the same problem. What I've done is to make a (gasp) menu. I double cook and freeze so that some nights dinner isn't more than a need to remember to place dinner in the oven and set the oven to time bake.

    Look around the net, decide what YOU like to eat (my partner also comes home after dinnertime) and make that. I try to make lunch the big meal of the day and dinner more like breakfast. I also start getting dinner together right after cleaning up breakfast.

    I really rebel at the organization of making menus, but it really helps with the dinnertime blues. Good luck! Kathy

    i don't have a cure, or recipe answers, but this default plan has helped me: i plan to cook 3-4 nights a week, plan to eat pre-made dinners once or twice a week (a pre-cooked chicken, grocery store sushi--i cringe, but my 3 yo will eat it!--even gourmet sandwiches...), and plan to eat out once a week. although you've got to budget for it, the eating out is what saves my (and my family's) sanity, i think, because even if i have bought one or two fresh meat/fish items at the store and know i need to cook them in a day or two, i can juggle those nights with a dinner out--usually a fairly spontaneous event-- and we all perk up a bit. if my husband's not home, or i'm not, we just go out to dinner with our kid. there are many, many kid- friendly (relatively cheap) restaurants around, cactus on solano and picante on 6th being our two favorites for decent fare and lots of kids running around.

    that said, i feel that i was once a gourmet cook, and my child has robbed me of it! so once a week i cook something new and daring (well, maybe once every two weeks!) to live a little :) jessica

    Keep stuff on hand like
    - chicken-apple sausages in the freezer - frozen ravioli, frozen tamales - store-bought pesto in the fridge - lots of packages of different pastas - rice & polenta & couscous (couscous cooks in 5 minutes!) - frozen veggies (try different stuff like okra, limas, etc.) - frozen fruit (blueberries are great for supper pancakes) - store-bought spice mixtures (Lemon/Herb and Rotisserie Chicken and Montreal Chicken are good.) - frozen entrees, mac and cheese, etc. - canned soups and broth
    I stock up on this kind of stuff at every few weeks. My husband goes to the Berkeley Bowl on the weekend and buys 4 or so meat courses (fish and chicken variations mostly) and fresh veggies and fruit, dairy etc. I make out the list for him. I cook. Cooking involves putting the meat into a roasting pan, spraying it with olive oil, and then sprinking some kind of store-bought spice mixture on it. Then just stick it in the oven and it cooks while you make rice or pasta (It's nice to have a rice cooker), fold the laundry, clean out the dishwasher, yell at the kids to practice piano, do homework, set the table, etc.

    Sometimes I make plain frozen veggies (w/lemon juice and butter); sometimes we eat raw carrots/cauliflower (kids like that) sometimes fresh brocs or asparagus in the microwave. Cooking veggies in the micro is key - it is very fast and you also don't have to watch it if your micro has a Vegetable setting. I cook 5 nights a week usually and we go out or get takeout the other 2. I rarely cook anything during the week that requires more than 5 minutes of continuous attention. Either it's rinse-and-microwave or spray-sprinkle-put in the oven. Sometimes I don't even feel like doing that, so we have canned soup or husband makes pasta and canned sauce or everyone picks out a Lean Cuisine. I do like to cook, but during the week, I'm tired when I get home from work, and I just want to cook something that's fast! Not the french chef

    For the fatigue problem of cooking dinner, I recommend a crock pot. I have the energy and my daughter is better behaved if I do it first thing in the morning. Better yet, she's asleep and I set it to cook overnight. I've made potatoes for mashing, chicken soups, beef stews, turkey breasts, and chilis. For inspiration/motivation, I like to catch Jamie Oliver of naked chef/oliver's twist on the food channel. Very enthusiastic, simple, and good ideas. He often seems to improvise so I don't try and get exact recipes. He does have a cook book out. I also find it helps to do really simple things: grilled/panfried/broiled fish/chicken/steak on salad greens is on the menu often at our house but we might change the add-ins to the salad and the dressings for variety. Finally, I think there's something to the old: if it's monday it must be meatloaf schedule. You didn't have to think about it. But you can improvise. Make a different kind of quiche or frittata ahead each Sunday. Have a different kind of stir fry or pasta each tuesday or wednesday, but at least some of the decisions are made ahead of time. Hope this helps! cooksalot
    I use and to look for recipes to make. Both websites contain comments by users on how their families liked the recipes so they can be quite useful anon
    I understand your frustration. I am a the single mother of a 2 and 4 yr. old and I have always served my children ONE meal (the one I prepare for the three of us) and never catered to picky eating. Of course, if they really don't like something, I take note and don't prepare it again. My children have wonderful eating habits and love to try new food.

    As for the actual prep: I take a few hours after grocery shopping to prepare some meals and freeze for lazy nights. I usually chop up some chicken and place it in a freezer bag and in another freezer bag, chop up some veggies. Voila...stirfry. Just throw on a pot of 5 min. rice. I also prepare spaghetti, lasagne, and soups. Soups can also be put in a freezer bag for a quick drop in a pot of boining water. And when all else fails, its a can of soup, applesauce/sliced fruit, and tuna/pbj/grilled cheese or breakfast-for-dinner. Since I'm a student, I can't afford ordering pizza so another favorite is homemade pizza. The kids have control (and the fun) of placing the cheese and toppings on it. Perhaps getting the kids involved in the prepwork would also help them understand how hard it is to cook and how to prepre a balanced meal. My 2 1/2 yr. old loves to help (keep them away from the stove of course).

    And the last rule I have is that they are required to eat one bite of everything I serve. If they don't eat the rest, I never force them. BT

    A good topic! I find it really hard to get the energy to cook ANYTHING at 5:30, and it's a bad time for my 18 mo old to play independently too. I have no great solution, but a few strategies have helped, mainly cooking ahead where possible.

    After I shop I try to cook a big stew with meat, potatoes, carrots, green beans, onions, tomatoes, pimentsn (Spanish smoked paprika). It's pretty easy, no fancy chopping, its virtue is the flavor developed by long-simmering. Also it tastes as good or better reheated through the week, unlike many foods that decline over time. My toddler and I have it for lunch almost all week long, it's one food she will almost always devour even as other foods go in and out of favor in accordance with some toddler system I do not understand. It can also fill in as a dinner if needed.

    At the same time I sauti ground beef and add tomato sauce for spaghetti later in the week. I prefer to cook meats right away because I start to doubt their freshness after a day or two.

    Then I count on rice and beans (un-PC Christians and Moors recipe, EZ and delicious in 20 minutes!). A homemade soup is also great, if made ahead.

    That's 3-4 meals, a good start to the week. I write any food ideas on the fridge so I can buy the ingredients, then fill out the rest of the week with frozen ravioli, leftovers, or ''snack dinner'' (baby has tofu, beans, applesauce, other no-cook items, husband and I eat cereal later on). Kristine

    My husband once came up with a great idea. He said to me, ''We do all this work to make dinner; it would be so easy to just make a little more and share with friends. Then when it's their turn to cook, we can get a break.'' So we proposed a Monday-night dinner share with two other couples who also had 1 or 2 small children. They jumped at the idea and immediately embraced the idea of not having to cook for two Mondays. Because our goal was to make things ''easier'' for us parents, we set a few ground rules that were very useful: (1) Nothing fancy or expensive; (2) No desserts; (3) Nobody is expected to help cleanup; (4) No obligation to socialize or linger beyond dinner; (5) If a person or family needs to make a quick exit (i.e. for a cranky kid, for another obligation, or simply to get home for a chance to unwind), they can do so without guilt or feeling the need to make excuses or explanations. Monday night dinners became something we really looked forward to (whether it was our turn to cook or not) because we knew we'd be with friends, we wouldn't have to worry about how our kids were behaving, and cooking actually turned out to be more FUN!!! Some of us occasionally broke a rule and made a fancier meal than usual. I started experimenting with quick and yummy desserts (because my husband did most of the cooking and I wanted to remain useful). We always shared wine at dinner. In the end, it was a cherished weekly ritual and somehow made the beginning of every week very special. A MORE SOCIAL COOK
    Quick Cooking magazine has recipes and tips for quick meals. Some recipes are healthy and some are not. You may subscribe to the magazine on the web site Sunset magazine publishes some good cookbooks, such as ''Quick Meals with Fresh Foods.'' sherri
    A cookbook which has gotten great reviews (in the newspaper and on Amazon), but I confess that I haven't yet bought, is ''Desperation Dinners'' by Beverly Mills. It claims to have only recipes which take 20 minutes or less. Good luck! Melissa T
    Alot of good advice has been given already such as planning out meals, doubling/freezing meals for later, having a sandwich night or inexpensive take out night, etc. Wanted to reiterate that Trader Joe's can be your friend. They have alot of timesavers such as boxed organic broths that can be used as a soup base, premade pasta sauces, alot of marinades (just add tofu or chicken), etc. as well as alot of quick-to-prepare items - quesidillas made with TJ tortillas, cheese, salsa, and guacumole is a favorite in our house and we can always throw in leftover meat, veggies, etc. Another favorite is the frozen lasagna. Also, I ALWAYS keep stuff for those nights that I just can't deal with dinner - Costco has the organic Annie's mac and cheese in bulk and there's alot of organic canned chili/soup out there for emergencies. Also breakfast for dinner can work - not just omelots or scrambled eggs - high quality cereal and milk (with fresh fruit/juice)is actually a pretty balanced meal in a real pinch.

    Another tip is to precut onions, garlic, carrot, even brocoli, green beans, etc. and put in ziploc bags after weekend grocery shopping. Its alot easier to cook from scratch on weekdays if the prep work has been minimized. Makes pasta, soup, and stir fry almost effortless later in the week.

    By the way, I also love Mark Bittman's cookbook: How to Cook Everything - its a 21st Century Joy of Cooking Karen