Winning in the witching hour
Young family, early evening: too often this is all it takes for mass meltdown. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Jessie Jarvie shares how to stay one step ahead.
It’s the middle of the afternoon and you’ve just nailed your budget presentation at work or successfully occupied your toddler for an hour with a new craft activity at home. Little do you know that, come five o’clock, you will be cursing at your own lack of dinner prep while trying to console a screaming child that doesn’t want to hop in the bath and has just peed on the floor rather than in his potty.
We’ve all had those days! Part of the witching hour recipe is the difficulty of dinner prep when you are managing siblings, daycare runs, supermarket stops, bath time, story books and (if you’re lucky) some form of adult conversation with your other half. Speaking from experience, after fighting the bedtime battle, sitting down to baked beans on toast just doesn’t cut the mustard. Dinner prep is without a doubt one of the biggest obstacles for us parents to overcome as we raise our precious little families. Here I’ve compiled a bunch of suggestions for you to try, to help take the edge off the end of your day. Hopefully there are one or two that work for you – and better still, that give you the chance to put the kids down, and your feet up!
1. Plan B
Always (always!) have a plan B in the freezer. The beautiful chaos of family life is in its unpredictability. You don’t know when a bad day is going to hit, so it pays to be prepared for the worst. When it comes to meal times, having a plan B up your sleeve that’s healthier than takeaways will be something you’ll thank yourself for. When we are busy is when we need good food the most, and it’s a sad irony that all too often being busy and eating well don’t come hand in hand. Luckily for us, as we get busier, the consumer market tends to respond with things like smart devices (even my washing machine is ‘smart’!) and convenience products (my long-time love, the biodegradable disposable nappy), and our food is getting smarter too – there are more and more healthy, take-home dinner options appearing right in front of our tired eyes. The frozen meal sections of our grocery and gourmet food stores are no longer full of cardboard; check out Ripe Deli, The Casual Foodie and Jess’ Underground Kitchen for some delicious, home-style dinners that you won’t want to share. As for your little people, check out the frozen food section at thebabybag.co.nz, which features freezer-fillers such as Little Angels and Tot’s Pantry. One word: lifesavers!
2. Split shifting
It’s a big ask, and certainly not something we all have available to us, but restructuring the hours of your working day, commonly known as ‘split shifting’ is a great way to relieve some of the pressure of the witching hours. Split shifting is splitting a working day into two or more shifts to allow you more time at home while your little ones are up and about. You could consider finishing at 2 or 3pm, doing the daycare run a little earlier than usual, and allowing yourself more time at home to feed, bath and get them to bed (not to mention allowing you to avoid the 5pm traffic). This of course means that, to make up your eight hour day, you either need to log back on at night, or start work earlier than most. I’m not much of a morning person myself, so I’ve always found it easier to head home early with my kids and then log on once they’re asleep. I find those night-time hours particularly productive, as there’s nobody around to distract me from the task at hand.
3. Slow cookers
I used to think that slow cookers were something out of the dark ages, but my husband’s caramelised pork forced me to change my outlook. A slow cooker is a must-have for every busy family kitchen and, these days, I can give you a million reasons why – but I’ll stick to my top four. Firstly, there are fewer dishes – actually, there’s just one! Who’s not going to enjoy that? Secondly, food cooked at lower temperatures retains more nutrients, and cooking nutritious food is hard when you’re short on time. Thirdly, you can feed the whole family from one pot, and all at different times if need be. I’m talking baby food from the cooker at midday (just cool a small portion and blend to your heart’s content), toddlers and preschoolers from the cooker at 5pm, and mum and dad from the cooker once the rest of the household is asleep. Lastly, you can use cheap cuts of meat and nobody will even notice. Slow cookers tenderise everything, and the rule of thumb is the longer your day, the softer the meat! So go on, give it a crack. Cooking slow, low and with minimal oversight is surely the stuff post-baby dreams are made of.
4. The Dinner Box
Whether we like it or not, some of us can’t avoid that eight hour shift. Preparing a dinner box for in the car on the way home from daycare is a great way to keep the peace during rush hour, and to get at least one dinner out of the way before you even walk through the front door. Although I wouldn’t encourage it every night of the week, once or twice makes it a great tool for keeping the calm. You can include anything in your dinner box – cold meats such as ham or chicken, boiled eggs, cheese cubes, a savoury muffin, a sandwich, popcorn, vege sticks and fruit wedges. Store your dinner box in the fridge at work until it’s time to do the daycare run. Your dinner box will also help avoid the dreaded 5pm nap in the car – because we all know where that story ends, and it’s not pretty.
If you’re gutsy enough to cook dinner with little people at your feet, all power to you! Preparation of ‘busy bags’ or a craft cupboard can be a great distraction to give you 20 or 30 minutes in the kitchen. A craft cupboard should be jam-packed with stuff to indulge creative senses, eg. colouring pencils, stencils, pipe cleaners, iceblock sticks, coloured card, stamps and play dough. Mix up your supplies every so often to keep the craft cupboard interesting. Limit your little one’s access to the craft cupboard to weekdays between the hours of 4 and 6pm (or whenever you arrive home) so that it’s a treat that they look forward to when you walk through the door each day. Make sure you have a craft mat to throw on the floor so mess is limited, and set a task like making a birthday card for Nana, or a sign for the bathroom door.
If all else fails, I always fall back on the words of my dad – the sun will come up again tomorrow, and you get the chance to give it another shot. Happy parenting!
Jessie Jarvie and her husband are the parents of three under five. When they started their family they were shocked at the lack of infrastructure that existed to support the swelling demographic of busy parents like themselves, so in 2015 they launched The Baby Bag, which has been helping sustain New Zealand’s parenting community ever since. Visit them at thebabybag.co.nz, or say hi at @thebabybagnz. They’d love to be of service.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 42 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW