School starts. The activities begin.
The time crunch of "Rush Hour" hits. You know, the late afternoon/early evening.... you're supposed to pick kids up, drop them off, eat dinner, clean up, get ready for the next day...
....that rush hour.
I have found, over the years, that I CAN NOT survive the "Rush Hour" days without some preparation. Mostly, I have found that planning meals and organizing/setting out stuff ahead of time can make these busy days about a million times easier. Here are some meal ideas:
Use your Crock Pot:
One easy way to ensure that you have a somewhat nutritious meal that is ready to go- use your Crock Pot! This is also a great idea if you have people in the family who need to eat at various times through the evening. Here are some of my favorite recipes:
- Crock Pot Coconut Curry Beef
- Crock Pot Tri Tip with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Feta
- EASY Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Crock Pot BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
- Hearty, Healthy Crock Pot Lentil and Barley Soup
- Make Ahead Meatballs (Various Crock Pot Recipes)
- I also like chicken tacos made in the Crock Pot (this is great because I can have chicken taco salad while the boys have tacos): put 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the crock pot (I throw them in still frozen) add a package of taco seasoning or chicken taco seasoning, then add enough water or chicken broth to cover. I cook on low for 6-8 hours, or high for 4 hours. Shred it up and you're ready!
- A great website for crock pot recipes is http://www.crockpot365.blogspot.com/
There are plenty of meals that the prep work can be done ahead of time. Casseroles, sandwiches, soups, salads, etc. Even if you have a crazy busy evening, there is usually a little time in the day that you could set aside and prepare for the dinner hour. For example, if I was going to serve Turkey BLT's for dinner, I would cook up the bacon , slice the tomatoes and leaf the lettuce, set the table and lay out all the non-refrigerated stuff, cut up salad or fruit to be served with dinner..... all of this may take a half hour. But usually I'll have that half hour to give in the early afternoon, so I make sure and plan ahead!
Casseroles are a great way to make dinner ahead of time. I will make the casserole to the point where it would go into the oven, then throw it in the refrigerator until an hour or so before dinner, then throw it in the oven! Casseroles are great too, because they make good leftovers, and generally stay warm for a few hours, so it is handy if your people need to eat at different times. Here are a few good casserole recipes:
- Chicken Florentine Artichoke Bake
- Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
- Baked Mac and Cheese
- Cheeseburger Noodle Casserole
- Easy Baked Ziti (I use ground turkey for the beef in most recipes)
Many times, a few minutes spent thinking ahead can save you a TON of stress. For example, on the nights when one kid has youth group and another has scouts, I can think ahead to what clothes need to be clean, if I need to prepare a snack, if there are forms that need to be filled out..... and DO those things. Then I set the needed items in a central location, so that I don't forget them. When you have younger kids, simple things like laying out the clothes they need to wear for an activity saves time AND annoyance. There is nothing worse than being 5 minutes late already and realizing there are no clean socks. Or that one shoe is missing. Oh man, those types of situations make me crazy!!
I am a big list maker, and have been known to put sticky notes on my steering wheel or on the front door if I think I will forget something. This way you can avoid the panic of "Oh crud I forgot the juice I was supposed to bring....it's still in the fridge.." when you get to scouts. Notes and lists are your friends.
Cut Yourself Some Slack Sometimes:
There are some days when things just go sideways. The whole day is stacked with unexpected events. I have learned that sometimes, it's ok to just take a deep breath and announce that we are driving through and getting dinner on the way to some activity... or I'll feed the kids breakfast for dinner. Or I'll make PB&J sandwiches. Sometimes you can't plan for every situation. The good thing about purposefully planning most of the time is that when you have days like that, they're isolated events rather than patterns. And we all know that happens. Life happens.
To sum it up- a little planning goes a long way. Try it and see how much more smoothly your "Rush Hour" operates. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.