This post is titled "Life with Babies" but really, it's for anybody at all. Maybe especially those with kids, but not just them. I'm also going to try to write quickly, because Lucy is entertaining herself with a spoon and a bowl and they've kept her happy for fifteen minutes already. I don't know how much longer it will last.

There is a terrible, terrible hour coming upon us.

That hour is 4pm. (In some houses, it's five, but here, it's four.)

It's that time when EVERYBODY NEEDS SOMETHING RIGHT NOW. And it usually coincides with the hour that the adults suddenly feel desperate for a nap or their own bed time. Kids, left to their own devices, are whiny and fickle, or it's suddenly become Very Important that you Play With Them At Once. Or maybe it's just gorgeous out and a trip to the park is in order.

But whether you're playing Candyland with bleary eyes while you sip coffee or watching kids tear across playground equipment, 4pm (or 5) is also another time of day.

Time to start dinner.

Now, you might already have a head start on this. In this household, by 4pm we've menu-planned the week before and usually know what we're going to make. It's not a mad rush to figure out what we can cook, it's just a matter of making something. And other days, Our Friend the Crock Pot has our backs. And additionally, for the sake of total honesty, about two or three nights a week, Adam makes dinner (it's WONDERFUL).

But the Crock Pot does not work for every meal. And sometimes Adam has work to do. And because we're eating gluten-free (and before that started, we were doing very little processed food anyway), dinner prep is not a five minute job. Also, please remind me sometime, that I have lots of thoughts about why "Five-Minute" or "Twenty-Minute" dinner is not the healthiest goal and I will finally write about them.

So, how does one pay attention to kids and dinner (or nap time and dinner, should you be so blessed)?

Utilizing midday!

On the days that I am wisest (by the grace of God go I), I prep my meat, do all my veggie-chopping, measure seasonings, etc., during after-lunch nap or just during the after-lunch period of relative peace. Bellies have just been filled and if they aren't sleeping, they're usually content enough after a meal together to play by themselves with more success than later in the day.

Some meals go straight into the oven to cook and then stay warm (this will change as it gets warmer). Most meals, though, go into the fridge with the necessary start times for cooking noted on a whiteboard or iPod. This means that at 4pm or 4:30pm or whenever, "making dinner" takes me all of two minutes to put something in the oven or ten minutes at the skillet.

And if your crock pot hasn't been helping you before, most also have a warm feature, so "skillet" meals (as opposed to oven meals) can be cooked right after lunch and then go into the crock pot to just stay hot until dinner.

Maybe that window isn't after lunch for you. Maybe it's a morning nap for your bab(y/ies), maybe it's before breakfast. Maybe it's the night before after everyone is in bed-- you wake up, and dinner is done for the day! After lunch works for us right now because of nap time and lunch dishes, so the lunch clean-up includes most of the dinner prep stuff. Fewer dishes after dinner! That's important when you're doing dishes by hand.

But if you find yourself constantly in a mad rush to prepare a meal you'd already planned, then consider finding another time in the day to do most of the work. Even if it takes a forty-minute meal and gives you fifteen minutes of work in the evening instead (stir fries and all their vegetables!), that's twenty-five minutes in the evening that you have to sit with your kids or go to the park. I've found that doing prep much earlier in the day actually also helps our meal times to be consistent. It's a lot easier to judge how much time a prepped meal will need to cook than it is to judge how much time I require to do the prep-- after lunch, I'm not feeling so rushed by the clock.

Dread hour? Ha. Not anymore!

Edit: I did all that dinner prep and my boys cried for like the whole thirty minutes of cooking dinner anyway, haha. Some days you just have to roll with the flow, I suppose, even if the flow is of tears.