SC Johnson Family Economics Blog
Friday, January 20, 2012

Stress-Free Dinner Transitions | Family Economics

By Erin

stress-free dinner transitionsSeveral months ago, I accidentally took a dish towel to the table. It was a revolutionary moment in my career as a “mom chef.”

Because I had the towel at the table, I didn’t have to get up again to grab one when someone spilled their milk, or smeared their peas all over the table (20 month old!). It was one less interruption and one less thing for me to have to do during the meal. It allowed me to continue sitting at the table without having to get up, and we were able to enjoy our family meal.

So it got me to thinking…what else can I do to make the whole “get dinner on the table” transition a little smoother?

Bear with me here…before we had children, my husband and I knew a family who had a rule that the kids (mostly toddler/preschoolers) were not allowed in the kitchen while mom was preparing food. At the time, I thought it was more for the children’s safety (hot oven, boiling water on the stove). But now I know it was so my friend could move about the kitchen without stepping on little toes or having little ones hugging her knees keeping her from moving from the fridge to the cutting board.

I completely get it now. As a mom who has a small kitchen and who has three very active little boys, I totally get it. I don’t want them in my kitchen while I’m finishing up dinner and getting it ready to serve, partly for their safety and partly for my sanity. But I need them to come into the kitchen to get forks, spoons, cups, etc. to set the table.

But do I?!?

I don’t really NEED to have them come into the kitchen. I quickly figured out the solution to my problem. While I’m putting the final touches on the food, I can set out the plates and tableware on the corner of the counter. The boys can then take it from the counter and set the table – without ever having to come into the kitchen…

And let me tell you what, the nights that I remember to get the plates and forks out and onto the counter so they can then set the table, those are the nights that dinner transitions run smoothly.

So I’ve got the kids setting the table without coming into the kitchen and I’ve got my dish towel ready and waiting on my lap for the inevitable spill.

I’d love to hear the things your family does to keep things flowing smoothly from prep time to cook time to sit down time. What changes have you made to make your family dinners more enjoyable?

6 Comments so far

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On Monday, January 23, 2012, Kate from Vancouver wrote

I got a summer dish caddy that has room for plates, napkins and silver ware. I fill it up when I unload the dishwasher in the morning and set it at the table for my 3 & 5 dd to set the table. It saves a step. Then no one is getting up for an extra spoon during dinner.

On Monday, January 23, 2012, Denise from Alabama wrote

wow! I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only person who doesn't like folks underfoot when I'm finishing dinner. I have this "thing" about having people near me when I cook cuz I tend to dash left and right and if you're in my way and I have a knife in my hand..well, I just couldn't bear to think of the result. So I have to have a BIG open kitchen, which I do (and always have). I've been assigning kitchen duty to the kids during those last few moments of dinner making. I like the idea of placing everything on the table, but my middle one likes to count out the silver ware. she has a thing for math and is proud of the fact that she can figure out how many pieces of silverware we need for each meal. But the silverware drawer is out of my "zone", so it works. but I could put out a stack of dishes, the cups and napkins for the other two to get going. thanks for the confirmation that I'm not crazy or a mean mom for not wanting my kids near me when I cook!

On Friday, January 20, 2012, Jenn aka Crafting Queen :-) wrote

What a great idea! Thanks for sharing it.

On Friday, January 20, 2012, Kaye from Davenport wrote

When we moved to our new house I thought about how to put the dishes so the kids (5 and 3) could self serve their dishes and also to assist in setting the table. I used the end cabinet for cups, napkins, and their dishes (used mostly for breakfast now). I used the end drawer for the silverware. They don't need to come into the kitchen and yet can get these items to set the table. I put the salt/pepper, butter, and dinner plates on the end of the cabinet while I'm making dinner so they can set the table without too many questions. Our napkins are inexpensive washclothes that I got for $4 a 12 pack. When we have a spill everyone throws their napkin on it as quickly as possible and new ones are given out. They are wonderful for cleaning up messy babies too. They're absorbent and bleaching out spaghetti stains are not an issue either.

On Friday, January 20, 2012, Crazy Mom from TN wrote

I have three kids ages, 12, 7 and 3. My 12 year old gets to get drinks ready and bring down the plates and grab the silverware. My 7 year old wipes down the table, dries it and sets the placemats and cloth napkins out at each seat. My three year old takes the utensials to the table and sets them at each chair. Then the drinks are placed by my 12 year old. After dinner each one is responsible for scraping their plates into the trash, putting them in the dishwasher and emptying their cups and putting them on the counter for drinking out of later. It has worked great and minimum fussing from everyone!

On Friday, January 20, 2012, Cheryl from Ohio wrote

We are trying harder to actually eat dinner around the dinner table. I have my oldest set the table after the younger one wipes it off (doesn't have to be perfect, something else will get spilled or dropped at dinner). I also put the dishes & silverware in one spot otherwise I end up stepping on a Beyblade (the WORSE!!!) or a lego figure. This week we started a 5 minute clean up so while I'm finishing up dinner the kids are picking up toys & whatnot....VERY helpful! I have found taking extra napkins out to the table really helps. I need to find a cheap water pitcher since we are consistently getting up to get 3 ppl refills.

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