Reclaiming Happy Hour, Toddler and All

When Cee was an infant, I remember lamenting to a friend about how difficult the evening hours could be. Cee was often fussy. Husband was usually returning home from work hoping for some quality time with her, but instead she would cling to me.  Meanwhile, I had some crazy idea about getting a balanced meal on the table. Sometimes, I wanted nothing more than to be alone in the kitchen with both hands free. With a demanding baby, dinner usually ended up only being accomplished when Husband stepped in to finish what I had started and to clean up the mess left in my wake.

My friend empathized. She told me that she had deemed this time of day between about 5 and 7 PM, “Unhappy Hour.”

It is a fitting name, I think. Pre-kids, we would have been meeting friends for drinks and appetizers after work. Or maybe Husband and I would be cooking dinner together, glasses of wine in hand, telling each other about our days. It was often my time to go for a run or to a yoga class or to take my dog for a long walk. Regardless, happy hour used to be that time of day when we could reconnect with our friends and family, unwind from the day’s work, and recenter ourselves.

Reconnect. Unwind. Recenter. Is that even remotely possible with a toddler awake in the house?

These days, Unhappy Hour is daycare pick-up, sometimes errands, and dinner preparation, all within about an hour in order to stay on track for an on-time bedtime. Cee seems to fall apart at the least discomfort or injustice, and my efforts to console her can completely throw off my dinner preps. If both Husband and I are home, we can tag-team this – one of us hanging out with Cee and the other taking the lead on dinner. Sometimes Cee seems to need one or the other of us more, just as she did as an infant, and we make adjustments as needed. Things are tougher though if one of us is working late, and given Husband’s weird work hours, this happens a lot.

I’ve been reading Ellyn Satter’s Secrets of Feeding a Happy Family. It is required reading for one of the courses I’m teaching this fall, and I highly recommend it. It is really a comprehensive guide to feeding – from attitudes about feeding and eating, to meal planning, to cooking itself. Satter even addresses Unhappy Hour, which she calls “Bewitching Hour.” That she included this is brilliant. You can preach all you want about the value of the family meal and balanced nutrition, but if you can’t get past Unhappy Hour, you’ll get discouraged fast. That’s when the fast food drive-through suddenly seems like a great idea.

Satter says (and I wholeheartedly agree) that the difficulty with Unhappy Hour is that there are several priorities trying to squeeze into a short amount of time. Obviously, we’re trying to get dinner on the table. But we also need to reconnect with our kids. If we’ve been apart for most of the day, they need us, and in a quality kind of way. And finally, we need a small time and space for ourselves – to unwind and recenter.

Reconnect. Unwind. Recenter. And cook dinner.  Sounds familiar, right? But this is SO much harder when a tired toddler is involved.

Since going back to work, I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle these multiple priorities in the short span of Unhappy Hour. Here’s one thing I’ve learned: they don’t have to be competing priorities. They’re intertwined, and they’re all important. When I recenter myself, it’s easier to reconnect with Cee. When I reconnect with Cee, dinner prep is suddenly less daunting.

I have been making a real effort to give Cee 10-15 minutes of my time when we get home from daycare. That’s hard to do when I look at the clock and just want to get dinner started. But I’ve learned that not only does it feel good to reconnect, it also makes dinner prep go more smoothly. After a little time with me, Cee is often happy to play independently or maybe cheerfully “help” with dinner prep. If I try to skip reconnect time, she’s hanging on my leg, grabbing at the knives, or insisting on being held.

Satter has great advice about the reconnecting piece:

“Here is a secret about playing with your child: With playing, as with eating, children like to take the lead and want you to be a supportive presence. You don’t have to pile up blocks for him to knock down or make elaborate houses or teach about the laws of shapes and sizes and proportions. All you have to do it be there, pay attention, ask about what your child is doing, and make little comments like, “That’s a big wall.” You can even do all of this in a prone position, as long as you truly pay attention and take an interest.”

(Prone position: I like that idea.)

Making a little time to unwind and recenter myself is harder. I’ve learned to relish the 8 minutes alone in the car as I drive to pick Cee up from daycare. If I can, I fix myself a cup of tea for the road, and I grab an apple or handful of almonds or a cookie on the way out the door. In the car, I turn off the news and listen to classical music. Sometimes I record a little audio diary on my phone just to dump out some thoughts. I’m making an effort to arrive at daycare in at least a near-centered state. Maybe in a year or two, Cee and I can talk about giving Mama time to put her feet up when we get home. Right now, that doesn’t seem realistic. Not during Unhappy Hour.

I’m trying to reclaim Happy Hour, in some small way, toddler and all. Reconnect. Unwind. Recenter.

How do you survive Unhappy Hour?

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42 thoughts on “Reclaiming Happy Hour, Toddler and All

  1. With our boys (ages 2-5) there is definitely a significant amount spazzing out in our household. I miss the brunt of it as I usually get home between 6-7 PM. Sometimes, honestly, the boys need to watch a TV show.

    Ellyn Satter’s work is very insightful. I wish we had followed her advice more closely when my older sone was transitioning from being an omnivore to being picky (around age 3.) If others have not read her book, her thesis around mealtimes is that you pick meal time and the food you serve; the child picks how much. So simple yet powerful.

    • Craig – I agree. I should write more about Satter’s work. For the students in my class, I think much of it is hard to swallow. It really means trusting your kid and taking on a lot of responsibility for meal preparation and timing, but I do believe it works. I think that embracing this philosophy can also be incredibly freeing to parents that were fretting about how many bites of vegetables their child was taking or whether he was eating too much or not enough.

  2. With hubby starting a new lab and getting home late most evenings, I’ve learned to cook massive numbers of meals on the weekends during the boys’ nap times. This of course only works when they both nap at once..and for meals that can be re-heated and still taste good. I’ve exchanged recipes with my friends that don’t need a lot of oversight, mostly based on pasta and tomato sauce…and that way, instead of running around trying to cook with a baby and a needy 3 year old under my feet, I can chill with them (reconnection is definitely important!) and just microwave some food. It makes life so much easier during the week…I find 3-4 meals will get you through a week if you alternate the days, and still provide enough for lunch leftovers.

    • I definitely admire this approach. I can’t seem to get organized enough on the weekends, though I know it would save me time in the long run. I do usually manage to make at least one big pot of soup or something on the weekend, and we get another few days out of that. Maybe I’ll try to do more weekend cooking, inspired by you!

  3. I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s comments. My 5-year-old entertains herself during meal prep time or helps in the kitchen. I often put the 10-month-old in the high chair for finger food while I’m cooking, but we’re fast approaching the walking stage. I’m not sure how we’ll adapt yet!

  4. We fight our 6-month-old’s late-afternoon grumps on several fronts in our house.

    First, a good defense is a strong offense! Afternoon fussiness can usually be minimized (or eliminated!) by making sure my son gets a restful afternoon nap. I’m not a doctrinaire Weissbluthian, but I do follow Weissbluth’s advice (in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child) about protecting naps. Most days, I make sure to have my son in his crib by 1:30-2pm. At first I griped about how this broke up my afternoons, but I learned the hard way that I’d rather have my day interrupted by 2 hours with a book and a cup of tea than a late-afternoon meltdown. I reseve afternoon-long outings for special occasions.

    Another strategem is to keep dinner prep as brief as possible. We have a good rotation of healthy recipes that take barely any time to put together. One of our favorite things to do is put a punctured lemon into the cavity of a whole chicken, sprinkle the outside with salt and pepper, and roast it in the oven (then play with our son while chicken is roasting). Add sliced bread and a salad…done! We love to cook, but we leave more ambitious dishes for the weekends. And then we make a lot so we have leftovers.

    Finally, we preoccupy the baby with an activity. My son plays well independently, but the later it gets in the day, the less patient he gets with his play rug and toys, even if we’re there with him. Time to bundle him up and take a walk, or even meet a friend at a coffee shop for a quick chat. These brief outings really cheer him up! It makes me think some of the fussing simply stems from cabin fever. Fresh air and some locomotion does wonders for all of us.

    Of course, sometimes we put all of the above into action, and we still end up with a fussy baby from 5:30 until bedtime. Maybe the nap didn’t really “take,” or he just isn’t having a great day. In that case, we just give him lots of cuddles, maybe a relaxing bath, and a put him to bed a little early. Then I take a deep breath, grab a beer from the fridge, and remind myself that tomorrow is a new day.

    I look forward to reading everyone else’s tactics!

    • All of this is GREAT advice. I have to say, even the most simple of meal plans usually takes me longer than I think it will these days, unless it is just reheating food. Cee does interrupt me a lot. I am also often trying new dishes in search of good ways to use CSA veggies, and while I try to stick to simple recipes, trying something new always takes longer. I definitely need to work on my repertoire of 20-min weeknight meals. One of my strategies – and Satter writes about this, too – is having an easy out. Lately, we’ve been having popcorn for dinner on Sunday night, with a fruit or veggie on the side and, as usual, milk. That may not be the most nutritious meal ever, but we’re still sitting down to a meal together. On those evenings when we really *need* to get out for a walk instead of cooking a meal, it is good to have some back-up, last-resort type meals that you can feel comfortable with.

      • The easy out is a terrific idea, especially for someone like me who tends to get very upset when things don’t go according to plan. It’s a personality trait I’ve tried to work on (obviously, having a baby helps. a LOT). What a great way to take the panic out of the dinner “countdown” if my son is needier than usual or something else comes up. Also, I think Sunday evenings are an important time for families to regroup and reconnect before the demands of the week start pulling us all in different directions. If dinner ends up being simple, so be it!

      • mt – I also have a hard time letting go of how I *think* things should go for the evening – what I think dinner should look like, when it should be on the table, whether or not Cee eats any of it… Like you, having a baby has helped, but I still have to consciously let go of this some nights. It’s good to give ourselves permission for an easy out:) And, I love popcorn, and so does Cee. We put lots of butter (kids need the fat!) and nutritional yeast on it.

  5. Thank you for the tip about Satter’s book. As a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom with two-year-old twins who would rather do anything than nap (paint themselves with diaper cream included), I lost any sort of get-myself-together time, which was also my dinner prep time. Now, I try to set them up with anything that will hold their attention while I at least think about dinner–even it that’s deciding “pizza.” Will be curious to see what advice is there out there besides “watch the movie “Lady and the Tramp,” which, is mine.

    • For early childhood nutrition advice, I recommend Satter’s book, “Child of Mine” even more! Twins… I’m in awe. I think planning ahead is key. I am a big fan of the crock pot, as others have also recommended. On days that I’m home with her, Cee is usually in a good mood in the morning and happy to play independently, so that can be a nice time to work on dinner prep – either loading up the crock pot or even prepping parts for cooking dinner later. It’s challenging and a LOT of work, though.

  6. we call it the bewitching hour as well. I work outside of the home, so it’s the craziness that ensues between 6 and 7:30 when I’m trying to get everything together before bedtime. leftovers are the easiest, crock pot recipes are good (if you can remember to get it together in the morning), and otherwise… chaos. sometimes the boys are in a mood to help me cook, or play quietly and snack on something healthy to tide them over… sometimes, i throw in the towel, snuggle with them- and just WAIT IT OUT :) on the worst days, I put some music on and dance like a fool- or throw them in the bath, where i know they will be happy. dinner can wait. i need SANITY first and foremost! thanks for sharing!

    • I love the crock pot idea, but how do you carve out the extra time in your getting ready routine in the morning? Or are your kids old enough to dress themselves and get their own breakfasts?

  7. My friends and I refer to it as the Witching Hour, but for us (when on mat leave) it was between 4.30-6pm. I was lucky on mat leave as my Oh would grab him for 15 mins while I could finish off tea, and now he’s at nursery/childcare and a toddler, he gets fed there so nothing to do except play & chill with him once we all get home. But at weekends when I’m cooking, I try to do as much prep after lunch while he naps, then the final bits I stand him on a chair in the corner next to me and he gets given a bowl or such like to whisk and stir. Seems to work, and when he gets bored, he just gets down and wanders off to play on his own.

    • So Cee gets dinner at daycare, too, which is super helpful because it means that she doesn’t arrive home hungry. I still like having dinner with her though, and since I’m never sure how much dinner she actually ate, we usually all sit together again before she goes to be. I wonder if on daycare nights I should just give her a snack and put her to bed, leaving Husband and I to eat together later? Something to think about…

      • It is a minefield. N eats fairly late at nursery, but if we ate with him we would be eating too late at his bedtime, We like to eat early as well, so I eat my main meal at work, OH eats at the farm. Bad for family meals during the week, but works better for playtime and then we get the weekends. It’s all just trial to find out what works

  8. Thank you so much for this post!! I found all this stuff pretty easy when I only had one baby and toddler (who was an easy baby/toddler, and, actually, went to bed around 6 pm when he was maybe 5-10 months old before he could transition to a little later), so cooking and unwinding and all that could happen after he went to bed.

    Now I struggle like crazy with two. The older one is turning 3 in 2 weeks and the younger one is a very active, crawling, pulling-up-to-standing seven month old who also needs to go to bed around 6 pm…but her bedtime routine takes 20ish minutes right at about the time the 3 year old should be eating if we’re going to keep his routine decent. And my husband doesn’t get home until close to 7 most nights of the week. It’s insane mayhem for me those nights (the three year old gets to watch TV while the baby goes to bed). I have been told by friends not to try to make the fancy meal. And I’m going to try that. We’ll still have nutritious foods, but easy stuff – sandwiches, already cut-up veggies and fruits or wash-and-eat fruits, scrambled eggs, etc. Let’s hope it works. Other people highly endorse cooking on the weekends, but I feel like with working, errands, grocery shopping, laundry and basic housekeeping there is no chunk of time left to cook if Mom and Dad are to have ANY down time or social time…

    • Every time I write something like this, I wonder what parents of more than one must think. One should be super-easy, right? Two plus kids must be a whole other level. Maybe in another year or so, your kids will entertain each other during Unhappy Hour. Or maybe not:) I definitely agree that keeping dinner simple is a good idea. Kids don’t care how complex the meal is, and you’re right that you can still have nutritious, well-balanced meals with simple foods. Good luck!

      • Haha! Thanks, yes, it does seem super easy to just have one kid now. It also seems like having two is a lot easier for other people than it has been for me. Either that, or they are lying. Or at least not sharing much. Also, my second baby “neeeeeeds” more than my first did, just at the time my first is interested in imaginative play and wants/needs more parental attention. So it’s nutty. But that’s my theory, too; they will hopefully eventually entertain each other? Maybe? :) Anyway, I have been using Satter’s basic idea of “you choose the food, they choose how much” with the older kid and it really works to eliminate food battles; you just have to trust that the kid is indeed eating enough. They will eat more the next day if they eat nothing today!

    • Oh no, I’m sure it’s not easy for anyone having two! I’m sure some people just paddle more discreetly underwater, as it were ; ). Mine are now 4 and 18 months, the period with the baby up until about 10-12 months was just hellish, just no time for ourselves at all, complete chaos, perpetual guilt about TV and tempers and everything. Then it started to get slowly better, and while, as always, there are new challenges all the time, at least I am able to write a to-do list these days, and occasionally even do things on it. Working up to it, anyway ; ). They DO now entertain each other quite well, but if only not quite so loudly??? I was totally unprepared for how much harder two was, for me. Anyway, witching hour … super-fast dinner prep … oh my some challenges there. I like meals that can double as all sorts of things. You know, a massive chilli that you can save some of and recycle into baked potato toppings, or pie fillings, or tacos. But everything always seems slightly worse than I’d hoped. More TV. Dinner later. Over faster. Bedtimes later. Tempers more frayed. Baths less frequent (!!). Sigh.

  9. what has been working for me is to do several meals worht of prep on Sunday while my husband wrangles the small person and then on work days make heavy use of the crockpot. It has made a huge difference.

  10. Loved, loved, loved this post! I just got back to work and I didn’t see this sneaking up on me. Between trying to fix dinner, spending time with my toddler and catching my breath after a long day at work – it really feels like a lot to do and not enough time to do it in! If I do quick meals, I worry about nutritional value. If I prolong the dinner making process, I miss spending time with my son! I don’t know if there’s a middle ground… I’d sure like to find it! Hoping for some wisdom to trickle down from here… :)

      • Getting home from daycare has often been a tough time for my son (2.5). I usually feed him leftovers or something that only takes a couple minutes to prep because my husband does not get home until 6:15 or 6:30 and I know my boy can’t wait that long. I usually snack on veggies while my son eats because I don’t want him to eat alone. Husband and i can have dinner together later.

        Sometimes this rough patch is due to hunger so I offer my son a healthy snack so I don’t care if it ruins his appetite like a thin long carrot stick, a little bowl of frozen peas, or cold green beans (long, not cut-up = more fun) from the night before. I’m lucky my kid likes veggies!

      • McStreamy – you are lucky on the veggie front! Cee eats dinner at daycare before I pick her up at 5:30, so luckily her hunger isn’t usually an issue. I think this is truly a spectacular service provided by her daycare. She does usually sit down to eat with us around 6:30, but I don’t have to worry if she only nibbles at what we’re eating. She’s getting time at the table with us and hopefully exposed to some new foods. It’s her bedtime snack. A bigger issue is that I’m sometimes famished when we walk in the door, which is something I’m trying to combat by making sure that I’m taking care of myself with a late-afternoon snack before I pick up Cee. I’m always a fan of the pre-dinner fruit or veggie snack for both kids and adults!

  11. We have a bag of snacks at school and a bag in the car for a mandatory on-the-way-home snack. We grab one for me and one for the toddler. And then we do appetizers – just carrots or almonds or crackers. None of us handle hunger well!!

  12. i just started back to work and my 4.5 mo old is in daycare. i try to pick him up by 4- he doesnt nap too well there so by 4 he is exhausted but wound up from playing (the more tired he gets to more he talks/ screeches…). I call the time between 5-7 the six o-clock sh*t show because that’s when it hits the fan. even when i was on mat. leave it was bad. my husband doesnt get home until 630/7 so he usually gets to avoid it. i try to prep as much as possible on the weekends- i always meal plan for the week & post it on the fridge so if i find i have more time or am home early i can do more prep for another night (chop veggies, marinate meat, etc). I find that when i get home i like to get the baby’s bag prepped for the next day, unpack pump parts, throw in laundry- all while carrying baby around and talking. by 445 he’s done and we just lay down and nurse and nurse and nurse and nurse. he sleeps for 15-45 minutes and each time he wakes i just go back in, lay with him, nurse, or rock him until he’s back asleep. when i focus on the cuddles rather than worry about dinner, he doesnt fall back asleep. i learned that the hard way! We will definitely be checking out the book as we work on introducing solids in a few months.

    • that should be when i focus on cuddling him, he falls right back to sleep. if i am worried about getting back to dinner asap, he just doesnt fall asleep- its amazing how they pick up on that stuff!

      • Sounds rough, and I think you’ve found a perfect name for your evening. I’m amazed at how organized your are with dinners, especially considering the age of your baby and his needs at this time of the day! I’m getting there, but it’s definitely a work in progress. Fingers crossed for you that his napping at daycare comes together soon. Cee had a really hard time with naps until right around 5 months, and then they started consolidating and coming a bit easier. It sounds like the right thing that you’ve “given into” the cuddles:) I have definitely experienced how babies pick up on your intention and tension!

  13. I have an 18 month old, and I found “Bringing up Bebe” and “French Kids Eat Everything,” to be the two most enlightening books on feeding children. They changed our lives. We sit down to dinner at around 6:45-7 and baby goes to bed at around 8. We definitely have had fussy times, and it took us a while to adjust, but what I learned from those books is that kids will grow to your expectations. If you set them low, i.e. that your kid is going to be a pain the butt at 5:30 if he is hungry so you better damn well get the food on the table, and it better be mac and cheese, then that is how your kid will act. But if you think that your kid can wait until 7 to eat (perhaps with some play distraction and water…maybe a nibble of cheese or whatever you are cooking), and you are going to feed him homemade, spicy cauliflower korma with a side of roasted broccoli, then that is what your kid will live up to. I really dislike Ellyn Satter and think most of her advice is completely off-base. It makes parenting kids look more difficult than it really is. I also highly recommend the book Hungry Monkey for entertainment and debunking of most kids books on food. I read this right before my son started eating solids. As a consequence, his first food was brioche, followed by corn chowder for lunch that day.

    Thought I’d throw out the devil’s advocate side!

    • I too found Bringing up Bebe to be very eye opening. After praciticing the “wait and see” method my daughter is finally sleeping through the night or “doing her nights” as the book calls it. I like this advice about holding them off and giving them what the family is eating. I will have to pick up “French Kids Eat Everything.”

      • Late to the party here (busy semester), but I don’t think it’s “all one thing or the other”. We have dinner around 6:30-7, the 14-month-old goes to bed at 7:30, and the 3-year-old at 8:30. This is just what they do, naturally, and I’ve found trying to force a 6:00 bedtime on a kid of any age to be needlessly stressful – and, yeah, they usually can wait for dinner until 7. Sometimes they have a snack while we cook. That said, I’m still not doing gourmet meals – we take turns doing 30-45 minute meal preps, with the other parent doing quality time with the kids. So we’re sort of a hybrid. And frozen pizza is our backup – the baby won’t eat mac and cheese. ;)

    • Thanks for being the devil’s advocate, Christie! This is always welcome:) However, I’m curious about what you think is off-base about Satter’s advice. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I actually find most of her advice to be rather liberating, and it has helped me to relax about feeding my child. The foundation of her advice is the division of responsibility – that parents are in charge of the when (predictable mealtimes and snacks), where (at the table), and what (at least sort of balanced) of a meal, and it is up to the kid how much she eats of what is on the table or if she eats at all. I needed to hear this when my daughter started rejecting veggies. And you know what? She experiments with things at her own pace and is now pretty open to at least trying new things, no pressure required. She’s learning to eat how we eat, and we all share the same foods together, with all the flavors and spices that we love.

      I’m also a big fan of the French advice about feeding kids, and I don’t think it is all that contradictory with Ellyn Satter’s advice. A few differences I can think of: The French emphasize serving their meals in courses, which I admire and understand. But besides the occasional appetizer plate of veggies, I can’t seem to pull off the courses thing. Satter advises putting everything on the table at once, and that’s just easier for me. The French also seem to emphasize requiring kids to try a bite of everything, and I think Satter would call that pressure. I personally think a “no thank-you” bite can be a nice rule, but I think Cee is a bit young to understand it, and the zero pressure model is easy and seems to be working for us right now. If I remember correctly, I think Satter is a bit more conservative about starting babies on solid foods – recommending rice cereal and purees to start but progressing to table foods as quickly as possible. I think the way you did it is great, as long as you don’t have a family history of allergies.

      In her section on the bewitching hour in “Secrets,” Satter writes, “Unlike the young infant, the toddler no longer benefits from being made the center of the universe.” She advises taking a few minutes to give your child your full attention before starting dinner. She also advises telling your child that YOU need a few minutes to yourself, if that’s something you can use, and she says that it is important for kids to accept that you have needs, too. Once you start prepping dinner, she recommends engaging your kid(s) to help and helping them learn to distract themselves from hunger to avoid binging on snacks just before dinner. All of this sounds rather French to me!

      This was a rather long rant in defense of Satter, but it is interesting to me to compare different schools of thought. In the end, as with every part of parenting, I like to take a bit from here and a bit from there, see what works, and go with it!

  14. I just wanted to leave a quick note to thank you and your readers for all of the tips. I am a mother to a two year old and newborn and am just trying to find my footing with a new “normal” and have been having trouble with the unhappy hour in our house!

  15. Thanks for this post and all of the comments. We are still figuring this out with our nearly six month old. We are still working on getting into the healthy meal habit, but when we do have success, it is because we get our act together on the weekend to make big meals and freeze or set up freezer crock pot sets. I made about 12 of these in a three hour burst a few weekends ago and it’s been a huge help.

    We usually have a time frame of 5:30-7:30 where we are home and before we need to start the bed time routine. This is the biggest time we have for the three of us during the day (aside from a rushed hour in the morning) so I try to focus on being together, even if the baby is fussy or I am thinking about the work I need to do once the baby goes to bed. We’ve been lucky enough to have a baby who responds to the consistency of a routine and goes down pretty easily at night (for now anyway). That helps me focus on that time, knowing that I should be able to work on my own stuff after 8pm.

    • Freezer crock pot sets… what an amazing idea! I am a huge fan of the crock pot. I try to plan at least one crock pot meal per week – and that one usually lasts for two nights. Definitely sounds like the right thing to focus on spending time together as a family during that time. For us, a walk is always a nice way to decompress and distract from the grumpies:)

  16. I haven’t read either of those books, but what worked for us was to always feed our daughter what we ate, chopped up before she had teeth, not so much now that she is three. She has to take one bite (we don’t use the phrase no thank you because that’s what her daycare uses for mild mis-behavior). She eats just about everything, although she doesn’t like dried pineapple or raw tomato. She is particularly fond on Indian food, and the spicier the better. She eats how much she wants, but the veggie has to first. And there is no dessert if she doesn’t eat all her food. And dessert is usually fruit and cheese… What woked best for us in terms of the witching hour was to relax about the nutrition of a given meal, and work on balancing the nutrition of the week’s worth of meals. So last night was apples and cheese and popcorn, but tonight was vegetable soup. She usually has a heavy helping of protein for lunch, so was can relax about that. We also included her in the food prep from the beginning, first in the front carrier, then with a spoon and a bowl on the floor. Now she actually is helpful, particularly for meals that requiring shredding or stirring. And she is a master at getting things out of the fridge or putting them away for us.

  17. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and good advice! :-) In our family we survive the juggling of interests during unhappy hour by:
    1) feeding the kids an extra snack (the healthy kind). In daycare they usually have lunch pretty early and the light afternoon snack, usually a sandwich or fruit, is served by 2 pm. This means they are really hungry and whiny by 5 pm. If we just hand them a fruit, or a piece of bread – even on the way home from day care, or before running errands in a grocery store – their mood is generally much better. A great advice I got once, is to start the cooking with chopping up some carrot, cucumber or pepper sticks for the kids to munch on – like a little appetizer, or late snack. This makes me less stressed about getting everything ready on Time, and keeps them happy. And if it does “wreck their appetite” a bit – no problem. Veggies are healthy, after all.
    2) I do love, and highly value, the reconnection part and I think you’re onto the trick there with investing extra interest initially for reassurance, so they can relax and allow you to do your own thing later. But with 2 kids tugging my arms I just need a break sometimes to keep some sanity. If we are two adults at home, we can work shifts: maybe 10-20 minutes of rest each, then it’s back to business.
    When alone with the kids I try and direct their energy into some activity they can engage in without my immediate coaching: building blocks, drawing or jigsaw puzzles perhaps – preferably something they can do in the kitchen area, so I can watch and listen with interest even if partly engaged in cooking. With 2 year olds it’s been perfect to hand them some tools they can copy my cooking with, e.g. chopping up bread with a butter knife. Or helping them to help me, of course, but that does demand time and patience (I once had an eager and inventive 2 year old ruining an entire bowl of pancake batter with washing-up liquid, while I turned my back. He was very happy with himself for adding and stirring so well.).
    TV is an option here, really, but I only put on well known, kind (and preferably somewhat educational) shows for them to watch without me because you never know what fantasies and thoughts are raised. Whatever it takes just to get a couple of minutes of more-or-less-quiet-and-alone time (even if they are spent in the kitchen).
    3) Usually there is way more time after dinner. Washing dishes can either wait, or be left to the parent with the most need of alone time. I like to read them a book, having them close to me, as a way of calming down and recenter. Other times its full-on play time with energized kids before bedtime, actually. We had a brutal air-hockey game tonight! :-) But of course they need calming down too, afterwards.
    4) Putting back the adult me- and us time, until the kids are asleep. We try and do household chores before the children go to bed (they can take part, it’s educational) so we get some actual rest-time here.

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