Overcoming the Overwhelm: Dinner Time Angst

Dinner time in my home has always been challenging, just ask my husband who for many years walked in the door each evening never sure if there would be dinner available or not. My informal surveys of moms, both ADHD & non-ADHD alike, about dinner-time struggles yielded some common challenges.  Many of these challenges can be overcome with a little creativity:

  • Challenge: Meal planning is tough – Difficulty stems from it being considered a thankless job  and/or one that requires a high degree of executive function.  Whatever the reason, there aren’t many moms who seem to enjoy meal planning.
    • Possible Solution:  Establish a meal planning routine & don’t go it alone.  There’s typically nothing fun or interesting about this type of planning, so invite others to share the responsibility.  On Saturdays when I am planning meals I invite my husband and kids (when they’re home) to make requests for the next week’s dinner.  This helps me feel less stuck with coming up with meal ideas and gives others a meal to look forward to in the upcoming week.  My Saturday meal planning routine also allows me time to create a grocery list for weekly shopping on Sunday or Monday.
  • Challenge: The grocery store experience is overwhelming – Too many choices, too much hustle & bustle, too much noise, too many decisions – let’s face it, the grocery store can be an overwhelming place on many levels.
    • Possible Solution: Shop at smaller stores with fewer options and schedule your shopping during off-peak hours.  My favorite stores to shop at locally are Marc’s and Heinen’s  because they quite a bit smaller than the national chains.  Fewer choices and fewer decisions make grocery shopping more manageable.
  • Challenge: It’s tough to get motivated to shop for food, again… – Does your lack of motivation to go to the grocery store stem from challenges with transitioning between activities, the boredom factor, or something else?   There are countless reasons getting to the grocery store can be tough.  I think we could all agree grocery shopping would be easier if there were something exciting or enjoyable about it.
    • Possible Solution: Bringing excitement to grocery shopping might be a stretch, but you could try linking this task to another more enjoyable activity.  I will sometimes schedule lunch with friends at the stir fry counter of Heinen’s.  Just being in the store makes transitioning into shopping after lunch much easier.  I also rely on my husband to serve as my “grocery shopping motivator” on the weekends.  He is very focused and time oriented and makes sure we not only get to the store, but that we get through it and home in a reasonable amount of time.  Most importantly he helps make the process fun.
  • Challenge: We bought the food, but hyperfocus (on something other than dinner) or magical thinking gets in the way of us actually getting it on the table. – I can’t tell you how many afternoons in years past, (though my husband probably can)  I got engrossed in a project, lost track of time and totally forgot about dinner.  Or, my tendency towards magical thinking allowed me to rationalize that I really could pull together a healthy meal in 10 minutes.
    • Possible Solution:  Blocking out two hours in my calendar each day to deal with dinner has finally allowed me to escape the magical thinking around meal preparation. It might be less time for you, but over time, I’ve learned it can take me up to two hours to go through my stages of meal preparation:  pre-contemplation, contemplation, transitioning into the kitchen, preparing the meal, eating and cleaning-up.  Some days I use the entire two hours, most days I end up with bonus free time.   

Since discovering the above solutions, dinner actually happens at our house on schedule the majority of the time.  Are there still dinner time snafus, like the small grease fire last night when my son & his girlfriend attempted to fry brussels sprouts?   Of course there are, but these days, we order in because we want to as opposed to needing to.  I’d love to hear about your dinner time challenges or what you do to overcome the overwhelm of dinner time angst!


14 Responses to “Overcoming the Overwhelm: Dinner Time Angst”

  1. Ellen Delap March 12, 2014 8:48 am #

    Wonderful strategies to make dinner happen. I think having a partnership is a great tool. It can be a partnership to make a dinner plan, make dinner and especially to clean up after dinner. It is a universal challenge to keep the routines going but partnerships help!

  2. Donna Smallin Kuper March 12, 2014 11:24 am #

    Great ideas, Andrea! I love your idea about asking family members for meal ideas…I never thought of that. I just started using the Out of Milk app for managing my grocery list. I’m still trying to figure out how to get the items into categories (frozen foods, fruits and vegetables, etc.), but I enjoy clicking on items in the list as I pick them up, which crosses them off the list. Then, when I need the items again, I go to the list of crossed off items and click to put them back on the shopping list. Plus you can share the list with your partner. I haven’t tried that yet, but I think you could both be in the store at the same time and get the shopping done in half the time that way!

    • Andrea Sharb March 12, 2014 11:35 am #

      Thanks for your comment Donna. I’ll have to check out the Out of Milk app. Love the idea of sharing the list – anything that speeds up shopping is good!

  3. Megan Spears March 12, 2014 4:39 pm #

    I love this Andrea and I especially love that you offer them as suggestions! I have found most people who struggle with dinner need lots of ideas (or suggestions) to find that specific thing that works for them! Great post!

    • Andrea Sharb March 12, 2014 5:31 pm #

      Thanks for stopping in Megan. Glad you appreciate the suggestions and agree it can take sorting through a lot of suggestions to find what strikes a cord for you.

  4. Karen JK March 12, 2014 6:01 pm #

    Andrea, it also takes me 2 hours for the whole dinner “thing”–exactly as you describe, from getting everything out, cooking, eating and clean up. For a long time I fought the fact that it really took me that long, because I thought “everybody else” did it faster. I thought there must be something wrong with me that it took that long. I didn’t even believe my own evidence!

    This led to magical thinking and not allowing enough time at the end of the evening for dinner. Of course that would throw everything else off schedule for the rest of the evening, which snowballs into the next day. To catch up, I’d have to order in much too often.

    It’s just such a simple relief to tell myself that it’s OK to take 1-1/2 to 2 hours for “dinner.” Thank you for sharing your personal experience!

    • Andrea Sharb March 12, 2014 6:57 pm #

      Karen, Thank you for sharing your experience. I agree, it is such a simple relief to accept that it takes the time that it takes and leave the magical thinking out of it.

  5. Deborah Zechini March 12, 2014 6:35 pm #

    Ugh! I dislike grocery shopping-it’s always so COLD!!! So my husband does the shopping. The only problem is that he buys the meats but nothing to go with it to fix a meal. So meal planning needs to happen on the day he grocery shops, but I haven’t manage to make that happen. Also, it’s difficult to plan to have fresh produce when you’re not sure if anyone will be home to eat/use it. It seems that when I have planned well and have fresh stuff something disrupts my schedule and it spoils before that perfect evening comes around when I have time.
    Yeah, I think I need a little market across the street from my house. That would be perfect!

    • Andrea Sharb March 12, 2014 8:28 pm #

      Deb, I dislike the cold of the grocery store too! I wonder if your husband would be willing to brainstorm some meal possibilities with you before he heads to the store? We’re going vegetarian at our house so I totally get the challenge of the fresh produce thing – I have learned that frozen fruits & veges are considered as healthy as fresh so we keep plenty of them in the freezer to get us through when we can’t get to the store every few days. Let me know what you come up with.

  6. Linda Samuels March 12, 2014 8:27 pm #

    Great ideas! I’m impressed. Meal planning has never been my specialty. I remember when our girls were growing up, they’d ask me what we were having for dinner. I’d say, “I don’t know, I’m not in the kitchen yet.” I never really officially planned. I just had a variety of things available that I could just whip up.

    My planner and discipline shows up in other areas of my life…just not so much in the kitchen. Things are organized (cabinets, supplies, fridge,) but the frequency with which I cook….well, not so much.

    • Andrea Sharb March 12, 2014 8:41 pm #

      Linda, Necessity was the mother of invention when it came to these ideas. Hopefully someone else can take them and get even more creative. As for dinner at your house, if you’re able to whip something up and get it on the table, that sounds like a win to me!

  7. Denise Lee March 13, 2014 12:43 pm #

    Brilliant post! Who doesn’t struggle with meal planning!? I love your insights. Smaller stores are helpful: less distraction, frustration (where is the hot sauce this week?), a smaller and faster path through the store, and for all of those reasons – less money spent. When I get tired of planning I pull out the trusty two-week rotating menu that I created a while ago. Now that my son is in high school, it is wonderful to give him a turn at dinner. He gets life skills and I get a night off. Magical thinking has caused me to have the quick plan B always available (either pizza or tomato soup with grilled cheese). After using my plan B card once in the week, I can usually ratchet up my attention to the clock for a while – but not always. Thank you for this post. I have enjoyed it and the comments.

    • Andrea Sharb March 14, 2014 8:50 am #

      Thanks for your comments and suggestions Denise! It’s great to hear that your son contributes at your house. It was a wonderful day when one of my sons began to show an interest in cooking. He’s become quite good at it and I’m enjoying his dinner time contributions this week while he is home from college. He is vegan, so he is actually teaching me a lot about simplifying our eating.

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