Maintaining a Loving Home

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker is dedicated to answering the "what's for dinner" question with healthy, quick recipes that can accommodate busy schedules. She is a devout Christian, a wife and mother, and a lover of words and books. She lives in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas and holds a degree in English from Kansas State University.
Brohgan Dieker

Latest posts by Brohgan Dieker (see all)

As a woman, I wear many hats. Maybe you feel this way as well?

I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a friend. I am a Christian.

I am a member of my community and my church. I am a volunteer.

I am an entrepreneur and the only employee in my business (yes, blogging is a business).

Also, I am myself, the sole person in charge of expressing and caring for my own needs.

Each hat comes with its own set of responsibilities. For instance, I eat fruits and vegetables. I pray. I read. I jog. I have deep, meaningful conversations. I prioritize sleep. I do laundry. I clean. I cook. I write.

But, it’s like my friend always says, you can really only do one thing well at a time. I always choose your top priority for the moment, even when I’m not consciously doing it.

Just like I can’t text someone and drive a car at the same time, I can’t maintain a perfectly clean home and take time to get down and play with my son on the floor at the same time. It just isn’t possible.

In the same way, I can’t work long hours and have a regular date night with my spouse.

Choosing my top priority for the moment bleeds into every decision, even when I’m not aware that it’s happening. If I’m eating well, I’m simultaneously struggling with exercising. If I’m sticking to the budget and monitoring every penny, I’m stress binging on Netflix at every given opportunity. If I’m exposing my son to lots of playdates and educational experiences, I’m simultaneously neglecting to clean out the fridge.

Life as a mom is a difficult balance, and perfection is not an option. Believe me, I’ve tried. There’s a cost to every action. Sometimes the cost is small, but other times it is absolutely gigantic.

When it all boils down, I don’t want to be wasting my life on maintaining house and home, or even cooking (which is a favorite creative outlet of mine).  I want to be pouring my life into my people to the best of my ability.

I want to be the best woman I can be.

I want my husband and son to know exactly how much I love him, not a guess, but to actually know because I took the time to remind them every day.

I want to be the type of person to drop everything and just show up when someone needs me to.

I want my home to be a safe and welcome place. I want neighbors to feel comfortable knocking on my door.

I want to draw nearer to God, because I know He listens and draws nearer to me.

I want to savor the stuff in life that really matters and to just maintain the responsibilities that don’t matter as much. I want lasting impact, not temporary impact.

I want to be present while my son plays in a patch of sunshine on the floor without guilt about what needs to be done.

Easier said than done, ha.

And I absolutely don’t want to be spending my life doing the housework, cooking and cleaning… unless the heart and soul of doing it is to show how much I love and respect the people who live here too.

And, that last point is exactly where it gets a little fuzzy for me sometimes. I crave clarity on how to maintain a loving home, both relationally and physically.

I want to love my family in the best way possible. Sometimes that means doing chores. Sometimes, that means ignoring chores.

At any given moment, I have to choose my top priority.

And, for me, that also means that I have to have a system in place to maintain my lower priorities while I’m focusing on what’s most important that moment.

Here are a few things that are rarely top priority for the day but still desperately need to be taken care of daily.

Cleaning

Here is my system for cleaning the house, which prioritizes resting on Sunday.

I’ve found that when I don’t take a day off from these chores, I get behind on housework. Or even worse, I get too wrapped up in doing them perfectly.

By setting aside a day to rest and NOT DO CHORES (wooohooo!), I am more motivated to get them done throughout the week.

It doesn’t always go perfectly smoothly, but that’s ok. If the last week (or month) has been rough, I just try again the next week.

Cooking

I have written extensively about my meal planning strategy and my pre-made grocery list.

Meal planning is an established routine for me now, but that certainly wasn’t always true.

There was a time early in my marriage when I would buy all the wrong things at the grocery store in an attempt to try new recipes and please my husband just to have those ingredients slowly go bad while I ran back to the store almost daily for quicker dinner options.

By the time my son was born seven years later, I was desperate to be able to maintain a healthy, frugal lifestyle without spending a lot of time shopping or cooking.

I’ve learned some of these kitchen and cooking tips the hard way, and I am still learning.

Maintaining the finances

A few years ago, my husband and I took a financial planning course together, and it was very eye opening for us.

We have found that it’s best to make all of our financial decisions together. It takes time to write out a budget and to use a cash system, but it is well worth it.

We have time scheduled on the calendar and reminders on our phones set up ahead of time. It’s good to have a system in place to keep this habit  from falling to the wayside.

Feeding My Heart

Someone told me this over the cries of my screaming newborn: “everything about motherhood is spiritual.” When you spend your days (and nights!) caring for littles, your own heart is filled and emptied and refilled moment by moment.

But, there are chapters in mom life that writing long entries into prayer journals and keeping up with a Bible reading plan is just not possible. And, that’s ok. God put you in this exact place.

When doing more is just not possible, finding little cracks of time to reading a single verse is enough. Praying in your head while you put your child to bed is enough. Listening to worship music and letting the praise bleed into your actions is enough.

It helped me to have certain triggers to remind me to spend time with God. For instance, during the quiet of nursing during the night, I prayed and read. While in the car, I sang worship songs. A friend teaches Bible stories to her pre-schooler during bath time.

Life is always busy, but I’ve found that by pairing my time with God with a daily activity, it reminds me to be present and aware of His benevolence.

 

And, the Grace

After becoming a mom, I’ve learned that I have to allow myself to accept the same grace God extends to me.

Sometimes, I fail. Actually, it happens daily.

I choose wrong. I get wrapped up in a project and get resentful when nap time is suddenly over. I get impatient when people interrupt me while I’m trying to get things done, even if they’re low priority. I forget God.

And in the midst of wrestling with pangs of guilt, I have to clean the slate and start that day anew. It’s the only way to move forward.

Grace is key.

I absolutely don't want to be spending my life doing the housework, cooking and cleaning... unless the heart and soul of doing it is to show how much I love and respect the people who live here too. And, that last point is exactly where it gets a little fuzzy for me sometimes. I crave clarity on how to maintain a loving home, both relationally and physically. I want to love my family in the best way possible. Sometimes that means doing chores. Sometimes, that means ignoring chores. At any given moment, I have to choose my top priority. Cleaning, cooking, finances, caring for my own heart, need a routine that maintains the status quo while caring for my family.

Are you struggling with clarity on how to maintain a loving home too?

Join me on this journey. We can navigate this together in tandem.

I write new content each week. Sign up here to receive notification of new content and the weekly newsletter, which includes a meal plan for the week and list of encouraging reads.

As a new subscriber, you will receive access to the Inspiration for the Kitchen bundle. This includes a dinnertime brainstorming video for more meaningful meals, a free cookbook including retired and never published recipes, and inspirational printables for your mom heart to display in the kitchen.

Everything I send you will always have one thing in mind: to savor what matters.

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October 31 Day Instagram Challenge

Every time my toddler slips into a grouchy mood, I hear myself remind him that he can choose to be happy and have fun or he can choose to be grouchy and have a bad time. It's a choice. I pull him into my lap and remind him of this a couple of times a week. I hear myself say it, but I don't know why it didn't dawn on me earlier: this exact advice applies to my life as well. Cooking is something I genuinely enjoy doing, but in the last few weeks, it has definitely felt like a chore. Spending time in the kitchen is inevitable as a mom. I can choose. Am I going to have a good attitude about it, or am I going to be grouchy and have a bad time? I have a 31 Challenge for myself: have fun in the kitchen every day in October. Use the hashtag #funinthekitchen to join in or follow along this month!
Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker is dedicated to answering the "what's for dinner" question with healthy, quick recipes that can accommodate busy schedules. She is a devout Christian, a wife and mother, and a lover of words and books. She lives in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas and holds a degree in English from Kansas State University.
Brohgan Dieker

Latest posts by Brohgan Dieker (see all)

Every time my toddler slips into a grouchy mood, I hear myself remind him that he can choose to be happy and have fun or he can choose to be grouchy and have a bad time. It’s a choice.

I pull him into my lap and remind him of this a couple of times a week.

I hear myself say it, but I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on me earlier: this exact advice applies to my life as well.

Cooking is something I genuinely enjoy doing, but in the last few weeks, it has definitely felt like a chore.

Spending time in the kitchen is inevitable as a mom. I can choose. Am I going to have a good attitude about it, or am I going to be grouchy and have a bad time?

I have a 31 Challenge for myself: have fun in the kitchen every day in October. I will be posting the results on Instagram as I go! Use the hashtag #funinthekitchen to join in or follow along this month!

Links to the 31 Day Challenge:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Cooking Raman for ME!
Day 3: Taking a selfie with a crock-pot is harder than it looks…
Day 4:
Day 5:
Day 6:
Day 7:
Day 8:
Day 9:
Day 10:
Day 11:
Day 12:
Day 13:
Day 14:
Day 15:
Day 16:
Day 17:
Day 18:
Day 19:
Day 20:
Day 21:
Day 22:
Day 23:
Day 24:
Day 25:
Day 26:
Day 27:
Day 28:
Day 29:
Day 30:
Day 31:

Every time my toddler slips into a grouchy mood, I hear myself remind him that he can choose to be happy and have fun or he can choose to be grouchy and have a bad time. It's a choice. I pull him into my lap and remind him of this a couple of times a week. I hear myself say it, but I don't know why it didn't dawn on me earlier: this exact advice applies to my life as well. Cooking is something I genuinely enjoy doing, but in the last few weeks, it has definitely felt like a chore. Spending time in the kitchen is inevitable as a mom. I can choose. Am I going to have a good attitude about it, or am I going to be grouchy and have a bad time? I have a 31 Challenge for myself: have fun in the kitchen every day in October. Use the hashtag #funinthekitchen to join in or follow along this month!

 

Back to School Prayer

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker is dedicated to answering the "what's for dinner" question with healthy, quick recipes that can accommodate busy schedules. She is a devout Christian, a wife and mother, and a lover of words and books. She lives in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas and holds a degree in English from Kansas State University.
Brohgan Dieker

Latest posts by Brohgan Dieker (see all)

It’s that time of year! School supplies are back in stores, and the weather has started to cool down (just a little).

And what better way to prepare for school than by praying for our kiddo’s?

FREE Printable back to school scripture and prayer! It's that time of year! School supplies are back in stores, and the weather has started to cool down (just a little).  And what better way to prepare for school than by praying for our kiddo's?

As a kid I loved school, but this time of year is exciting, it’s also scary. There are a lot of unknowns. Some teachers were harder or more strict than others. Sometimes I was placed in a class with my best friends, sometimes I was given an opportunity to make new friends in my class.

This time of year is a time of new beginnings. New school year, new grade, new classmates.

Let’s not only help our kids start off on the right foot, and let’s take an opportunity as praying moms to start ourselves off on the right foot too! Pray for our kids, and remind them of the truth held in scripture for new or scary situations.

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Simple Life in the Kitchen

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker is dedicated to answering the "what's for dinner" question with healthy, quick recipes that can accommodate busy schedules. She is a devout Christian, a wife and mother, and a lover of words and books. She lives in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas and holds a degree in English from Kansas State University.
Brohgan Dieker

Latest posts by Brohgan Dieker (see all)

I recently signed up for an email course about simplifying life… 30 days and 30 emails later, and my life was feeling a lot more complicated.

Someone else telling me how to show gratitude, journal, be healthy physically and mentally, purge my closets, and avoid screen time. By the end of the course, I was so overwhelmed. Every new e-mail caused a twinge in my gut; I stopped opening them about a third of the way through.

For the last decade or so, our culture has become obsessed with simplifying life. Resources are everywhere. Topics ranging from organization and planning techniques (keep stuff) to purging techniques (toss it).

Along with those techniques come a entire new set of standards we aspire to meet. Combine that with a thousand Pinterest “to do’s” and that perfect Instagram images being bombarded at us every day and HOLY COW. It’s easy to quickly work yourself into a panic attack in the process of trying to have a “simplier” life.

The thing is–and I don’t know why we as a culture haven’t caught onto this by now–life is different for everyone. EVERYONE. Even a simple life varies from person to person.

You don’t have to “fit” to simplify. You don’t have to call yourself a “minimalist” or a “crunchy mom” or “thrifty” or “green” to live a simple, happy life.

You really, really don’t have to be any of those things to simplify life in the kitchen.

For me, what it all really boiled down to is this question: does my life currently align with my values? And, if not, what do I need to do to change to make that happen?

Are the choices in my own kitchen lining up with the way I really want to live?

How it applies to the kitchen

What does simple living look like in the kitchen?

Fair question.

Well, for starters, simple living in my kitchen is not going to be exactly the same as yours! (Ahem, see the section above if I haven’t beat that point into the ground yet.)

In my kitchen, I have some very specific values that I aspire to.

Time

I want to take time to connect with my family every day.

This means that we set aside some — not all, but some — evening time each night to sit around the table and enjoy a meal together. We pray together. We share the family news.

It’s really not as romantic as it sounds.

My one-year-old son rejects food by throwing it and usually demands whatever I forgot in the fridge (usually his cup of milk) the second I sit down.

I have a needy dog who started begging for food the second she spotted me through the animal shelter cage bars seven years ago and hasn’t stopped.

My introverted husband is usually unwinding internally from his socially demanding job while simultaneously listening to his extroverted wife lay out every monotonous detail of the last 9-10 hours.

Sometimes we end the meal more frustrated and disconnected than when we began. That’s just how life goes sometimes.

Overall, it’s worth the effort. Today at lunch, we had cereal and scrambled eggs. (There’s a lazy lunch idea if I’ve ever heard one!) We all sat there quietly spooning raisin bran into our mouths and collecting ourselves after a busy morning. It’s moments like this.

And, the moment after when my 16 month-old started drinking the milk out of his little bowl without missing a drop! It’s moments like that too. (I wonder who he learned that trick from? Oh, right, me. Every. Morning.)

Parenting

I want my son to be exposed to a variety of textures and flavors in his first years of feeding himself.

I have been blessed with an adventurous toddler. I think I fed him two bites of that infant cereal before he grabbed the spoon and started feeding himself.  Then, a couple of days later, he started grabbing for whatever was on my plate. He knew that whatever I was eating had to be better than that mush I was pushing toward him.

But even an adventurous eater has to be encouraged. We went through a phase where he was only eating words he could sign. Cracker, apple, milk. Getting out of that rut of him always eating the same foods was a struggle.

Nutrition

I want us to eat with health and nutrition in mind.

When it comes to nutrition, the rules in my kitchen are simple: everything varied and in moderation.

Carbs, fats, protein in various forms and in moderation.  Dessert in moderation. Sodium in moderation.

Frankly, it’s more fun to embrace a creative, balanced plate!

At the age of 28, why am I so conscious of this?

Two generations ago on one branch of the family, almost none of my family survived past the age of 55. Heart disease was rampant.

One generation ago in another branch, diabetes grabbed ahold. It feels like we’re genetically set up for failure here.

I look to my parents and my husband’s parents, both of whom are very conscious eaters, and I can see how their food choices have assisted them in staying healthy.

Our bodies are much more likely to succeed in the battle to stay healthy if we give them the tools they need.

For me, what it all really boiled down to is this question: does my life currently align with my values? And, if not, what do I need to do to change to make that happen?

Financial

I want to live within our means and on budget.

Part of reality of living a simple life as parents is that we choose to live on one consistent full-time income. Yes, I do work a little from home, but there is nothing glamorous about our income or our lifestyle.

I choose to stick to a grocery budget and stretch every dollar because I chose this life. Because me staying home right now is important to me, to us, and we love it!

So, here’s the question I ask myself often: are the choices in my own kitchen lining up with the way I really want to live?

Minimalist Meal Planning

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker is dedicated to answering the "what's for dinner" question with healthy, quick recipes that can accommodate busy schedules. She is a devout Christian, a wife and mother, and a lover of words and books. She lives in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas and holds a degree in English from Kansas State University.
Brohgan Dieker

Latest posts by Brohgan Dieker (see all)

“WHAT’S FOR DINNER?”Uggh, even just typing that question out makes me stress out a little.

I’ve been there, on a busy weeknight, when all of a sudden a room full of hungry eyes lock onto you like an interrogation spotlight.

Are you overwhelmed by meal planning and grocery shopping? Or are you just winging it on any given night? I know I have been this way before.

I finally decided to simplify. You have no idea how much I wish I would have simplified my meal planning years ago!

How did I simplify?

Are you overwhelmed by meal planning and grocery shopping? Or are you just winging it on any given night? I know I have been this way before. I finally decided to simplify. You have no idea how much I wish I would have simplified my meal planning years ago!

I stopped eating out.

I know that cooking at home seems more complicated, but it’s really not. Why?

  • It’s healthier. Eating at home means you have better knowledge of what you are putting into your body and control over the size of your portion.
  • It’s cost effective. There was a point in our marriage where my husband and I were eating well at home for less than $40 a week. You read that right — it only took two President Jacksons cover 21 meals. These days, we are also concerned about using wholesome ingredients, so we traded out the boxed mac and cheese for a produce coop and local meats and still spend well under $100 a week for a family of 3.
  • Cooking and eating together at home strengthens relationships–whether it’s friends, family, acquaintances. If your meals are in sync, your lives will be more in sync.
  • Self-esteem booster! Choosing a healthy meal can positively affect the way you see yourself, which may be one of the most important benefits of all.

I simplified grocery shopping with my Minimalist Grocery List.

A well-stocked pantry is the first step to simplifying your meal prep.

But uggggh I do NOT like grocery shopping. I REALLY don’t like having to go back to the store at the last second. I REALLY REALLY don’t like wasting money on groceries.

So, I came up with a system, and IT WORKS! I call it the Minimalist Grocery List!

Are you overwhelmed by meal planning and grocery shopping? Or are you just winging it on any given night? I know I have been this way before. I finally decided to simplify. You have no idea how much I wish I would have simplified my meal planning years ago!

What’s special about this list?

–I freed myself by eliminating the foods from my diet that leave me feeling icky! It’s amazing, when you start to pay attention, how many foods on grocery store shelves are junk. Instead of eating boxed snacks, we now eat fresh fruits and veggies. If you don’t want to eat the junk, don’t allow it in your house! (And, bonus, I’ve lost a lot of weight with this strategy!)

–It’s easier on your budget by allowing you to stockpile the items you use while they are on sale.

–Save time grocery shopping by limiting yourself to easy to find ingredients.

–MOST OF ALL, save time on planning meals and cooking because you will already have everything you need in your pantry!

You will already have EVERYTHING you need in your pantry! And that feels GOOD.

I created a Minimalist Meal Plan schedule.

A well-stocked pantry is the first step to simplifying your meal prep. The second step is having a reliable dinner schedule to default to.

I plan our dinner schedule by categories. I loosely follow the routine below:

  • Mondays: rice bowls
  • Tuesdays: tacos
  • Wednesdays: sandwiches
  • Thursdays: salads
  • Fridays: pasta
  • Saturdays: pizza
  • Sunday: soup

Don’t forget to make a meal plan every week!

Every Saturday, after picking up the produce from my co-op, I sit down and make a plan for how we are going to use that food in our meals that week. I post the plan on the fridge so that everyone in the family is able to access it. We are more successful at eating at home when we start the week with a stocked kitchen and when everyone is made aware of the plan!

The Weekly Nutrition Reflection Checklist

It’s easy to default to a few quick meals, but I try to use the practice of reflection to expose my family, especially kids, to a wide variety of flavors and textures and to encourage us to eat a variety of highly nutritious foods in moderation. My questions change over time and in different life chapters. Take some time to think of one or two questions of your own to add!

  • Did I utilize a wide variety of vegetables and fruits in a variety of colors?
  • Did I use more fresh foods than packaged foods?
  • Did I primarily use lean meats and protein sources?
  • Was my family exposed to a high level of sugar or sodium throughout the week?
  • Did everyone in the family feel like they were able to contribute to our meals together in some way?

Keep it in perspective

Above all, meal planning is an opportunity to serve your family and provide a safe and consistent place to gather together daily. There is much more to life than meal planning.

I have to remind myself of the purpose of shopping for and preparing tacos on any given Tuesday. It’s not because I love to shop or because I love to cook; it is because I love my family. I love spending time with them. I want them to eat nutritious food and have healthy, strong bodies. I crave the dinner conversation, even though the majority of the conversation in this chapter of life is interrupted with “No no, please don’t throw that on the floor.”

And, as a Christian, I ultimately find my perspective in this Bible verse.

Maintain a larger perspective. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take some time (yeah right, who has time… but seriously, try) to spend some time listing some things you are grateful for about this meal planning process. Contemplate what is meaningful to you. Life is fragile and can change in an instant, so keep track of what you are thankful for in everything today, in this moment, before it is passed.

I’ll be your cheerleader! You can do it!

Grocery shopping and meal planning does not have to be a difficult, expensive, and time consuming process. If you are overwhelmed by meal planning, I can help. Here’s how: my blog, Brohgan.com, is committing to making delicious meals from a standard list of common ingredients that can easily be stockpiled in a pantry.

Would you like to be friends? Me too!

If you provide me with your e-mail below, I will send you a weekly newsletter on Fridays. This newsletter includes a meal plan for the upcoming week and some encouraging weekend links. If you sign up below, my gift to you is a quick, printable guide to assist you as you begin your minimalist meal planning journey!

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How to Survive Cooking with Babies and Toddlers

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker is dedicated to answering the "what's for dinner" question with healthy, quick recipes that can accommodate busy schedules. She is a devout Christian, a wife and mother, and a lover of words and books. She lives in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas and holds a degree in English from Kansas State University.
Brohgan Dieker

Latest posts by Brohgan Dieker (see all)

Moms, cooking with a baby or toddler is not easy. In fact, this is a chore that seems nearly impossible most days. Here are some tips that might help!

The core sounds simple: cooking dinner. But, the reality of the situation is that moms are trying to complete a task that requires a moderate amount of focus in a room FULL safety hazards. The hot pots, pans and knives are of course a concern, along with the chemicals under the sink, but with littles around there are countless minor accidents and injuries in the kitchen involving the hard non-cushioned flooring, the countless furniture corners at a toddler’s head level, and all the cabinet doors and drawers for pinching fingers.

(And each bump and scrape pulls you away from your cooking task.)

Since my son was born, I doubt I have spent any significant amount of time in a kitchen without something happening.  Whether it was him as an infant demanding a series of cluster feeds right in the middle of making dinner, him throwing toy after toy off the high chair tray at 9 months, or him now, at 15 months, trying to crawl into the dishwasher to retrieve a favorite cup, it’s always something.

Just as you start to find a strategy that works, a strategy that keeps those little hands busy and that little mind occupied, these kids grow up and change a little bit, just enough that yesterday’s perfectly formulated plan no longer applies.

Every day is different. Every. single. day.

And that’s awesome! Because when I think back to all of those daily kitchen moments over the course of the last 15 months, I realize that I was watching my son grow every day right before my eyes. It’s messy and stressful, but that’s so cool!

But it also makes the simple chore of cooking dinner DIFFICULT.

Cooking dinner is a chore that you can’t just skip, either. At least, not most nights. There is now an additional mouth to feed (and diaper and take to the doctor and put through college etc. etc.). Eating at home is a financial decision for most families, and getting take out every night is just not realistic.

Moms, cooking with a baby or toddler is not easy. In fact, this is a chore that seems nearly impossible most days. Here are some tips that might help!

Ask for help.

I don’t know why it was so difficult for me to ask for help with cooking.

When my son was first born, I would try to be the one who made dinner every night. I enjoy cooking. It’s a creative outlet and it’s stress relieving for me… normally… before I became a parent.

But, in those crazy early baby days, making dinner would ALWAYS seem to be timed with a feeding.

(And forget those lies that all the baby books say about nursing every 3 hours… my son was an every hour kid from the day he was born until he started eating solids.)

So, cooking became the thing that I did while someone tiny was grouchy with me. I was pretty hesitant to give up the only chore that I actually enjoy. I was brand spankin’ new to this food blog thing, and I was relishing every minute in the kitchen possible.

So, I had to ask my husband for help.

There were a few days that I would try and do the cooking while he attempted to pacify the unhappy bebe. Often we would switch half way through.

The point is that I often needed help. There were days when cooking dinner was something that required two people to accomplish, and I had to ask for help in some way every night.

Snacks are a game changer!

Hallelujah, there came a day when the baby grew up and SNACKS became my help. Do you know how long it takes an older baby to get one of those rice puffs off the high chair tray and into their mouth? Usually long enough to at least put something frozen into the oven.

Involve babies and toddlers in the shopping process.

This is going to sound easier than it is, but involving my son in the grocery shopping process early on and continuing through toddlerhood was a good decision for me.

First, it has built his food vocabulary. I remember holding up all the produce for my son to examine from his infant carrier (and feeling like a crazy woman while doing so). Now, when he sees a banana, he starts flailing around making the sign and just about jumps out of the cart.

I narrate the names and flavors and colors and anything else I could think of about every food we see. I remind him why we don’t buy cookies EVERY time (just most times… haha).  I tell him why I am buying it. “This green zucchini squash is going to be for dinner on Wednesday.”

Also, it makes new foods, or foods we don’t eat often, a tiny bit less foreign.

When Wednesday comes around, and we pull out the squash, it’s a tiny bit less foreign (even though it will, inevitably, be tossed onto the floor… all part of the learning process).

And yes, there are some trips to the store where I’m tired and grouchy and I don’t do this. And, those trips are usually quick and more difficult.

Just a note: after learning the hard way, I really prefer building vocabulary at the store vs. at the dinner table. We hit a rut where my son would only eat the foods he knew the words for and he was asking for, which was only fruit bars, apple sauce and bread. Now I just plop something in front of him and tell him it’s dinner without telling him any of the names for the foods. He’s much more willing to try “dinner” than 10 foods with new names all mixed together.

Hand out age appropriate tasks.

When it comes time to cook the squash on Wednesday, I usually try to involve everyone in the family in some way. My son can help me wash it in the sink. And, after I cut it, if I need the pieces transferred into a bowl, he could probably help with that.

When he was younger, I might have him hold one of the big spoons, or he would help get the pot out of the oven drawer.

When he was even younger than that, old enough to be alert, but not old enough that he was mobile, he would just watch from his bouncer on the floor while I talked to him.

There is always an age appropriate task. It takes patience and some creativitiy to think of it. It also takes some willingness to let go of the adult agenda and just have fun together.

Yes, handing out these tasks takes A LOT of time. I can wash a zucchini in 10 seconds, but with help it might take a minute, if all goes well.

Manage your expectations.

Every day is different, and every dinnertime is going to be different. You could cook frozen chicken nuggets every evening for a year, but it’s still going to be nearly impossible to do some days.

Here is how I manage my dinnertime expectations:

1. I always ALWAYS have a quick back up on hand. Usually, that back up is bread with peanut butter. I’ve said it before: peanut butter is the glue that holds this family together.

2. I limit myself to trying new recipes. If you subscribe to my newsletter and receive my weekly meal plan, you probably notice that I typically try a new recipe on Tuesday. I spend the rest of the week cooking things that are familiar staples, many of which I have written about here on the blog.

3. Some chores can be saved for tomorrow. There are some nights when dinner, bath, bed goes bang bang bang, and all of a sudden the house is quiet and I’m exhausted. Except, nobody remembered to scrub that one pan. THE PAN CAN WAIT UNTIL MORNING. I promise you, that one friend of yours with a spotless house will never know (if they knock on the door, just hide it under the sink). You’re a mom of littles, and that takes some serious energy. Allow yourself the time you need to take care of yourself while you are able.

Best of luck to you, friends! If you have an more tips that are working for you, would you please share with everyone in the comments section below?