Not too long ago, I was at a playdate with a couple of other mothers and the discussion turned to the difficulty of making dinner with small children present. I'm sure any of you who have been parents or are currently parents of small children know why this is a topic of some import. Little kids are the worst at 5 p.m. The. Worst. It's as if they have an internal clock that tells them it's time to start screaming and crying and fighting all at once while the adult is supposed to be engaged in preparing a healthy, satisfying, and tasty meal.
Though the tasty part is less important than the others, frankly, and often takes a backseat to speed.
The other two mothers mentioned that they don't eat until very late, and they asked me with some awe in their voices how I manage to get dinner on the table every night at 6 p.m. I think I said, "There are tears. Mostly from the kids."
I was only partially joking. The fact is, most nights one or more of my kids do cry while I'm making dinner, either because I'm not holding him (Jack), or because someone is menacing him with a toy (Charlie), or because someone bit him literally on the ass (Cubby, and I can't say I entirely blame Charlie for retaliating for the aforementioned menacing). I do what I can to keep the peace while I cook, but in the end, there must be food ready for six people at 6 p.m., and so I forge ahead.
I try to avoid this as much as possible, however, by doing as much ahead as I can. And I suppose this is the real "secret" (not exactly a top-secret one, however) to my dubious success: Do it ahead. Anything. Everything. Get the meat on a pan ready for the oven. Get the lettuce washed. Make salad dressing. And almost always, peel potatoes.
There is no time to be standing at the sink peeling potatoes for fifteen minutes right before dinner. Thankfully, however, potatoes can be peeled way ahead of time and covered in a pot of cold water to keep them from getting brown. So even if I can't think of anything else to get done during Jack's nap to make my 5 p.m. a little less wretched, I can always peel potatoes.