When your family is together, you and your spouse have perfected the dinnertime dance: One of you cooks or grills, the other takes dish duty, and you both participate in a table conversation game of high-low with your kids. OK, maybe not, but you at least get some of that right most of the time. But what about finding meals to motivate you to cook when your spouse is gone?
Are they deployed, on temporary duty, in the field, at sea, flying? The possibilities are endless for a service member, and whatever the possibility, you and the kids are fending for yourself those nights. It’s tempting to let the children rummage through the pantry to find their own meal combinations, but because you care about their health, you have to intervene and come up with some kind of meal plan.
Why does having an empty seat at the dinner table make it difficult to muster the energy to make a pan of lasagna for the rest of the gang?
You’re not alone.
Let’s get one thing straight: When they’re gone, you need to spread your energy around over all kinds of extra tasks. There’s no need to dirty every pot and pan in the kitchen when your partner is MIA for dish duty.
But, we can tweak that meal plan and shift some perspective to keep those drive-thru runs to a minimum while your spouse is gone.
The Go-To Meal: The Finger Food Platter
This is your go-to meal in heavy rotation. All food groups are represented, so you can rest easy knowing you did your part in your kids’ health. Include such items as hummus, carrot sticks, cheese, crackers, lunch meats, apples, grapes, olives, almonds, etc. Wash it all down with a glass of milk (or wine for you), and you’ve got yourself a true Happy Meal. Feel free to mix it up depending on what you find while rummaging through the pantry and fridge at 4:59 p.m.
Pure Magic: Turn One Meal into Three
Put some effort into cooking just one meal, then switch up the sides and you’ve got yourself three unique meals. Any casserole will stretch for the better part of a week when your spouse isn’t there to eat half the pan.
Bonus: You can divert your energy from the kitchen to — oh — say, snow blowing the driveway.
Think Inside the Subscription Box
Haven’t we all seen coupon codes for HelloFresh, SunBasket, and Blue Apron? These meal subscription kits can be expensive, but the discounts can make them worth it. Kids love seeing what comes in the dinner box and helping out with the prep. Plus, the box delivery cuts way down on the mental capacity reserved for meal planning and grocery shopping.
Give meal kits a try, and see if they aren’t a welcome variety to your tacos-spaghetti-pizza-repeat routine.
Instead of eating the same dinner three nights in a row, freeze the leftovers and bust them out in a week or two. This will reduce the chance of you caving for takeout on your third night in a row of baked ziti.
Any Way You Want It, That’s the Way You Need It
While entrée salads are awesome for throwing together a quick meal for one, don’t limit yourself to rabbit fare. Take advantage of time apart and cook anything your spouse doesn’t like and you do! Do they complain about seafood? This is your chance for a salmon dinner. And does making grilled cheese sandwiches really count as cooking? When it’s just you and kids, absolutely.
Having sole control of the kitchen can be a time of great adventure. Eggplant and grape tomatoes are delicious pizza toppings (because the Pioneer Woman says so) and maybe this is your chance to experiment without anyone whining for pepperoni.
Enlist the Tiny Troops
Your spouse is gone, so nobody is coming through the door expecting meat and potatoes. This is an excellent time to get your kids involved. Cookie cutters make interesting biscuit or sandwich shapes, toothpicks add intrigue to meatballs and anything, really.
If they’re old enough, let them look up recipes and take some ownership in the kitchen. This is when you slip over to the couch and put your feet up for a bit. Seriously, the dishes can wait.
Safety (and Sanity) in Numbers
Invite friends over (kids in tow, of course), dial up the YouTube, and have a sushi-making session. This company is guaranteed to bring laughter and delight to your kitchen, two priceless ingredients to motivate you to cook when your spouse is gone.
You’ll be back to the two-parent dinnertime dance soon enough. Use your time apart to find that delicate balance between culinary exploration and mom-hack shortcuts, and you just might forget all about that drive-thru menu — at least a few nights a week.
Not sure what’s for dinner tonight? Find it in our recipe collection!
Photo Credits: Renee Slusser