How to Survive Dinnertime Panic
We all have the same 5 o'clock panic origin story...
"I don't know what we're having for dinner."
And if kids are involved, you also have to contend with them being irrational food monsters.
Here's how you survive. Ready?
Step One: Don't panic.
I know; it's easier said than done.
See, your brain has a panic mode, and when it's in panic mode, it doesn't make the most rational decisions. There's actual sciency stuff about it. When you panic, your brain chooses survival over logic.
Survival looks like this.
And logic looks like this.
When you slow down and take a literal deep breath, that tells your brain you're not dying and that you actually have time to figure out a plan from the garbage situation you find yourself in.
Your circumstances don't change, but your attitude does.
Step Two: Look at your list of panic meals.
You have to force your brain to be logical, so help it along by having a list of choices. Otherwise you'll only come up with this.
Your list is like a snowflake; it will look different than anyone else's. Sure, grab ideas where you can, but remember that you get to decide what works for you and your particular brand of panic + cooking skills + budget + time + picky eater quotient.
That's why you need a list. Not a list in your head. You need actual words your brain can read to pull you back from the ledge of dinner panic. Put it on the fridge, in your planner, in your Notes app, on Evernote... whatever makes your brain feel safe.
And if you want extra credit or if you're not naturally detailed, add details to each meal. For example, if the idea is meatball subs, the detailed tasks might include microwave meatballs, grate cheese, slice and sauté onions and peppers, slice bread, etc. I know you're smart and that you know how to make a meatball sub, but when you're panicked, all bets are off. And if you've already had a bad day or have kids screaming at you or just can't. do. it. anymore, giving your brain some time off is worth it.
Need some ideas to get started? Here are a few...
- Mediterranean wraps: naan or flatbread (freezer), Italian dressing, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, red onion, feta, and deli turkey or rotisserie chicken
- Oven nachos
- Noodle bowls
- Arugula salad with Parmesan chunks and a fried egg
- Italian panini: deli meat, salami, cheese, roasted red pepper, pesto
- Steak tacos: sliced marinated meat from the freezer, tortillas charred on the stove, lettuce or cabbage, avocado, salsa
- White bean salad: canned white beans, chopped tomato, cucumber, onion, feta cheese, Italian dressing, rotisserie chicken
- Grilled cheese and roasted green beans (beans in one layer with olive oil and salt pepper at 425 degrees for 20 minutes while the grilled cheese cooks)
- Spinach artichoke pasta: think dip but with pasta... frozen spinach, canned artichokes, lemon, parsley, Parmesan, pasta, cream
- Sweet potato black bean burritos: diced and steamed sweet potatoes, canned black beans, chipotle sauce, cheese, lettuce, wrapped in warm flour tortillas
Step Three: Choose and delegate.
Choose the panic meal you already have ingredients for. Don't carry your panic to the grocery store, y'all; you'll lose your resolve to actually cook and are very likely to make a decision you'll deeply regret later.
Choose your meal, and if you have other people in your house, delegate listed (or in your head) tasks to anyone else who's eating with you. Sally grates cheese. Bobby's in charge of setting the table. Johnny opens cans.
Getting all of your Walton children on board with the process, even if it's just one task, will get dinner on the table quicker, will (POSSIBLY) provide family bonding time, and will continue a culture of being around food together.
Step Four: Tell yourself the truth.
If the panic stays panicky, if the meal is gross, if everyone is yelling, it doesn't change who you are as a person.
If the panic turns to euphoria, if the meal is amazing, if dinner ends with trust falls, it doesn't change who you are as a person.
Your value doesn't come from how well you succeed or how dramatically you fail. Your value is rooted in love, not lists. Remember the love of your family, your friends, yourself, and the God who made you. Even if you don't believe in that last part, the love is still the truth. So don't let a wonky meal or angry attitude or another trip to McDonald's get you down.
Now go on... be kind to yourself.
Skeptical? Feel like you need an attitude adjustment? This week's podcast episode is for you... The Lazy Genius Gets an Attitude Adjustment About Her Cooking. Check it out.