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On Chaos during dinner: 6 ways to Keep Calm

The other week, a friend asked if she could stop by that day to talk around 5:30pm. Usually around time I can be found in the kitchen prepping for dinner.

She walked in and had a some small nibbles ready for her on the kitchen island and I poured her a glass of sangria. My autumn playlist was going on the speakers, a fall candle was lit, and the dinner table was set. She looked around and asked, “Is it always this peaceful during dinner?” I stopped chopping my onions, sort of embarrassed. She walked in to what I normally do during dinner prep. I wasn’t trying create some false atmosphere for her; it truly was always like this. I’m not one for rushing this event. In fact, I try to orient my day around dinner because it’s such an important time for me- it’s when I get to reconnect with my husband over a meal.

I think I apologetically stammered something about having the time to do it, but afterwards, I realized what that comment was- one of the greatest compliments I’ve been given. It truly was right up there with the time my student’s parents would tell me the difference I made in their child’s education experience.

As a homemaker, it’s often said that we set the tone of our home. I’ve always held this to be true. I feel anxious, stressed, and chaotic when the laundry is overflowing, when we hastily grab dinner and eat on the couches every night, when the air in the house is stale. I know what it’s like to have stress from work and then have to walk into that chaos- it squashes my spirit. It’s my job to make sure that’s not the case for my family. I try really hard to make the atmosphere my husband walks into after a long day of work an enjoyable and pleasant one. Do I fail some days? Absolutely yes, but it’s my priority that that’s the exception, not the rule.

Now, granted, I don’t have children. My dinner prep time looks very different from a mama with a bunch of littles running underfoot. But, I still feel that even with all that energy, it doesn’t have to be chaotic.

I do several things on a weekly and daily basis to make sure dinner time goes smoothly and family and friends walk into a warm and inviting environment when the day is done.

  • I’ve gotten in the habit of curating a seasonal playlist. On my playlist for the Halloween season are the Hocus Pocus soundtrack and the It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown soundtrack. There’s something about The Great Pumpkin Waltz that gives me all the fall feels. You can find my playlist here.
  • I don’t know the exact psychology behind it, but lighting a candle on my kitchen island puts me in a great mood and tells my mind that it’s time to work.
  • Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan. Know what you’re cooking and on which day. I know this is common knowledge but it’s so important. The Friday before, I meal plan every meal for the week and I write the list of ingredients I will need from the grocery store that same day so I have it ready for the grocery shopping Monday morning. Since I meal plan on Friday I’m able to see what we have going on on which day so I can plan meals around our schedule. Nothing makes me more frantic than not having an ingredient or trying to figure out what’s for dinner come 3pm.
  • An easy cocktail or a glass of wine allows me to enjoy the process and ritual of cooking.
  • Read the entire recipe all the way through once in the morning and again before you cook to prevent any surprises.
  • Keep your meals simple. I’m in a life stage where my meals can have those extra steps or be more elaborate and it’s not a big deal. It’s just us. I’m assuming when kids come, I’m going to need to streamline my meals considerably.

If you are able to maintain a sense of calm and joy when you finally gather around the table, you are able to influence your family in a positive way. (Research has long shown the benefits of a family consistently eating together.) They will come to enjoy eating together, and may be to even look forward to this time of bonding. And once you get into a routine of associating this time with joy, you will begin to look forward to dinner time instead of dreading it.

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