Reduce kitchen chaos.
The problem: Daniela usually doesn't start thinking about dinner until 5:30 or 6 p.m. "I never know what to serve, and often I don't have the ingredients I need," she says. As a result, the family frequently doesn't eat until 7 or later. Daniela also complains that she feels as if she's in the kitchen all the time, either preparing the meals or cleaning them up.
The solution: Eisenberg suggested that Daniela make a weekly meal plan every Sunday and check off the ingredients she needs on her grocery list. To ensure that evenings feel more leisurely, Eisenberg recommended that the family always eat at 6 p.m., as soon as Daniela's husband, Dave, gets home from work.
Daniela should also use her kitchen time more efficiently. "Instead of spending 20 minutes here and there, she should stay in the kitchen for longer periods," Eisenberg suggested. In other words, rather than leaving the kitchen after a meal and coming back later to clean up, Daniela should prepare meals, serve them, and do the dishes right way.
It also would help to consolidate food prep -- chop enough vegetables for salad one night and stir-fry the next, or double recipes and freeze a meal for later in the week. Daniela should also let the girls prepare their school lunches while she gets dinner ready. "I'm amazed at the difference these changes have made," Daniela said after implementing the suggestions.
Find time to unwind.
The problem: In Daniela's two-week diary, the girls hit their targeted 8 p.m. bedtime only twice. Often it is almost 9 p.m. by the time lights are out, giving Daniela only 15 minutes alone with Dave at night.
The solution: Eisenberg told Daniela to maintain strict bedtimes: Dave should put the baby down at 7:30, and the older girls should have the lights out by 8:15, no exceptions. Fortunately, the earlier dinner hour and the new homework routine made this doable. "Evenings don't feel so rushed now," Daniela said.
The family is still working on implementing some of Eisenberg's advice. (The most difficult challenge has been arranging car pools.) But even by incorporating just a few of the suggestions into the family routine, Daniela feels that things are under control. "It's amazing: Getting things even a little organized makes you want to get even more organized!"
Copyright © 2003 Christine Larson. Reprinted with permission from the November 2003 issue of Parents magazine.