Right about the time my youngest became a Gerber graduate, I became abruptly single. I recall the ensuing crazy time as a crash course in personal finance, divorce law, and well, pulling my socks up. But the hardest thing of all? Honestly? Dinner.
I started the single-mom journey with a one-year-old and a four-year-old, and after long days at day care, they weren’t always the most amiable dinner companions. Here are some survival tips I picked up along the way.
Involve them in prep time. On weekdays, the hours between coming home and bedtime are a whirlwind, and it’s hard to feel like you’re getting enough time with your kids. So as much as I could, I made meal prep into something my boys and I could do together. I taught them to set the table, and made meals like pizza where they could spread the sauce and sprinkle on the cheese themselves. (I wish I’d had all the great Yum for Kids ‘I Made It!” ideas back then.)
Make it a special occasion. As a centerpiece and as a reminder that beauty can come out of stormy times, I had a glass bowl filled with smooth pebbles that that my sons and I had gathered on the beach after a hurricane. It also had three tea lights — one for each of us. At dinner time, I would dim the lights and light the candles, calming everyone down and lending a ‘special occasion’ feel to the meal.
Bonus: Like a wild dingo, my tempermental one-year-old was transfixed by the candle flames on the table (and yes, out of reach of his high chair). Halfway hypnotized, he was less likely to explode.
Dare to eat alone. Sometimes after a long day at day care, my kids were so cranky that eating with them would have given me indigestion. The best thing was just to sip a glass of wine at the table while they ate and get them into bed pronto.
After the savage beasts were soothed and sleeping, I would prepare Divorce Salad (recipe below). I would eat in peace on my screened porch with my dog Maude and sometimes, an owl who seemed to watch over me from the trees. Maude sometimes barked and the owl sometimes hooted, but they never had tantrums or announced “I poopy” at dinner.
Embrace breakfast. Weekend mornings were our best mealtimes because we weren’t rushing to get anywhere and we weren’t too tired to enjoy each other. We’d celebrate long, leisurely Pajama Mornings and make breakfasts that consisted of several courses.
Celebrate the minor food holidays … or make them up. If you’re lucky enough to have a co-parent who’s involved with your kids, you’re going to have to spend some Thanksgivings without them.
Tip: On those major food holidays without your kids, find some friends or do something special for yourself. “Something special” is not a Lean Cuisine chased down by a Michelob Ultra. Been there. Done that. Not special.
The good news is that even the most devoted co-parent is never going to wrangle with you about Shrove Tuesday or Meerkat Manor Marathon Night. So serve pancakes, wear beads and play jazz on Mardi Gras. Have a safari picnic in your living room and take a walk on wild side with the meerkats. The kids will have wacky good memories of holidays few are smart enough to celebrate.
Prep Time: 2 minutes
1 plate of tasty micro greens or butter lettuce (Because you’re worth far more than 10-day-old iceberg, Sweetie. Trust me.)
1 small pouch of tuna (Because it’s got protein to make you strong, Omega-3’s for your heart, and tryptophan to help you sleep.)
Newman’s Own Creamy Caesar Dressing (Let’s hear it for a guy who stuck around.)
Freshly ground black pepper.