Had a long-ass day? A weeknight routine that chills everyone out, including mom, is beneficial for more reasons than just your sanity.
Our calming weeknight routine is everything to me some days, especially on the long days that feel like they never end.
At the end of the longest day in the history of ever, or at least since yesterday, the last thing I usually want to to is struggle getting my kids to eat, clean the kitchen, pack up our bags for tomorrow, fight over pajamas, etc etc etc.
And yet, that’s life, right? We gotta eat dinner, we need to bathe, the bags need to get packed and those kids gotta get shipped off to bed.
What I’ve found is that creating a weeknight routine that calms while getting the important shit done is most important.
Seriously, it can be all the difference between staying Sane Mommy, or totally losing it and shouting at my kids, “JUST GET YOUR PAJAMAS ON NOW FOR THE LOVE OF GOD”.
Weeknight routines are important for a multitude of reasons (especially since kids thrive on them) but if I’m being honest, one of the things I love about routine is that it gives my brain an effing break.
If we do something every single dang day, then once that thing becomes routine, we can settle back into autopilot, and give our brains a rest from making decisions.
After I’ve spent most of the day making decisions on everything else, it’s a pretty welcome break to have a weeknight routine that does the thinking for me.
The weeknight routines in everyone’s house is going to be slightly different, depending on your family’s needs, schedules, your personal patience level and workload, etc.
And while I’m sure you’re a capable adult who can figure out the things that need to get done every night before everyone hits the hay, there are a few tactics and strategies I use every week to keep our weeknights calm and my brain un-frazzled.
First: Meal Prep Your Heart Out, Mama. And if You Can’t: Outsource It.
Meal prep is the backbone of an easy weeknight, since getting meal prep done ahead of time takes away a lot of typical weeknight stress.
If I make sure to set aside even an hour at the start of the week to chop vegetables, cook rice, shred chicken, etc- it saves me way more than an hour each weeknight getting dinner ready.
If I don’t have the time to meal prep, I grab pre-chopped vegetables and rotisserie chicken and deli-prepared salads beforehand. The extra money I spend on meal prepped items saves me waaaaaay more insanity and I would gladly trade in my weekly store-bought coffees for the difference in price.
Second: Turn off the Screens OR Use a Blue Light Filter
Yeah yeah yeah, we all know screen time is bad for everyone and will make us all go crazy someday. But what about not going crazy NOW!? That’s why we turn to screens in the first place, amiright?
If you can turn off the screens at least an hour before bedtime, then go you! But if not, blue light filters help prevent the blocking of melatonin surges, which happens when our bodies are exposed to artificial lights in the evenings. And we need that melatonin surge to sleep! So if you must use the screen, get a blue light filter app installed (many phones and tablets already come with it loaded, so check first). Your eyes and sleep will thank you.
Third: Habit Track the Stuff You’re Struggling With
The thing that makes Habit Trackers awesome is that they keep you accountable for doing the good stuff.
No matter if you use an analog or a digital planning system, or even a reminder set on your phone, getting into the rhythm of a good thing will- I swear this to you- leave room for more good things to come into your life.
Fourth: Turn Down the Overhead Lights
I hate overhead lights at home. I shut them off as often as possible, prefering the glow of lamps scattered around our house. But overheads lights are a must at some times; we need them in the kitchen, for example, and the bathroom.
But I find that if I make it a point to keep the overhead lights off unless absolutely necessary (ie, no peeing in the dark), it hrelps our general calm down mood at home before bed.
Fifth: Start the Bedtime Routine Earlier and Earlier
Our kids are smart. They know that once I make the call for pj’s, bedtime’s not far off.
So I’ve been purposely trying to mess with their heads lately by dropping parts of our nighttime routine in places where it isn’t usually.
Like, “hey, let’s eat dinner in our pajamas!” and “Let’s brush teeth and THEN watch a movie!” If I start our routine super early, then I can sneak attack the parts they hate and cut out a lot of whining.
Not to keep harping on about it, but one thing I’ve been loving about the bullet journal lately is that it creates space to doodle.
I’ve never really considered myself much of an artist, but I love coloring quotes and drawing geometrical doodles in the corner of my bullet journal. I do it at night in front of the TV and can’t get over how easy it makes it for me to shut my brain off at the end of the day.
Studies show that knitting, crafting, sewing and the like make people happier and with less stress. Try doing a simple, soothing craft after the kids go to bed, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. It keeps your hands busy (and off of scrolling Instagram) and can elevate your mood while helping you wind down at the end of a long day.
Seventh: Plan Tonight for Tomorrow
It may make you more stressed to think about tomorrow before today has even ended, but once you get into the habit of planning tomrorow the night before, it makes your days run smoother- guaranteed!
For me, this doesn’t mean anything more than sitting down with my planner for literally like 10 minutes every night and crossing items off my to-do list, setting up a list for tomorrow, writing down funny things my kids said, and rearranging my meal plan (because it’s in constant flux, I swear. Our lives change daily!)
There you have it- the strategies and shortcuts I use to make our nights at home more calming than stressed, even with kids who seem to be allergic to bedtime. I hope someof these tactics help you, too!
Overnight oats are simple to put together, full of flavor and slow-burning energy, and they make busy mornings go faster! Here’s a great list of my favorite 25 grab-and-go overnight oats recipes.
What do we want?
When do we want it?
Ok no, really, overnight oats are one of the easiest morning time grab-and-go breakfasts a busy mama can keep in her meal prep arsenal.
Overnight oats are simple to throw together, kids love them, and you can eat them while walking out the door.
I tell my kids it’s like eating lumpy ice cream for breakfast. The 2 year old buys it and the 4 year old rolls her eyes at me (how is this a thing already? #4goingon14) but reality is, overnight oats are the tasty bedrock of any busy morning.
Overnight oats are packed with slow burning energy, meaning they have a better chance of keeping you full til lunch.
Add nuts and milks for protein and sweeteners and seasonings for flavor (and maybe cold brew for your mama brain) and you’ve got yourself a winning breakfast.
You can even make savory overnight oats, if you’re not a big fan of the sweets-for-breakfast thing.
Here’s my basic overnight oats ratio, for those who want to make it themselves:
Dinner recipes that do double duty as both a weeknight meal one night and lunch(es) the next are my ace in the hole! Here are some of my favorite dinners-turned-lunches to carry you through more than one meal.
Dinners that turn into tomorrow’s lunches are kinda like a superhero, if you think about it.
Remember how Clark Kent ducked into a telephone booth and emerged as Superman?
Now, compare that to dinner that makes banging leftovers.
Both save lives.
Both lead double lives.
Both are kinda dreamboat-ish.
And there is nothing I love more during a busy week than knowing my efforts aren’t going to waste.
Because while technically every dinner can turn into leftovers, we all know that not all dinner recipes are created equal in the next-day’s-meal department.
Not everything tastes good the day after it’s made.
Not every dinner recipe travels well to work or school.
So I set about to create a list of dinners turned lunches that worked.
These are dinners turned lunch that taste good the next day, held up well in a lunchbox, and didn’t involve fifty million steps to get us there.
Here’s what I consider a great dinner turned lunch recipe:
-The dinner part has to be relatively simple
-It can’t get soggy or mushy before it’s eaten again
-No heavy cheese or cream sauces that mask boring flavors.
-Kids have to enjoy it.
-You can pull it from the fridge, reheat, and eat as is: no adding wraps or buns or anything extra on the side.
Ok, ready for the list of AMAZING easy dinners that make great lunches the next day?
I’ve always loved the idea of a Family Command Center, but living in our oddly shaped, small apartment made it tough to find a spot that worked. So when we moved to a new apartment back in September, I decided the first thing I would do would be to research what makes a great Family Command Center, how to fit it all in a small space, and try to create that on the tiny wall I had to work work.
First up, if you’re new to the idea of Family Command Centers, here’s what the realllllly pretty ones look like:
A good Family Command Center almost always has these things:
I’m still in the process of figuring out the system of a Family Command Center that works best for us, and I’m on the lookout for cute, functional pieces that I can incorporate into the tiny wall I’m using.
Here’s the Family Command Center I’ve set up for us just off our kitchen:
I like how I have hooks for bags, a spot for essential oils, the family calendar and a dry erase board. But I have nowhere to sort mail, no bulletin board for artwork or paperwork, and it feels disorganized. So I’m working on it, still.
<h2>But as I planned, one thing struck out about how to decide what to add to our Family Command Center:
“Do we need it in the morning?”
In our house, all four of us need to be dressed and out the door no later than 7:45am.
While we can usually make this time, I keep finding more and more that SOMETHING is forgotten every DAMN. DAY.
My daughter left her nap mat and blanket behind and her teacher will have to make her nap in her coat.
My son left his backpack behind and with it, his pacifier, ensuring he too will not not nap at school today (the groaning about how we are still using pacifier to sleep at 2.5 years old is another story, believe me. #judgeaway)
I forgot to send a check for the school fundraiser and now the secretary will call me at lunchtime asking about it.
I left a full thermos of hot coffee sitting on the kitchen counter and will only realize this once I’m 6 blocks away, which is too far to double back and grab it.
And so on, and so on.
The thing I wanted my Family Command Center to do most for me? Make my MORNINGS a little more organized!
What do you need to pull off a Family Command Center? Here’s what you should keep in mind as you put one together.
First: Decide on a location.
If you’ve got a nice, big, empty wall in the big, airy kitchen of your nice, big house, then good for you, sister. For the rest of us, let’s look at what’s got to work with now. Here are some sneaky spots to place your Family Command Center in slightly more…. Cramped…. Quarters (like mine!)
Inside cupboard doors
Over your countertop
Right when you walk in the door (above the coat rack)
Along the side of your fridge
See how Landee at Landeeseelandeedo.com put up a sheet metal wall? That way, everything she needs on her Family Command Center and be held up with magnets.
And Jenna at JennaBurger.com did something similar, by hanging corkboards and metal sheets inside her cupboard doors. I LOVE how she can just shut the door and keep their calendars private from guests, and the room less cluttered.
Plus, I love this small little command center with key hooks that goes in an entryway:
Second, Figure out what you need.
This is part I’m at, and I figure it’ll be a work in progress for at least a little while, while I decide what we needs, what works, and so on. It’s the same for you: don’t rush to add ALL THE THINGS and then wind up with something you don’t actually need or use. I say this to you with love because I do it all the time and it drives my husband insane.
For us, these are the things I need either on hand or within easy grabbing distance:
Pens and paper
Also, our current sleeping situation here means my son’s crib is in what will soon be my office, so my office supplies (ruler, tape, etc) are currently in our Family Command Center, too.
Third: Decide how it all fits together.
Since I’m still piecing together my Family Command Center, I don’t have a rule of thumb for deciding on size, arrangement, etc. But I like how Dayna over at Lemon Lime Adventures spaced out her command center using construction paper, before placing items on the wall. Super smart:
Here are a few other examples of Family Command Centers I love!
Set up “DIY Dinner Bars” and watch your kids happily eat their dang dinner for once in their lives.
People say this to me a lot: “Oh, you’re a chef! Your kids must be such good eaters!” To which I always reply, “Yeah, but… no, because they’re children.”
My kids (aged 2 and 4 and insanely stubborn) aren’t actually picky eaters. There are very few things they truly won’t eat, or have genuine aversions to.
What they are, though, are frustratingly indepent little thinkers who love to choose dinnertime as the exact moment to push every boundary I have.
Ever seen this meme? This is my life at 6pm every night:
Maybe it’s my fault; maybe they know that dinner hour is the time of the day when my defenses are at their lowest. But after being reasonably great kids all day, eating normal breakfasts’ and lunches and snacks, they tend to take a stand when it comes to eating any dinner that’s not head crushingly boring, like breaded chicken.
I am so sick of breaded chicken.
So, rather than fight with them every night about dinner (and rather than make breaded chicken every night for the next 18 years), I started doing this one little thing that actually got my kids toy eat their dinner:
I took them to the bar.
Oh, I kid, I kid. I didn’t actually take them to a BAR.
I made a “DIY Dinner Bar” in the kitchen, handed them a plate, and told them to help themselves.
What’s a DIY Dinner Bar, you ask, and how it is going to get my kids to eat?
A DIY Dinner Bar is akin to setting up a buffet in your kitchen and letting every family member decide what they’ll add to their own plate, within reason.
It goes hand-in-hand with one of my guiding mealtime principals, which I get from Ellyn Satter: “You choose what time the meal is and what’s being served. They choose what food they’ll eat and how much.”
It’s part of the Division of Responsibility, a game changer as far as picky eaters are concerned. It gives kids the power to make decisions around food- but within a framework that you set-up and control. This gives kids autonomy while letting them know they are still being guided by you, the parent.
And a DIY Dinner Bar goes hand in hand with this philosophy. You decide what goes on the Dinner Bar. They decide how they’ll put their dinner together and, through that, are more motivated to actually eat what’s on their plate, since they put it together.
Plus, DIY Dinner Bars are fun!
Here are a few examples of DIY Dinner Bars that you can make in your own kitchen this week:
Baked Potato Bar
Baked potatoes, either white potatoes or baked sweet potatoes
Toppings like sour cream, minced chives, butter
Fillers like browned sausage or sauteed spinach
Check out these posts about building a Baked Potato Bar:
Side dish recipes are, for me, often the trickiest part of getting dinner on the table.
There are only so many times I can roast broccoli florets with olive oil and salt (my normal weeknight go-to) and instead make one of our side dishes a little more interesting.
The problem with “interesting” side dishes on a weeknight, though? They usually take too dang long. We’re working against the clock here, people!
That’s why I started seeking out some easy side dishes that did double duty as banging freezer meals.
If I could throw a couple together on a weekend and store for later, I knew it would save me time on the weeknights; bonus was it would change up our boring side dish routine!
So here are some of the tastiest side dishes I’ve found out on these there interwebs lately. I’ve saved them to my Side Dishes Pinterest board, where I’m always adding new pins and recipes, so if you dig this list, make sure to follow that board, too!