Avoiding Arsenic Hour

Over the past ten months that we’ve lived in this bus more than a couple people have commented that we must be pretty brave and adventurous to undertake such an endeavor.

However, I’ve come to the realization that I am neither brave nor adventuresome so much as  incredibly short-sighted and amnesiac. When every challenge that we encounter takes me completely by surprise and is forgotten with the swiftness of a goldfish, I can take no credit for facing the future with unadulterated optimism and enthusiasm.

Case in point: I am well aware that the onset of fall and winter means that the days are short and the sun sets early. But I have been completely at a loss each day when I find that I  have to call all the kids inside from their play just as I am thinking about getting dinner started. I shoot myself in the foot every single evening by creating the perfect storm known as “Arsenic Hour.”

Also called by such dour names as “The Witching Hour” or “Suicide Hour,” Arsenic Hour refers to that time of day when a parent’s attention and nerves tend to be stretched thinnest. I find that this usually begins right before dinner time and is amplified tenfold when there is a baby in the house.

In the Summer I managed to evade the worst of it by keeping the children outside upon pain of death if they tried to come in before it was time to sit down and eat. With shorter days this is slightly less feasible since as soon as it starts to get dark they become coyote bait.

So, around 4:30 they descend and start asking what I’m making for dinner, complaining about whatever I tell them, tattling on each other, picking off and tasting pieces of the food being prepared, taking out whatever toy has the most pieces within reach and scattering them on the nearest surface and wrestling with each other until somebody gets hurt. The chaos is amplified when the baby starts crying because I’ve had to put him down for any reason at all.

This used to be bad enough in a regular sized house, but now it’s condensed into 400 square feet of space.

It has been said that taking care of children is easy, unless you’re trying to do anything else at the same time. Most of the overwhelm I feel around sunset has to do with the fact that I’m distracted by trying to get dinner ready and Noah isn’t home from work yet to help wrangle everybody. What I need to do is take steps to make sure I have as little else competing for my attention as possible, because my kids need every ounce of it that they can get.

Basic, right?

Some ideas:

1. Meal plan (having an idea of what I’m actually going to cook helps a ton).

2. Crock pot meals (this is not as effective in the winter since we don’t have as much electricity and the crock pot uses quite a bit).

3. Prepping as much as possible ahead of time as I can (i.e. cutting veggies, cooking meat to be assembled later).

4. Making a double batch and freezing half to use as a meal another time.

5. Having the kids help make dinner (I don’t know that I have the patience for this one on a regular basis.)

6. Sending the kids to the neighbors house while THEY make dinner (tempting… maybe a trade off could be arranged?)

7. Eat out more often (even more tempting, but expensive).

8. Have Noah make dinner when he gets home (because it’s not like he’s been doing anything all day)(just kidding).

And… I’m tapped.

How do YOU avoid Arsenic Hour?

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15 thoughts on “Avoiding Arsenic Hour

  1. Oh dear.
    Yes, arsenic hour happens to all who care for children.
    Here are a few that worked for me. Can I say, I only had 2 — both boys 2 years apart.
    1. I fixed ‘tea’. Easy peasy finger foods like carrot sticks, raisin packs, peanut butter toast. They had milk, I had tea. Sometimes we ate this at the park, in the car before karate or piano lessons, sometimes we sat at the table. I usually did this at 4 pm. I could fix this, put it in the refrig and viola’, yank it out. No prep needed.
    Then we could get on with normal stuff like baths, homework, chores,etc. without having meltdowns from either me (mostly) or them.
    When my husband got home, they ate a small meal with him and me eating ‘real dinner’. Evenings went so much smoother especially if he was late (a lot) and they had had some food recently.
    2. I food prepped a lot on the weekends. We ate the same 10 meals over and over (ok, I know boring) but I knew the kids would eat it and heck, you have the rest of your life to fix cordon bleu food.
    3. My kids had days of the week. M/W/Sat were Matthew’s, T/Th/Sun were Cole’s. Friday’s belonged to me. Whose ever day it was got the first choice of whatever. Where to sit, what to listen to, who had to feed the dog, who practiced piano first and who helped mom with dinner. The other had to leave. Listen, you think you don’t have patience now, you definitely won’t when they are 10 or 12 or for goodness sake 15. And they need to learn to do basic stuff in the kitchen. Plus, it is a good time to have one -on – one time. Even if that time is only spent filling the pan with water and turning on the stove. Don’t be shocked. I know a ton of kids who do not know how to work the microwave. I also know a bunch of moms who never wanted their kids in the kitchen. I decided a long time ago that would not be me. I was my job to teach them the basics. Mine could make a menu, go to the grocery store, shop, pay, come home and cook it by the time they were 10. And you will need that help. Start small, start with tiny, tiny things one at a time.
    Not sure if any of that is helpful. I have lots of friends who put a video on or let them watch Arthur on PBS while they drank a glass of wine and cooked dinner and I’ll admit I did that too! Sometimes, you just have to get through the moment. Blessings.

    1. oh, honey. The only way I could make it through that awful hour (or 2) was to plan supper at least the day before, so my meat was thawed. Fix supper IN THE MORNING, so that you can just pop it in the oven or crockpot at the pre-determined time and then focus all your attention on the littles in your life.
      I love the plans that Sylvia ^^ put down here for you as well. She is so right, there will be time for more complicated meals later! I did a lot of one dish meals in those years! And we’re still alive to tell it! 😀 Hang in there!

  2. I hear ya! Obviously with Reagan having moved out and Marley almost 14 this rarely happens anymore. One good trick I used when they were little was to reserve that time for an activity that they didn’t usually get to do, like maybe put in a movie (This was obviously when Reagan was small because Marley was a TV Queen, as we all
    know. lol. ) or let them each have a little play doh and cookie cutters, or something that can hold their attention. Another tip is that Fresh n’ Easy has really great prices on prepared (Washed, chopped, diced, etc) veggies that even though you’re paying a little more its not nearly as expensive as eating out. Just some thoughts! Hang in there!

  3. I forget what you have available to cook with, but if you have an oven, I recommend casseroles. You can prep a casserole any time during the day and keep it in the fridge, then pop it in the oven when you’re ready to cook it. Soup and chili are good options too because you can make them early and they just get better the longer they simmer!

    I don’t know if you read Andrea Dekker’s blog, but she has lots of recipes, and she likes to prep dinner early in the day and then cook it later so a lot of her recipes are good for that!

  4. Oh my goodness! I have never heard it called arsenic hour. Lol! I probably let the kids watch way too much television when they were younger. The hubster does pride himself in being the better cook so he is happy to cook most nights. We end up eating pretty late but it works for us;0)

  5. Back again. 🙂
    Here is an Easy peasy recipe that my kids LOVE, has bailed me out many a day!
    Its a pretty big recipe, so either cut it in half or plan on eating leftovers. 🙂

    Easy Baked Macaroni n Cheese

    4 T Butter 1- 1/2 tsp salt
    3-3/4 c. uncooked macaroni 1/4 tsp pepper
    3/4 lb. Velveeta cheese 6 c. milk

    Melt butter in baking dish. Add macaroni and stir to coat. slice cheese over macaroni, and add salt, pepper and milk. Cover and bake at 325* for 1- 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally while baking. Serves 8

    *Note: I add a can of chicken breast, (and sometimes peas) to make this an all-inclusive meal. The chicken makes it sooo good. 🙂 Enjoy!

    1. grrr, my spaces between the ingredients disappeared and ran them together, hope you can make sense of it! ^^

  6. I know what your talking about! On the days it gets really crazy I put on a movie or favorite TV show. We love Netflix.

  7. I don’t have kids yet but I am an obsessive meal planner. Here’s how I meal plan:

    I keep a page of meal ideas that my husband and I both like and are willing to eat on a pretty regular basis. The left side of the page is summer meals that require minimal or no cooking (many of them are served chilled – it can easily be 100 degrees and 95% humidity in the summer here) and the right side is winter meals. Most of the meals are relatively quick and easy, but the bottom of each list has a few special meals that require more prep or time or dishes and pots and pans.

    On Sunday afternoons, my husband and I sit down and decide what we will have for dinner each night of the week (Sunday through Saturday). I write it on a little whiteboard that I keep on the fridge.

    Then my Husband writes the grocery list, in the order that we will walk through the store. I thought this was crazy when I first met him, but I am totally converted! It saves time in the store and we almost never buy anything we don’t need, since if it’s not on the list, we’re not even going to walk down that aisle.

    The planning only takes half an hour or so once a week, and it really cuts the mental load for me. I think you shop more than once per week because of your food storage issues, but you could plan once a week or every time you shop.

  8. I have the grandkidlets for dinner at least 4 nights a week, so I feel your pain! The last thing I want to do is leave them alone in the other room or horrors! have them all follow me into the kitchen where I trip on them. One at a time, yes, but there you go- then you have the others wrestling and howling in the other room.

    I try to spoil their appetites at around 4pm with carrots and hummus (or any bean dip- with cheese) that I make early in the week and we eat on for the rest of the week. I cut up the carrots then and keep them, in water that I change everyday, in the fridge. We also eat a lot of apples and nut butters. This way they’re not Ravenous Horrible Monsters before dinner. Oh, wait, that’s me, I’m the Ravenous Horrible Monster without a high-protein snack…

    Anyhow, my dinner solution is to always have dinner on, either in the crockpot (I thought they were supposed to be energy efficient?!) or in the oven or in the fridge ready to put in the oven, by about 1:00pm. I try not to do anything that requires last-minute get-it-all-together finishing, where stuff can burn or won’t cook in time or whatever.

    I’ve found it helpful, too, to wake up thinking about dinner. See if you can do that, ok? (ok, ok, I like food!)

  9. I make snack bags. Or at your kids age, you can use muffin tins. Just make healthy snacks and have it on hand. I need to eat every few hours, so I have a mid afternoon snack. Then they are more able to wait for dinner.

    Make sure your meal planning. Makes life so much easier. Freezer cooking will help you out a lot. If you can take a Saturday to do the cooking, then you can have meals for like a month. After my Youngest was born, (was going to be before, but she ended up a preemie) I went with friends and made a months worth of dinner. You can do casseroles and crock-pot meals. Soups are also very easy to throw together. Do you have a bread maker? I love mine, just takes 3 min and then you have yummy bread for dinner. There are lots of books about freezer cooking. I also like to do the double recipe and freeze the extras. Helps on days when we are running behind. I never seem to have enough time to do a big batch of freezer cooking, but just making extra food and freezing it, gives me some day off. You can also look and see if your town has a place where you can go and get premade meals. The one I went to was Dream Dinners. They are costly, but at that time, the sanity savings with 2 little girls and a newborn was worth it.

  10. Oh, been there…I have put on a show if need be, love the idea of carrots and hummus or apples with nut butter…we do that too. Sometimes I will say that it is book time and bring out a stack of books…and sometimes they will settle in…looking at a book or magazine…that is a sweet time…encourage olders to read to youngers (including the baby ) and know that picture reading is okay 🙂 Recently, my kiddos have been playing solitaire and other simple card games and this has been a good time filler and fun for all however please know that we have entered into a new season as my baby is now seven and the others are 10 and 12. Lastly, offer yourself lots of grace…you are doing a great job and this season too will pass. I, too, am reading about the meal planning that people have suggested and the meal organization as that is something that I have not come to grips with (you would think that I would have it all down by now…nope) I am still a work in process 🙂

    1. We’ve always played solitaire, crazy eights and rummy (with real cards, not the little kid ones), too, but now that the 3 year old doesn’t take naps often, he gets annoyed at being left out. So, we’ve discovered dominoes! We have a set of double nines, and he tends to beat us quite regularly. He may not be able to read cards yet, but he can match up the tiles faster than the rest of us. His sisters tend to count the dots, but he just looks at them and knows the numbers. Shoot! I call it homeschooling, a win-win situation!

  11. Look into the “wonderbag” (http://wonderbagworld.com/). I don’t know how much power it takes to get a large pot to full boil, but if it’s less than it takes to support a crockpot over several hours the wonderboag could be helpful. (The wonderbag is basically a supper insulated cover you put around a pot—bring a pot of soup/rice & beans/chili, etc up to temp, insulate it, and it stays really hot for several hours, finishes cooking, and still hot at dinner.) This is a very old technique, our great-grandmas used to wrap their chili pots in their bed spreads before church. Anyway, it may be a way of getting the slow cooker time shift with less electricity use…

  12. Idea: Make dinner at lunchtime then just reheat it for dinner. Sure you’re eating the same meal twice in the same day but that sure beats dealing with the dinnertime madness!

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