For most people, the witching hour refers to the late hours of night when witches and ghouls are thought to appear.

In my world, the witching hour is actually that time between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., right before dinner. The kids get hungry and ghoulish, and I often feel like a witch on a broomstick as I shuffle kids from activities, guard the pantry from predators, and do my best to prepare a meal that I’m not prepared to make.

I dread this witching hour, and I’ve heard from many of the moms I work with that they dread this time of day too.

We are tired of the stress that comes with meal preparation. We are tired of rummaging through the fridge looking for a last-minute meal. We are tired of crying toddlers at our feet while we chop and stir.

Finally dinner is ready, the table is set. Yet we are fetching drinks in the correct order and grabbing condiments previously forgotten. It’s our turn to sit down and eat only to take a bite and find dinner is cold.

Can you relate to this? Do you dread dinner time?

The truth is, even though I dread this time of day I love my family — and I love family meal time.

Dr. Anne K. Fishel, clinical psychologist and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, wrote, “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members.”

We all understand it’s important to sit down around the table and eat a meal with our happy family, but getting there is tricky. Here are seven things we can do make dinnertime easier in our home.

1. Be positive about dinner

The first thing we can do to take back dinner is to create a positive environment.

It’s no secret I dread dinner time and I’m embarrassed to say there have been many, many times my attitude reflected my feelings. I was ornery and found myself saying things like, “No, you can’t have another snack because you never eat your dinner;” or “You don’t like what I cook anyway, so what does it matter?”

So first thing, I had to admit the negative vibe of the witching hour started with me and do what I could to change it. I watched my word choices carefully and started playing positive music in the kitchen.

2. Interview your family

Cut right to the chase and ask your children and your spouse about their favorite meals and side dishes. Also ask them what they really don’t like to eat — and take notes.

I learned what I already knew: my kids are fickle. But at the very least, I sent the message that I really cared about family dinners and I really cared about them.

3. Make a list

Once you know what everyone actually likes (yourself included), make a list of the most likely to please the majority meals. You might even want a list of winter meals and summer meals. Try to include a good variety of meal prep options, like quick meals, freezer meals and crock pot meals.

When I do this, I even have a list of meals that my kids like and my husband doesn’t. I save those meals for the nights he works late.

4. Rename food

I decided to rename several of the meals from my lists to make them sound more kid-friendly. It seems silly but it works.

When someone would ask, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” Rather than say “orange sesame chicken over rice,” I’d simply say, “orange candy chicken.” And the kids are less likely to complain.

Mom wins.

5. Include the kids

Don’t let the stress of the moment keep you from including your children in your meal prep plans. Kids can set the table or wash, chop or stir.

6. Match meals to your calendar

Assign specific meals to specific days, paying attention to which nights need simple meals and which nights offer time for more detailed recipes.

This may seem like a simple idea to many, but for me this concept created anxiety. I hated the idea that I was forced into cooking something I didn’t want to cook. Yet when I finally gave in to the process, I realized the weekly meal plan that I thought would make me feel trapped actually set me free.

7. Be realistic

In all honesty, even the best meal plan is not executed perfectly. Allow nights for pizza or takeout. On the crazy days, remember there are probably leftovers in the fridge waiting for you.

There will be spills and tantrums until there are no longer toddlers, and the likelihood that you’ll please everyone in a single setting is slim to none. I know my kids love it best when I’ve had a crazy day and so we sit around the dinner table eating pancakes.


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This article originally published as Nicole’s regular column on