Like many parents, I treat the hours between 3.15 p.m. and 7 p.m. with some excitement, a little dread, a whole lot of patience, and occasionally with a headache. The boys are still so young so leave school excitable but tired ... and absolutely famished. My husband heads out to work at 6 a.m. so leaves the office at 4.30 p.m. happy but tired ... and absolutely famished. And I've often done so much running around during the day in my usual busy, chaotic state that I'm bright-eyed but tired ... and absolutely famished. Get the picture?
Every year, we resolve to eat together around the dining table as much as possible, and also to try new meals rather than relying on a handful of old favourites. And come mid-January? Our good intentions have more often than not faded in to nothing. Other than on a Saturday night. Our Saturday suppers are very much a family affair with the boys choosing what we eat - although, 99 percent of the time, they opt for fajitas and ice cream.
But the rest of the week? Well, it's a mad rush to feed the little ones as soon as we get back from school as the walk home, despite only being 10 minutes, is filled with approximately 7 million requests for food and 3 million cries of 'I'm starving'. Yes, that walk is a whole lot of fun.
Inevitably, I end up cooking something for them at 4 p.m. and then making something separately for Paul when he gets home - and I pick at bits and pieces in between. Not ideal, right? From a meal planning, time spent cooking, and a family interaction point of view, it's not the best way of doing things, is it?
It seems that we're not alone though as according to research commissioned by HelloFresh, four in ten adults eat their evening meals separately and over half of British parents admit that they don't eat with their children. Our busy lives are resulting in the death of the traditional family dinnertime. And that makes me feel sad. Chatting over dinner is such a lovely thing to do - it encourages children to interact more, try new foods, work on their table manners, and wind down after a busy day at school. It's such a shame that we don't get the time or make the effort to do it more often.
For those reasons, the response from us was a very loud YES when HelloFresh asked us to join them in taking part in the #DinnerTimeChallenge aimed at encouraging the nation to spend 30 days eating dinner with their family or household as much as they can.
We're two weeks in now and while some days it's simply not doable, it's going really well. It's due in part to the HelloFresh meal plans being delivered to our door each Tuesday containing easy-to-follow recipe cards and perfectly portioned fresh ingredients. Not having to plan meals and do a big shop each week is a welcome relief. Both Paul and I work for an hour or two in the evening after the boys have gone to bed and closing our laptops at 9 p.m. only to then have to discuss meals and shopping is not the nicest end to a busy day.
Our HelloFresh family meal box contains four meals for two adults and two children and costs £64 per week. It's probably a little bit more than what we would traditionally spend on the same amount of meals from our local supermarket BUT what we get back in time is more than worth it. And it's so nice trying new recipes and introducing the boys to new ingredients ... not always with success but small steps!
The ingredients for each meal come in their own paper bag ... even individual cloves of garlic and small packets of soy sauce and honey, for example, are included. I get the boys involved by having them check everything off against the recipe card - it's a nice way for them to learn the names of all the foods that we're cooking with and hopefully get them interested in what they could possibly taste like.
Timing-wise, so that we can all eat together, I do need to give the children a small snack as soon as we get home from school. I start cooking around 4.30 p.m. and as the recipes are all new to me, despite them often stating they take 40 minutes, I mostly have everything ready at 5.30 p.m. We sit down to eat the moment Paul walks through the door and although it can be a bit of a rush, it's definitely worth it.
If you want to see what we've been cooking and eating, I post on InstaStories in the evenings so do follow me over there if you want to have a closer look at the food and the recipes. Mexican chicken wraps has been the favourite so far, closely followed by mixed bean and pork chilli. From a personal perspective, I don't eat meat all that often so I occasionally give Paul my portion but the salads and vegetables included in each meal are plentiful and delicious so I never feel like I'm missing out.
HelloFresh have put together some wonderful tips on making the most of mealtimes. We've started to apply nearly all of them - we're eating at the same time each day and always around the table. We spend time chatting and if the boys don't like something, we don't make a big deal out it ... they don't go hungry. I feel like we're now making the best of mealtimes and long may that continue!
This post was written in collaboration with HelloFresh.