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Dinnertime dilemmas solved

It's six o'clock, there's nothing defrosted, the kids are whining and the living room looks like "Twister" was filmed in the middle of the floor. It's the "witching hour," more commonly referred to as dinnertime. All moms have been there, but these few have developed strategies to cope.

Be flexible
Elizabeth Skarbinski, host of the "Moms Managing Time: When there are Only 24 Hours in the Day" at Sturdy Hospital in Attleboro, Massachusetts said those hours before and during dinner are fraught with complications. "Babies never cooperate at that time of day," she said. "It's also a prime time for accidents; you're so busy getting dinner ready that you might not notice that the kids are getting into trouble."

Skarbinski should know. As a mom to five kids ranging in age from eight months to seven years old, dinner time is a time for flexibility in her house. "Take out is wonderful. We get it once a week," says Skarbinski. "Moms shouldn't feel guilt if they can't get a homemade dinner done every night."

A Maternal/Child Health Clinician at the hospital, Skarbinski says all moms, both working and stay-at-home, face the same stresses. With dinner arriving at the end of a very full day, tempers and patience levels are apt to be short.

Kristine Rolofson of Wakefield, Rhode Island, author of 22 romance novels, including the recently-released Pillow Talk and The Bride Rode West, has made time management a priority. With six kids, ranging in age from 12 to 25 and a full-time career out of the home, Rolofson has had to "come up with my own systems through trial and error."

Keep it simple
She says when her children were little, it was more difficult. However, coming from a woman who used to churn her own butter and bake all the bread, organization is obviously a must. "After I finished writing each book, I evaluated what worked and what didn't. We'd try to see what we could do to make it easier for everyone," she says.

Simplicity is key to Rolofson's dinners. She works with a 14-day meal plan and favors casseroles that are filled with a little something from all the food groups. One rule is sacred -- dinner time is family time. "We all try to eat together, whatever the time. I've learned to roll with the punches," Rolofson says.

She enlists the help of the children in all aspects of dinner. "If you take the time to teach a child, they eventually learn how to cook or set the table. Then, it is worth the time."

Jen Mank, mom to two children and a Pampered Chef sales representative who lives in Weymouth, Massachusetts said quick and easy meals are essential ingredients for an enjoyable evening.

"The basic complaint I hear from women is that they have no time. They have to start cooking right after they run home from work," she says.

Mank recommends preparing vegetables and dips ahead of time to give the kids a munchie and tide them over until dinner is done. With "finicky" children of her own, Mank says she is always looking for recipes that will appeal to the whole family.

"People may not have much time but that isn't any reason to throw nutrition out the window and just have fast food," says Mank. "You can make nutritious pizzas with chicken, casseroles with lots of vegetables, and be done in a few minutes."

Plan ahead
Rolofson says moms needn't feel wholly responsible for dinner. All the children have a job in the Rolofson household and a hand in the meal, eliminating many complaints. Her philosophy is a simple one that has allowed her to continue writing while raising a half dozen children: "If the kids are happy and everybody got something to eat, the little things don't matter. I'm not exactly a Martha Stewart type of person."

And even Martha might have a little trouble making it through the witching hour without flattening her souffl�!

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