The bewitching hour -- that twilight period between late afternoon and mealtime -- was a challenge when my children were toddlers. Balancing a mix of late afternoon snacks, baths and dinner preparation stretched our limited time, money and patience.
Now that the kids are older, the betwitching hour has a different chime. Rush-hour commutes, homework assignments and dinner prep are recipes for tension and expensive takeout food.
Sarah Beth Davidoff, chef and owner of Fare to Remember Creative Catering, offers organizational tips to reduce the emotional and financial costs of evening dinner rituals. ''Taking time to think about meals can save money,'' Davidoff said.
Here are a few suggestions:
• Hold cooking marathons: As the child of working parents, Davidoff has fond memories of her mother's weekly cooking marathons. On Sunday afternoons, her mother would cook for several hours, whipping up a variety of dishes to serve later in the week. With that headstart, her parents avoided the weeknight lure of fast food, pizza and expensive takeout meals. ''It's a great use of time,'' Davidoff said.
• Serve breakfast for dinner: Break out of culinary time zones. Consider omelets, pancakes, French toast and waffles for dinner. ''Those are healthy items and are much faster to make than roasting an entire chicken,'' Davidoff said, and breakfast is cheaper than a typical dinner.
• Shop carefully: Sketch out a week of menus and use them to create a shopping list before you hit the grocery store. Stick to the list and avoid marketing tricks at the store. For instance, expensive snacks and processed foods are placed at the eye level of most adults, while pricey cereals and other sugary treats are placed on lower shelves to attract the attention of children.