4 Steps to Reclaiming Your Kitchen

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When Wolf asked me to partner with them to support their Reclaim the Kitchen campaign, I knew that was something I wanted to support. I want to reclaim my own kitchen – get back to more intentional family meals, try new recipes, enjoy making dinner again – and help my readers reclaim their kitchens in the process.

Reclaim the Kitchen

The last few months of 2014 I had totally been feeling like I’ve lost my groove in the kitchen. For the most part, the daily task of cooking dinner for me and the kids was not super pleasant.  I often felt uninspired, frustrated, bored, and all around UGH. Unfortunately, instead of doing something to reclaim my kitchen I was doing nothing.

It has been a busy almost 2 years transitioning to a single parent household. Most of the time we were just trying to get through dinner with something healthy on the table that we would all eat.

Being the only adult in the home I told myself that I was cooking 1 and only 1 dinner. I still battle with Logan’s picky eating, though he has made incredible progress over the last 2 years, but I was determined that I would cook something every night that everyone would be relatively happy with because that was all I had time for. Immediately that eliminated anything super creative or spicy and pretty much guaranteed chicken would be the meat of choice every night.

Easy Recipe for Baked Honey Mustard Chicken

Easy Baked Honey Mustard Chicken

We had chicken in various forms for months and months, make your own pizza, and breakfast for dinner. With a few “mom picked” meals thrown in there once in a while. We did pretty great and everyone was happy with our options, until we weren’t.

School started, schedules changed, my workload increased, we got busy with soccer practice and homework and friends and suddenly last fall I found I had far less time (read: allowed other things to become more important, didn’t plan ahead, and got a little lazy) to make dinner and I wasn’t intentional about our family mealtime anymore. It wasn’t a good place to be in to dread figuring out what to eat because I didn’t have a plan.

Did you know in 1900 we ate 98% of our meals in our homes? Today, it’s less than 50%. We spend hours watching cooking shows but a mere 31 minutes a day preparing meals ourselves. There is a solution, though. Reclaiming your kitchen is easy. Just cook.

There isn’t anything wrong with making an easy dinner or eating simply, but dinner in our house became a chore. Something I had to do. The things I was serving weren’t unhealthy, but it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I didn’t want dinner to be a repeat of lunch or something that was rushed and looked at as a drag.

I want to be able to cook normal things – soups, stews, enchiladas, lasagna, other casseroles, and have my kids eat what I cook. They won’t for the most part, especially Logan.

easy tomato florentine soup

Easy Tomato Florentine Soup

As a single parent I don’t have another adult in the household to shoulder this burden or to help enforce healthy eating or respect for what mom cooks. I have to deal with the complaining all on my own and it can be draining at times. And that feeling is what caused me to get to a point where I needed to reclaim my kitchen .

We were eating the same couple of things all of the time. It didn’t create good feelings for anyone about mealtime. I also cooked a lot of really easy foods like grilled cheese and fruit, chicken nuggets, plain buttered pasta…just to get my kids to eat something.

Towards the end of 2014 I decided to share my thoughts about these problems with a friend. I spent some time just venting and voicing my general unhappiness with dinner at our house. My friend asked if I wanted to cook dinner and have people not complain or if I wanted people to eat what I want to make. HUH? Well, both.

I guess there’s a difference. If I wanted my kids to never complain then I should just make everyone a different dinner every night. Serve Logan what he wants, Madeline what she wants, and figure something else out for myself.

But that isn’t what family mealtime is about for me. If I wanted to reclaim my kitchen  and the spirit of family mealtime I might have to endure occasional complaining if the kids didn’t like what I served. But at least I could be happy with the knowledge that as a mom I was doing my best to prepare and serve a variety of nutritious meals.

The problem was that I had allowed my feeling bad about Logan’s continued picky eating to take focus rather than looking at the whole picture of how much progress he has made.

It is true that we were busy with sports and homework. That busyness just compounded the struggle I was already having with Logan. It was challenging for me to deal with two issues that both caused problems with mealtime.

how to make great pizza at home

Tips for Making Awesome Pizza at Home – Kid love this!

Rather than pushing forward with our goals and having an organized plan to get through our busy months and the lull that created at the dinner table, I allowed my frustration with the entire situation – busyness and picky eating – to consume the energy I could have used to fix the problem. I gave up, so to speak. And I think a lot of moms struggle with this.

Our problem is not a lack of time or skills in the kitchen. It is that we allow other things to become more important and we spend our energy there. My friend asked what I would tell my readers about this problem. Suddenly I had TONS of ideas. 

Hmmm. Okay then. So instead of doing nothing I’ll listen to my own advice and reclaim my kitchen. I’ll make time to cook meals—even one a week—and enjoy them as a family, around our table. Because I like it when I look forward to dinnertime. I like it when dinnertime is fun. I like trying new recipes.


1. Have a Plan

Sometimes the pressure of 6 pm coming just around the corner is enough to slap me into gear, other times I shut down when I don’t have a plan and dinner is quickly approaching. It’s those times that I freeze and procrastinate.

It is important for me to teach my kids that family mealtime is a special time. And I think if something is special you treat it differently. You eat a variety of foods. You care what your kids like but you work to introduce new foods too and don’t stress it if someone doesn’t like a new food the first time you serve it.

Meal Planning Tips

You put effort into planning and preparing. You don’t wait until the 6 pm freak-out to figure out what you are going to make. It isn’t just about getting something on the table. It is about the message I want to send my children and what I am teaching them each time I put something on the table. And you are intentional about all of this.

I look back on those more frustrating months and think “Really, Katie? This is Mom 101.”

Plan WHEN you are going to eat. Plan WHAT you are going to eat. Then go grocery shopping. Then FOLLOW the plan.

Need some ideas for your plan? Feeling uninspired? Try:

  • Browsing Foodgawker and Pinterest.
  • Check out ReclaimTheKitchen.com – Wolf offers lots of resources for planning and recipe ideas.
  • Buy a new recipe magazine, preferably one with lots of pictures. Make a magazine recipe binder with ideas.
  • Revisit an old favorite. Something that’s proven to be a success with your family.
  • Flip through a cookbook you haven’t looked at in a while or check something out at the library.
  • Find the menu for your favorite restaurant. See if you can recreate a dish at home. (Or even make it better!)
  • Ask the kids and get them involved! Why? 5 Reasons to Cook with Kids

2. Balance the Plan

Simple is okay. For my family what is not okay is eating the same thing all of the time whether it is healthy or unhealthy.

Reclaim the Kitchen

To me it is not okay to be serving sandwiches, chicken nuggets or plain pasta every night. I also don’t think it is okay to cater to kids’ likes and dislikes all the time.Part of being a parent is helping my kids learn how to make good food choices and to develop healthy eating habits.

But it is also important not to over do it. Start small. Maybe what’s realistic for your family is to start out with 2 family meals a week and work your way to more. That’s ok.

Part of following the plan is making sure it is balanced. Decide what is best for your family, what your unique goals might be, weigh that against your schedule so your plan is smart. If your plan is smart and fits your life you are that much more likely to follow it.

Or maybe you are like me and you want the kids to eat what you make, and what you want to eat. Plan some of both. Plan half of the nights with meals you know they’ll eat. The other half of the nights, cook something you want. Serve the kids leftovers from meals they enjoy on the “mom” nights or just make sure parts of the “mom” meals include some things that they’ll eat.

This has actually gotten a lot easier since Logan made his food goals for 2015 – he’s already eating pork chops, couscous or quinoa, pineapple, and tacos. Just that gives us more tasty options.

3. Organize Other Areas in Your Home

When the rest of my life is feeling a bit unorganized my cooking suffers too. Nothing puts a damper on my creativity for me like piles of laundry, a toy strewn living room, or a cluttered pantry.

Cross cleaning the pantry off the to-do list. Done. Finished. And so much better now! It makes coming up with delicious and healthy meals easier when I can actually see what I have to work with.

4. Keep a Well Stocked Pantry

And there’s nothing more discouraging than trying to make dinner when you don’t have the ingredients you need or want. Sometimes when I’m not inspired I realize that it’s because I’m running low or out of several of my favorite pantry ingredients.

But if I have a well stocked pantry I’m often able to throw delicious recipes together without thinking about it. In the past some of our favorite family meals have come from pantry items combined with the pressure of the clock ticking it’s way towards 5 pm.

5 grain pancakes

5 Grain Pancakes are a great pantry recipe!

Lately I’m including my freezer in the “well stocked” category. I’ve been making more of a point to keep some of our favorite frozen vegetables on hand and the meats we like best (wrapped and stored in sizes that suit our family).

For some pantry stocking ideas check out:

How are you going to reclaim YOUR kitchen?


This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Wolf.