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For years, mothers have referred to the period of time between 4 and 7 p.m. as the hardest part of the day. The reason? That's the time when children begin getting antsy, waiting for dinner to arrive. Because they're hungry, their nerves tend to be on edge, resulting in more fussiness. It creates more work for the mother, as she must figure out a way to entertain the brood, while cooking dinner at the same time.

Even if you don't have children, meal time can be major stress time. Your mate might become irritable while awaiting dinner, and you might be grumpy as well. Hunger can be a powerful motivator, but it can also be the cause of major stress. Sometimes, you might find it difficult to concentrate as your stomach is growling.

While cooking can be relaxing for some, it is a stressful enterprise for others. There's the pressure involved in making the recipe turn out right, each time. If dinner proves disastrous, your entire night can be ruined. It can be difficult to recover, once you've failed at preparing your evening meal.

Although there might always be some stress associated with cooking dinner, it doesn't have to be an overwhelmingly stressful event. There are techniques you can use in order to better manage your stress, making dinnertime a pleasant event for the entire family. If you put these techniques into practice, chances are your mealtime preparations will proceed much more smoothly.

To begin with, you need to make sure that you have a relaxing atmosphere to work in. This can mean turning on the radio or putting on your favorite CD. Having music in the background—particularly soothing music—can make it easier for you to do your work in the kitchen. If you have little ones, consider tiding them over with a healthy snack. Also, you can occupy their time with a special video or game. Another technique is to encourage them to join in the preparations. They might be able to stir the soup or set the table. Getting them involved in the action can help to alleviate their boredom, and can provide you with some extra set of hands besides!

You might also consider making a few major meals on the weekend, when your time is more plentiful, and freezing them for use during the week. A good stew or casserole might last you for most of the week, decreasing your mealtime stress considerably.

Some families have joined together in an effort to battle meal-time stress. They've formed cooking clubs, enabling them to share the burden of preparing meals. For instance, one family might be responsible for meals for a group of families during a given week. The next week, it's another family's turn. If you're not used to preparing food for a large amount of people, this sort of system might not work. However, if you like the idea of sharing the responsibility for meals—and the camaraderie that might result—such a cooking club may be the perfect fit for you.

In some cases, you might have to lower your personal expectations in order to reduce your meal-time stress. For instance, you might have to forget about cooking the nightly meal from scratch, and use prepared mixes from the grocery store instead. Such convenience foods can save you a great deal of time and stress. You can even enhance convenience foods by adding some of your own ingredients.

Also, don't be embarrassed about ordering take-out or having a pizza delivered every once in a while. By having someone else do the cooking, you can reduce your stress level immeasurably. While you might not be able to afford to make takeout a habit, having it every once in a while will probably not break your budget—and will help to maintain your sanity at meal time.

At times, meal-time stress might be unavoidable. However, with a little bit of planning, you can reduce the pressures you feel at dinner time. If you're finding the stress overwhelming, be sure to confide in a family member. He or she might have other coping strategies to recommend to you. Also, having a cup of your favorite beverage—such as tea or cocoa—right before meal time can help to relax you, enabling you to better manage the stress. Try to make yourself comfortable, so that you can truly enjoy the dinner that results

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