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Taming Five O’Clock

There’s something about the hour before supper that drives young children and moms crazy.  Toddlers whining at your knees.  Preschoolers tearing around and around the dining room table.  Older siblings irritating each other with excess frantic energy.  A hungry husband (if he’s around) prowling the kitchen.  Mom falling apart.   And the baby wailing as he or she absorbs everyone else’s distress.  In fact, in our family, the only ones that never have 5 o’clock issues are the teens.

Ideally, of course, if you have supper prepared ahead of time, using a slow-cooker, freezer meals, or a meal swap, you can gather your little ones under your wings and enjoy a peaceful story time or an early bath.

But life is rarely ideal.  Especially at 5 o’clock.  Certainly not if you have little ones. 

In fact, it can get crazy even without babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.  Now, that the youngest of our five children is 9, I thought life would get simpler, but it doesn’t.  I still need to use the same old strategies, and if I don’t, we have crazy hour again.

Here’s  what helps the 5 o’clock wildness at our house:

Make sure no one is hungry.  This is crucial, also for me.  ‘Hungry’ always translates to ‘cranky’ in our family.  A solid lunch, or a good afternoon snack, or a quick 4:30 pick-me-up all work.  And I’ve found for myself that a balanced snack needs to include some protein as well as healthy fat; a piece of fruit won’t help for someone who has hypoglycemia like I do.

Give everyone something to do.  We have ‘5 o’clock job time’ at our house.  The children care for the animals and do basic clean-up around the house.  It keeps them out of mischief and the cleaning up makes the house much more peaceful.

Encourage outside play.  This is a life-saver for everyone, but be careful.  I find accidents are more likely to happen at this time, although these are just mommy statistics. 

Make supper decisions before 5 o’clock, preferably far earlier.   This is the big one for us.  Some people make weekly or monthly menus.  That has never worked for us, but I often try to make decisions a day or two ahead of time.  That’s necessary for soaking legumes, thawing meat, and slow-cooking meat.

Turn off all sources of noise…including music that is soothing at any other time.

Be prepared.  Make sure the baby is fed.  Make sure you have all the supper ingredients.  Take a few minutes ahead of time to lie down if you’re already exhausted…but set the timer so you don’t fall asleep.  Make sure you know what you’re making (yes, I know I said that before, but it is so important). 

Do you have any other five o’clock tips?

For more great tips, see Teach Me Tuesdays, Works For Me Wednesday , Raising Homemakers, No Ordinary Blog Hop, Encourage One Another Wednesday, Thrifty Thursday, and Frugal Friday.


  1. I make my kid sit and do the homework while I start dinner. I am right there if he needs me, and this keeps him out of my hair and running through with toys underfoot.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Great idea. That’s effective multi-tasking, for sure!

      Annie Kate

  2. Carmen says:

    Years ago when I didn’t have any big kids to help with the little ones during supper prep time, I would use part of their after-lunch nap time to get some of the prep work out of the way – peel the potatoes, make the salad etc. Then when that was done, I would lay down for a little nap too. 🙂

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Thanks, Carmen. That’s a great suggestion. I never did that when I had only little ones, but it would have made a huge difference.

      Annie Kate

  3. Laraba says:

    Perhaps this is implied, but I think it is wise to have a specific time to eat also. We aim for 5:30 p.m. and rarely deviate more than 10 minutes in either direction. It gives me a real goal to shoot for, and helps the children be patient. If the kidlets are being particularly zooey, I will separate them into different rooms and tell them each to read a book. I also feed our baby (who is almost 1) at around 4:30 p.m. so she is happy and I’m not scrambling to feed her while I’m getting food on the table.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, it’s important to have meals at about the same time everyday. I love the idea of putting zooey kids into separate rooms with a book. I’m sure that works!

      Annie Kate

  4. Annie Kate, the only other thing I can think of that I did when our children were younger was to start dinner at the same time I was doing breakfast. (Meat out of wrapper into pot to do a roast, noodles done and into a bowl w/ olive oil to keep from drying out, greens from the garden washed and cut into the pan-no water yet-but w/ lid to be ready at right time, potatoes on cookie sheet ready for oven, etc.). It was very calming to know I had a small jump-or a big one- on dinner! I think you really covered all the bases!! Also, turning off music is impt.
    thanks for this great post. Someday this winter, I would like to do a post on this and ‘share’ your tips, giving you credit and a link!! Great, practical topic 🙂

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, getting a jump start on dinner is a big sanity-saver!

      I’m so glad you like this post, and am honored that you’d like to share my tips. Thank you.

      Annie Kate

  5. I have nothing brilliant to add. I just want to say, Amen, sister! I hear ya.

  6. Annie Kate says:

    Yep, I think all moms hear each other on this one. Thanks, Anne.

    Annie Kate

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