Do your meals/house suffer when spouse is out of town?

I was texting with a friend whose husband is in South Africa covering Nelson Mandela’s funeral. She has four kids, and I asked her how everything was going.

I was expecting her to say that things were tough with her husband out of town but instead she wrote back that she was really enjoying not cooking and cleaning the house.

I laughed because my house cleaning and meal preparation have also been lax when Michael is out of town.

I wrote back that I had served my children cereal the other night for dinner because we had a chorus concert to get to. She wrote back that was her “plan” for the next night. She had served jarred sauce and pasta that night. I had served that the night before.  (Please see my later blog entitled: “Enough with the Christmas concerts! – We have been to four in one week! )

I told the story to my girlfriend in Taipei whose husband is also out of town, and she replied that she had stocked up on chicken nuggets and soup.

Lately Michael has been in town for a few week and then gone for a few weeks. What I find is the first week I am on top of things and my meals are up to par — roast chicken, fried rice, baked ziti – but then by the second week, we are down to a lot of frozen meals – like Stouffer’s lasagna that I can just throw in — or convenience items like pre-chopped butternut squash or prepared salads.

We had another concert this week that I made a overnight blueberry/almond french toast. I prepped it all the night before and then baked it at 4 p.m to eat at 5 p.m. so we could leave by 5:30 to be at the school for the concert. It was much better than cereal but not much harder to have ready on time.

Does your menu change when it’s just you and the kids? What are your go-to meals on busy nights?

35 comments Add your comment

Atlanta Mom

December 11th, 2013
7:46 pm

My kids loved when Dad wasn’t eating dinner with us. Pancakes for dinner! It was the best.


December 11th, 2013
7:48 pm

Apparently, my family suffers through a lot because some of these sound good to me!


December 11th, 2013
8:05 pm

My husband rarely travels, but when he’s away it’s just 2 of us so no, I don’t usually do my normal dinners. We’ll have mac & cheese, omelets, just something quick and easy. Housework still gets done, though. I don’t know why it’d be any different regardless of where your spouse is.


December 11th, 2013
9:03 pm

When my husband traveled weekly, our dinners were lighter; less meat/carb based. When I was growing up, my dad worked shifts. Our favorite was 3-11p which meant he wasn’t home for dinner. That meant my mom relied on frozen meals, sandwiches, etc. A real treat. Busy nights mean breakfast for dinner or pasta.


December 12th, 2013
12:12 am

When my hubby goes out of town, I can finally clean house and keep food in the fridge that I can trust will be there when I want some.


December 12th, 2013
12:25 am

Years ago I read about a study that showed that it didn’t matter how many kids a woman had, after two, they took the same amount of time to clean up after them. So, if you have two kids and it takes 10 hours to keep up with their needs weekly, you can have 16 kids and it will still take you 10 hours. However, the mere presence of a husband will add at least 8 hours of housework to a woman’s weekly workload over and above the kids and whatever he does to contribute, no matter how “50/50″ the workload is supposed to be. Wonder why having a man in the house makes us do more, when we are willing to work with less when he’s gone?


December 12th, 2013
5:19 am

Thank you for the recipe!!!!!


December 12th, 2013
6:30 am

So, what you are saying is that you are basically lazy, unless there is a man to command respect and obedience.
Michael after coming home:
“Theresa, go get me a beer. I’ll have Swiss cheese on that sandwich you are making me and get to it…we’ll have no lollygagging in this house. Keep those smelly kids away from me while I catch up on ESPN. Make sure that you are in the bedroom promptly at 9:00 and have assumed the position.

It’s great to be King.


December 12th, 2013
6:42 am

Not when my kids were still at home. I divorced when they were 11,7,and 2. However, now that they are grown and gone, yes! Most nights there is no meal.


December 12th, 2013
7:36 am


My husband rarely travels for business. When he is gone, it is much easier to keep things neat around here. He did not grow up in a tidy family and after 31 years, I cannot change him. I will admit that I am not as strict about cleaning as I used to be, I am tired of keeping a neat house to have it a mess the next day. When I get home from being out of town it is not neat.

A few years ago, I jokingly asked him if he knew these house rules. He thought I was making them up. Actually, they have been around for a long time.

If you sleep on it – make it up.
If you wear it – hang it up.
If you drop it – pick it up.
If you eat out of it – wash it up.
If you spill it – wipe it up.
If you open it – close it.
If you empty it – fill it up.
If it howls – feed it.
If it cries – love it.


December 12th, 2013
7:47 am

I don’t think my husband has ever been away without me…..but we do breakfast for dinner once in a while. We still cook dinner almost every night together…..


December 12th, 2013
7:48 am

@MJG – we have those “rules” posted in the kitchen. Lol

Atlanta Mom

December 12th, 2013
7:56 am

I would also say, when my husband wasn’t home, my meals didn’t suffer. They were merely different.


December 12th, 2013
8:03 am

I never thought about it before, but yes!
My husband is rarely out of town, but when he works late, yes I do have a tendency to do grilled cheese sandwiches or chicken nuggets instead of a proper meal. I don’t know why that is, he’s not the type that really cares about what’s on the table. If for some reason there is no plan for dinner, he’s quite content with PB&Js or reheated leftoevers. But I feel like we should have a proper meal! Weird.

Do you suppose it is our mothers’ 50s influence on us? My mother always (ALWAYS!!) had dinner on for my father. No matter what.


December 12th, 2013
8:04 am

@shaggy: I literally laughed out loud at the “assume the position”. That was too funny.


December 12th, 2013
8:24 am

@mom2alex&max…my Mother did too. She fussed at me when I just began to travel and left my husband home with the kids, to order a pizza. She did not approve and thought is was wrong to leave them. My stepmom has taken trips and cruises without my Dad. Left him for a week to fend for himself ( he is an adult). I find this funny, as my Mother would never have done so. My Stepmom did have a career and my Mom did not. Different styles for sure.

BTW I do a good cleaning once a week. Otherwise, it is what it is. Of course, I do the dishes and laundry.


December 12th, 2013
8:36 am

@motherjanegoose We have a lot in common!

@atlantamom Yes! “Suffer” is not the right word for just making different decisions.


December 12th, 2013
8:38 am

@ LizBeth I agree COMPLETELY with your assessment about kids and husbands. Unfortuately when kids hit that teenager stage (especially the boys), everything that you have taught them can go haywire.

Husbands that travel alot can be a handful when they return home. They are used to dining out on gourmet meals and having a hotel room all to themselves with housekeeping. When they get home its like they have lost all sense of the simple basics that is expected of any individual in the household. In a survey of my network of friends, most households where the husband travels alot seem to run better and more effficiently when they are out of town.

@motherjane I LOVE your list. If each individual just did their small part household would run much smoother.

I tell my sons that the next generation of husbands are in for a rude awakening if they expect what their current day mothers to continue on with their spouses. Men have the hardest time changing and adapting to everyday life away from their jobs. Women are all the time reinventing themselves and changing as needed. Men need to learn to do the same!


December 12th, 2013
8:54 am

@LizBeth…too funny!

@JAH… I agree with your last paragraph. I also travel for business and love being in a clean hotel room. I generally get two beds and keep all my things in a neat pile on one bed. I am very particular about leaving the room tidy for the housekeeper and I leave a tip too…usually a note. I also enjoy eating out…where I want to eat. Trying new things. My husband has limited taste buds and will fuss if something is not what he expected or too different. He is much better when my daughter cooks new things, than with me. I tell her she can introduce it.

I typically try to stay at a hotel with a washer and dryer, if I am gone for a week. Then I can do my laundry while away. I just LOVE coming home to a hamper filled with laundry that is not mine…haha!

Good news…my husband is a hard worker and does a great job at work. He has always had a job, for the past almost 31 years. He is kind and a great Dad to our kids. He helps our neighbors and loves animals. He is involved in our church and with other volunteer projects. He is great at fixing most anything. He is not good around the house: cooking, laundry or housework, . He can make breakfast or grill things. I showed him how to fix French Toast last week. I am not perfect either….LOL.


December 12th, 2013
9:12 am

@ motherjane I like your last paragraph as well. I adore my husband for all the GOOD things he does mirrored almost exactly as you have described. I try to constantly remind myself of that, especially in the middle of the night when I am sitting on a sticky toilet seat!


December 12th, 2013
9:16 am

I agree, there’s less focus on meals in our house when my husband is out of town. He however will still cook a full meal when I’m out. He enjoys cooking and “real” dinners much more than I do. Quite frankly I’d be happy with a salad and sandwich most nights, regardless of who is home and he’s more of a meat & potatoes kind of guy.

I think for someone with young kids and lots of activities, it’s just a result of having more to do with the other parent is away. It’s even more difficult at this time of year when you have 4 concerts in 1 week. No big deal.


December 12th, 2013
9:26 am

My husband and I made the decision years ago that he would not accept a job that includes travel because we did not want a lifestyle where he is never around. But on the rare occasion that he does work late and misses dinner with us, yes, I do tend to go for the grilled cheese or breakfast for dinner option. Just seems like a waste to make a full dinner when we are not all there. I don’t know if it would be the same if he were never home/traveled or not. Glad I don’t have to find out.


December 12th, 2013
9:41 am

LizBeth – your post made me laugh. After getting tired of picking up everyone’s socks laying around the house, I created a “sock box” that sits in our laundry room (which is on the main floor). I expect my 6 and 8 year olds to use it without me asking. The problem is my husband. Just last night, we “argued” because instead of walking into the laundry room and placing the dirty socks into the box, he opened the laundry room door and tossed them on the floor. I can’t tell you how many times i have walked into the laundry room with a load to wash only to find that I can’t walk…. because the floor is covered with his dirty laundry. I tell him that I am a stay at home mom… NOT a stay at home maid and laundry that does not make it into a proper hamper will not be washed. Drives me crazy.


December 12th, 2013
9:57 am

Meals do not suffer here when hubby is out of town. Mine is currently out of town now. We’ve had chicken tortilla soup, homemade individualized pizzas & salad, went out to dinner last night, and I am making potato soup this evening. Tomorrow will be beef stew with garlic cheese biscuits, and Saturday will be grilled chicken with roasted sweet potatoes. The one thing I do let slide when he is gone is mopping the kitchen floor. We have two dogs, and with the yucky weather, it is near impossible to keep the bamboo flooring from having paw prints. The girls will sweep and mop that tonight

a reader

December 12th, 2013
10:21 am

Oh no, not the horrid “jarred sauce” with pasta. Give me a break – many women work FULL TIME, so even if there’s a man around, what the heck is wrong with jarred sauce? Must we all go back to being Mary Sunshine and cook everything from scratch? Ugh. Shortcuts like cereal I can understand being called a shortcut. Calling pasta & sauce a shortcut is just a little too snotty for me.


December 12th, 2013
10:51 am

@ beth…. I just cleaned up and found chewed gum stuck to the end table ….yucky! Not mine. My OCD Mother would be having a fit with that. YES it was gross and YES I know whose it was.

@ a reader…we ue Ragu or Prego. No biggie. We are not Italian either…haha!


December 12th, 2013
10:52 am

So, I’m the one with the job that involves travel. I travel internationally 3-5 times a year, each trip is 1-2 weeks. Apparently when I’m gone they live on salads during the week, frozen pizza on Saturday, and they eat out at La Fonda at some point. So, I think they’re doing well.

My husband only travels twice a year, to conferences. When he does I usually cook the same. But I make a point to take our son out to eat at least once, wherever he wants to go (usually Manual’s Tavern or Fox Bros BBQ). He gets to stay up a little later when it’s just the two of us, too.

But I enjoy cooking so my husband’s travel status doesn’t really impact it. However, I am the primary cook in the house, because my husband can only make sweet potato curry and salad. So, I do 100% of the cooking when I am home. He’s the one with the burden when I travel, not the other way around. But he seems to do okay. My son likes a good salad.


December 12th, 2013
11:58 am

Like Atlanta Mom, our meals are different when the husband is out of town..He is content to eat the same 5-6 meals over and over..Not that way with me and the kiddos..We enjoy trying new foods..If i go out of town and the hubby has to feed the kids, they eat out every meal..

I cooked pinwheel steaks over the weekend and he just looked at it and decided that he didn’t like it..The kids and I loved it..Made a meatloaf a couple of weeks ago with ground bison and they ate the entire meatloaf at one sitting..Husband didn’t knwo what it was made out of..:)

@iRun..We “stumbled” upon Fox Brothers BBQ a couple of months ago and the kids would eat there every day if we lived closer..I have read about them on several blogs and now I see why everyone loves them..


December 12th, 2013
12:55 pm

@JAH: If you are sitting on a sticky toilet seat, then I guess we know what’s first on your “to clean” list.


December 12th, 2013
2:03 pm

Would add another to the list of home rules:

- If the bill is due, make the money to pay it…….


December 12th, 2013
2:08 pm

and btw, the meals in our house did suffer when I was oot…since I’m the one who worked out of the house when in town, and so always cooked dinner.

It is interesting how many of the female bloggers here are still the primary cookers, cleaners, etc. I suspect that’s getting to be rarer and rarer.

BTW, having just retired to be a SAHD (after 30 years working), I wouldn’t trade this for anything. The idea of getting in the car, fighting rush hour traffic, killing myself at a job, fighting traffic again, just to arrive home exhausted – well, let’s just say that I don’t miss it one bit.

just me

December 12th, 2013
2:20 pm

I clean more when my husband is out of town just because without my buddy around I have more free time to do it. The meals however do change because he works nights and light meals will not get him thru his shift. When he’s out of town its definitely alot more canned soup and grilled cheese, sandwiches and stuff like that. I work fulltime so on the weekend they’re all SOL cause mama needs some rest!

new here

December 12th, 2013
2:33 pm

I think its awesome the way AJC finds articles from the 1950’s and reposts them.

Mother of 2

December 12th, 2013
3:01 pm

We also have creative things for dinner when my husband is out of town, the kids love it! He doesn’t travel often, so these breakfast for dinner is a real treat.


December 16th, 2013
1:37 pm

I’m lucky in the fact that my husband can clean and cook! He often makes dinner and he’s a hard worker. He’s an artist so I think once I can find solid work, he’ll stay home and work. He’s agreed to do the cooking and help with the general cleaning as well. We don’t have kids and probably won’t so we don’t have to worry about whether the kids are eating well. Right now, he works with me but the job is coming to a close soon.

I would plan simple dinners if I was in Theresa’s shoes. And a side note, to previous posts and this one- go easy on yourself and say NO and you won’t feel stressed out as much or feeling like Christmas is a race. Enjoy it with your family.