In my family, I was a stay-at-home mom with my first two. When my husband came home after a long hard day, he wanted to relax. I'd been juggling kids all day and wanted some adult conversation and a break from those kids. It took a while, but we finally realized that we could both get what we wanted. When he came home, the first thing he did was say hello to everyone, then I entertained them while he decompressed. Once he had shaken off his workday, he oversaw them while I prepared dinner. It was a win-win situation ... unless one of them (usually my son) decided their dad just wasn't enough. I learned to involve the kids in the dinner making process in easy ways. They could rip up lettuce for salad or get things out of the refrigerator or cabinets for me. If they were cranking out, they lost the fun of helping. Sometimes, I just gave them water in a bowl with cups and spoons on top of a big towel and worried about the clean-up later. I realized that switching their focus was the real trick. Occasionally, I pulled out a forgotten toy that I had hidden away. I also made sure they went outside in the late afternoon and ran off some of their energy. Sometimes that backfired, making them tired and cranky, but usually it worked well, just mellowing them out. I rarely used TV time as an antidote but because of that, it was useful when everything else failed.
The biggest thing I learned to do was remember that they were more important than a timely dinner. Most often, taking a few minutes to drop what I was doing and give them my undivided attention was all that was needed. Now, when I say undivided, I really mean that. It doesn't work if your mind is still on the waiting dinner. I also tried to remember that there are reasons why they pick that all-important time to feel their oats. It's getting late, their parents are busy and maybe paying attention to each other, they're hungry, and chances are, we're feeling rushed to get them fed and off to bed. Children are amazing. They pick up on those subtle vibes and always react to them. I’ve had lots of conversations with a variety of children that went something like this, “I know you don’t like me talking to ___?___ right now, but this is important to me. You are too, and I will have time for you in a minute.” Or, “I know it’s hard to share me, but I love Daddy, too and need to talk to him for a minute. Please wait.” So next time your child is cranky for apparently no reason, try to look at the situation from their perspective for a moment. It might be very revealing. Also, if it's close to meal time, give them an appetizer, something healthy and light that is enough to hold them over to dinner but not heavy enough to fill them up. The sight or smell of food may be what's setting them off because they suddenly realize they're hungry. There are lots of reasons for these cranky times. The most important thing of all is to stay focused on what you know to be true about your child and try to stay calm and loving to avoid escalation.
Here's an article that may help, too.