I don’t pretend to be an expert in cooking. I am, however, a current expert at being in a busy season of life. I went through a phase with one young baby where I was still able to cook whatever I wanted at leisure. Then I had another and my first baby became a toddler and I found food preparation to be the most burdensome and annoying part of the day. My husband works 4 evenings a week as well which means cooking in the kitchen with kids (when one is only 11 months) does not come easy to me. Here are some things that have helped.
(1) Crockpot + bulk cooking.
This is a no brainer since there are about 2,356 websites dedicated to slow cooker recipes only. However, it wasn’t until I sat down to figure out how I was going to make this work that I suddenly took the slow cooker out and made a point to include at least one (if not two or three) recipes a week using it.
I’ll cook enough in the crockpot to feed us for two or three evenings. Perhaps it’s a roast so then I only prepare sides for a night or two.
Perhaps it’s a big casserole type dish, then I just add a salad. If it’s taco soup, we might eat it one night in a bowl and the next night in a tortilla. Also, some evenings I’ll cook a large casserole and we will eat it for two days during the week (they don’t have to be consecutive days).
I know it seems like the lazy way out but I have found it the efficient and organized way. There is nothing like the evenings where you know all you have to do is heat up dinner and put it on a plate.
(2) Occupy the little ones productively so you can have some peace.
I’m not big into TV or videos for kids just to babysit them. And I worry they’ll become TV zombies. Weird, I know, but there you have it. What I do find is helpful however, is to put on some nice educational non-grating-to-the-ears videos to occupy them while I’m cooking.
They are not trying to touch the hot oven or get in the pantry and I’m able to prepare dinner in peace. I think it’s great to have your kids learn to help you cook early, but right now that doesn’t work for me. Perhaps when they are a bit older, or when we have one of these handy Children’s Kitchen Helper Stands.
(3) Know it’s okay for the family diet to change for a few years.
Perhaps, before children, you were used to spending lots of time in the kitchen preparing things that required high skill, technique and focus. If you can keep that up then that’s great! I’d hazard to say that many women cannot. Often, unless you eat dinner quite late and your husband is home to watch the children, dinner preparation time is one of the busiest and most stressful.
This rings particularly true if you have a few children who are very young.
I’ve finally convinced myself that it is okay if I make things that are quick and easy during these years. I can work on perfecting my souffle later. Lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs and tacos are not going to kill us. I don’t mean skimp on nutrition, simply that the meals don’t have to be Masterchef worthy to be good.
Later, when the children are a little older and able to help, are doing homework or playing outside (because they don’t need constant supervision) I may be able to cook some meals that are more time-consuming and “finicky.” Now, I cannot, and that is okay.
(4) Get it brought to you.
Why not get your groceries delivered? Starting this week, that is my game plan. Before you skip this point thinking it’s too expensive, wait. It probably is not. Here in Australia (which is twice as expensive as the US in pretty much everything) it only costs $10 per delivery.
Same store deals apply online as well and I’m sure you can use coupons too. If you frequently make grocery lists or meal plan then this option allows you to save a regular list and then order it to come at a convenient time.
I always spend more than $10 in impulse buys at the store so I don’t begrudge them the delivery fee. If you have dairys or co-ops near you then you can also have vegetables, fruit and milk delivered to your house, aside from what the supermarket offers. Check the prices before you write it off. It will save lots and lots of time.
(5) Top up on cheap staples.
A dear friend’s husband grew up in a family of four boys. That’s 6 adult mouths to feed, 5 of which are men. His mom made enough dinner to give everyone a good portion of meat, vegetables and starch, etc. and then put some bread and butter on the table and said fill ‘er up if you’re still hungry.
And it wasn’t because they were short on money. There’s a difference between being satisfied and being stuffed, and teenage boys may not care to differentiate.
If that’s the case, don’t break the budget buying enough steak so every man can have two filets, just serve an adequate amount and then let them fill up on mashed potatoes, rice or homemade bread. A loaf of cheap white bread might not do the ticket (they do actually have to like what’s there) but some homemade bread, cheesy bread, or a loaf of some kind can be quick, easy and very cost efficient.
Don’t feel pressure to make enough food to stuff everyone with high-priced veggies and meat at every meal (as in, more than one serving) or you’ll have a high and rising food bill.
(6) Evaluate your standards.
One of my friends told her husband that while their children were young her goal was something edible at dinnertime. If it actually tasted good, well then that was a bonus! If your standard is French gourmet cuisine but you can’t seem to make it happen consistently then you will start to feel like a failure in this area. By evaluating and perhaps tweaking your standards (remember, this is a season of life) you’ll be able to give yourself some slack and relax.