by Justine Deputy, RN, MSN
We all know cooking at home can be healthier and cheaper, so how can we make it easier? Cooking dinner can be a difficult task when you have little ones at home. It isn’t just the actual cooking of the meal that makes it difficult, but it is the combination of having the food to cook, knowing what you want to cook, multitasking kids and cooking, and being able to make something taste great that complicate things. I am going to share some of my favorite tips that help us be consistent in cooking at home and make good food! I hope they can help you too!
This doesn’t mean you have to plan it a week ahead or have a fancy meal plan that details your meals for the week. It just means think about it BEFORE it is time to start cooking. So even if it is an hour before, think about it then! When it is time for to start cooking and you haven’t figured out what is for dinner it just delays things. You are often probably hungry by then, especially if you spent the day trying to get your baby to nap and basically only ate what your toddler didn’t eat off their plate. So before of checking Facebook or your email one of those times during the day, take a moment to think about what you have and decide what is for dinner.
Learn to Buy Enough Food for 7 Days (or for however many days in between grocery shops)
If you are going to cook at home, you need food! If you have the food, you are much more likely to cook at home. This may take some trial and error, but eventually, you will get into a rhythm. Think about breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Buy more of the ingredients for a meal than what you need for just dinner (see the next tip). However you make it work, know that even though you are spending more at the grocery store, you are saving money on all those other little individual purchases of food later in the week.
Make Enough for Lunch the Next Day
Try to make enough food for dinner that evening and lunch the next day. This way, you have a good hearty meal for lunch with no prep work! This is great for packing lunches for work, or for a quick lunch before your baby wakes up way too early from their nap!
Involve Your Children
For your little baby, this probably just means popping them in a carrier and doing what you can quickly. I found it to get much easier as my son got older. Older babies usually LOVE the food storage container cabinet. We childproofed other cabinets and left that one open for play!
Your toddler may not be the most helpful little helper, but giving them “jobs” can help make things easier for you while in the kitchen. We have a learning tower which has been one of the most useful items we have for our toddler. It safely brings him to the height of the counter to help with things like peeling bananas, placing the cut vegetables on a pan for the oven, and filling the blender with the fruit we place on the counter. It brings him to our height and he often hangs out there as we cook or clean. He loves it and it keeps him happy and occupied while we do other things in the kitchen. As kids get older, their roles can expand to more helpful tasks in the kitchen.
Utilize the Crockpot
Five o’clock is often a rough time for kids and babies. If using the crockpot is something that works with your schedule, it can be a lifesaver. You may be able to throw something in before work. If you are home with your little ones, maybe midday is a much easier time to cook than evening because of everyone’s mood.
Buy a GOOD Cookbook or Don’t Use a Cookbook
What is a good cookbook? One that has foods that you like, fits your lifestyle, and that you will actually use. I think some people are cookbook people and some aren’t. I personally love using a cookbook. My husband, on the other hand, would prefer to not follow a recipe. So if I have a recipe, I am more likely to cook and if he is cooking, he is more likely to be happy whipping something up on his own. Knowing this helps us decide on meals, cook at home, and enjoy cooking the meal. I have a few cookbooks that I love. I have also bought a couple that I don’t like as much. Unfortunately, it can be hit or miss. If you have a friend or family member that you think would have similar taste see if they have any they would recommend. I personally love a hard copy. I have a couple I got very discounted on my Kindle, but I find it easier to use a physical book.
Have a List of Recipes
Create a list of recipes your family enjoys and keep it somewhere convenient. We have one on Google Drive. If the meal isn’t one you can make without looking at the recipe, next to each title, write where to find the recipe (i.e. certain cookbook, on Pinterest, etc.). Then, on those days when you are drawing a blank, you can look there for ideas.
Some recipes freeze very well! Next time you are making that pot of chili, make enough to freeze for a night in the future. That way on busy days or nights, you have something you can just take out of the fridge and let defrost!
And on Those Nights You Just Can’t Make It Work…
Don’t feel bad! Everything in moderation. You can also find local places to get take out, eat out, or get prepared meals that are pretty healthy or have healthy choices.