These are the best ever real life tips that no one told you about cooking with an infant (or children).
Remember those days you were hungry and a good meal was a phone call away, just dial up an order of drippy cheesy pizza, or indulge in some pork lo mein right? Or, remember when you and your Significant Other were dating, you strapped on that cute apron, slaved away with your pretty pots, in your spotless apartment for hours, surprising him with a 5 course home cooked meal? I bet you both held expectations of all of this wonderfulness carrying over into your marriage while you leisurely sipped your pre dinner cocktails; just add in a few kids eating peacefully, with cute spaghetti covered faces to the table and viola, happy family meal. Uh, yeah right.
I mean, it’s pretty pathetic that we have nearly no idea what real marriage and life with kids looks like. In fact, I know there is still a popular Glamour article circulating that has a recipe for Engagement Roasted Chicken and Hook him Apple Pie. By the way, I confess I have cooked this chicken and hoped for the promised promise, in the way-to-his heart-is-his-belly-so-he will-see-what-life-with-you-will-be-like meal! By the way, it worked. The chicken was delish! And he did eventually propose. Though, I would like to believe it had to do with way more than that meal! But, here is my point. Our expectations and our society’s portrait of life after marriage and kids is so incredibly misleading, and then damaging.
Because, once we land in this world and are slapped with the reality of the exact opposite, it hurts. Thankfully, there are a ton of resources and professionals working hard to turn this ship around. Until then, let’s go back to that moment we started with.
So there you are, its 5pm you and all the children are hungry and hangry (hungry plus angry and yes this is a real thing) You need a solution that is easy and healthy and fast including clean up. So, here you go. These are the best ever tips that no one told you about cooking with an infant (or children).
12 Tips for cooking with a Newborn and Kids
1. Keep it Simple
This is not the time for gourmet, calorie counting, designer meal, pinterest worthy meals. Lower your expectations way, way down, and then a bit more. Get your mindset in survival mode. You are pretending you are in the Amazon and your children need food to survive. A protein, a veg, a fruit and grain and go! Take it from there and add flair only as time and opportunity allow.
2. One Pot Meals are Your Friend
Crock Pots, Big Pots of Soup, Stews and Pasta/Rice Bakes are seriously life savers when you have a baby. Okay, I know I’m referring to the dreaded ‘casserole’ here. But seriously, make one big one when you have 30 minutes and eat out of it all week, on the days you have zero energy for anything, on the nights you need a break. Best part, you might even grow to love this meal. There are some really fantastic and easy recipes out there.
3. Cook the Main Dish- Buy the Sides
This is probably the best, most overlooked tip. You absolutely do not lose brownie points for not being superwoman here. This tip gets you back down to one pot to sauté your chicken, or veggie burger patties or whatever your Main Dish is that night, and that’s it- you are done! Warm up or dole out premade sides and enjoy the freedom of ease.
4. Stick to Recipes with Five Ingredients
This goes back to keeping it simple. You really can do amazing things with only 5 ingredients. The kids are young and their palette prefers simple tastes as well. This is actually scientifically proven. So this tip carries over to the table where you eliminate (or reduce) food battles. Less ingredients makes it easy to puree food for the baby too. Since you are sticking to nutritious basics and that’s what you will want to feed an infant.
5. Trader Joes/Adams is your friend
These guys are amazing resource’s when you are looking for those store bought sides, they provide recipe cards and meal ideas, healthy and organic pre-made frozen foods and precooked soups, chickens and other meals. In some locations you can order your meats and actually have them marinated or cooked while you shop for no extra charge, yet most people do not even know that!
6. Cash in on screen time or dinner time toys
If you wait until you are cooking to hand your older ones some screen time, or keep a box of mealtime toys (I use playdough) in your kitchen pantry that ONLY (this is the KEY to this trick) comes out while mommy is cooking, you are freeing yourself up to cook while they play happily with the coveted “new” goodies.
7. Activity Placemats
Another lifesaver for waiting time. One of the most difficult parts of cooking and serving dinner is that you cannot simultaneously entertain. Activity placemats keep the kids sitting and focused for a few precious minutes while you finish up cooking and get it all on the table. You can even make you own printables and have them laminated at a local copy store, give the kids a dry erase marker and switch them up periodically (pumpkin maze in October, wish list in December) to keep things interesting.
8. Whipped Cream and Jello (its not what you think)
Okay this is for you brave souls who will bare a little extra mess and you strong mamma’s that have kids (every toddler) who need sensory stimulation. Sit them at the table and clean off the surface really well, or use a big clean tray. Cover it with whipped crème and sprinkle various color jello packets (before its made)into it. Give them a few wooden spoons and just let them use their fingers to swirl it all around, make shapes, write letters, whatever keeps them happy! This is an awesome sensory game and if they happen to taste along the way, no harm.
9. Involve your children
When your kids are a little older allowing them to “help” by sorting chopped veggies into bowls by color or shape, or just stir something for you while you do the rest goes a long way. After all, most “ off behavior” is just a cry for attention and this way they feel empowered and included.
10. Timing is Everything
This one took me four kids to learn. The actual BEST time to cook dinner, is NOT dinnertime. Shocker, by when you have babies this is a total game changer. I now cook dinner in the morning whenever possible- when my kids and I are both still fresh and energetic and able to function with joy. Nap time is also golden (I know your really want to rest too and on those day-rest) As I said, whenever possible. Life with infants by definition is changeable by the second and highly unpredictable. Do your best.
11. Prep Every Possible Thing During a Better Time
So, this tip is another game changer. Take some time during naps or while the little ones are otherwise content, when your husband is home, when you have another adult around to help-to prep anything and everything. Do this in small chunks. Take 10 minutes to chop your veggies. Take 15 to grill your chicken and leave it in the fridge for later. Make and freeze things like broth, stews and casseroles to use another day when you have larger chunks of time
All in all, the main takeaway here is this. Dinner with an infant or young kid’s aint’ easy. It’s not going to be pretty or perfect and your main goal is to just try your best and get it on the table. And take care of you. Listen to music or sip a little chamomile tea or white wine while you cook and allow yourself to relax into the chaos. Believe it or not, it’s the best way to turn the mayhem into a tiny bit of joy.
Bon Appetite Mamma