Cooking at home can be one of the more challenging tasks for parents of young children, yet it can be done! Here are 7 ideas that really work.
The pre-made pastas and ready-to-eat tomato sauces came in handy when we were waking up three times a night with the twins, but now that I can actually catch a decent night’s sleep, I’ve been doing less frozen food “cooking”—and more cooking. Planning home-cooked meals can seem daunting, especially to parents strapped for time in an already-busy day. Below are 7 ideas on how to get cooking. But first, let’s learn why:
Cooking is healthier. Frozen and ready-to-eat food have longer shelf lives and thus require more sodium. Restaurants are in the business of retaining repeat customers, so their food is laden with fat, sugar and calories to keep you coming back for more.
Cooking saves you money. Even with the hassle of bringing a tupperware of last night’s leftovers to work, I would still much rather do that than spend $5 to $15 per day on lunch. Eating out, ordering in, picking up from a restaurant or buying frozen meals also tend to be more expensive than buying ingredients and cooking a meal.
Cooking shows you where your food comes from. Imagine your child never realizing that their sauce comes from a red, bulbous vegetable called a tomato, or that their slices of bread were once sticky slabs of dough. Cooking even pays respect to the many sacrifices made to fill our plates, from the vegetables and animals to the people harvesting these ingredients.
Cooking offers a chance to hang out with kids. I’ve heard that a good way to bond with taciturn teenagers is side-by-side in the kitchen. Cooking with younger ones provides teachable moments, from learning measurements and numbers, building their vocabulary, and fostering their sensory experiences.
And finally, cooking—and eating—strengthens the family unit, as we gather from our separate worlds throughout the day (parents at work, children at school) and come together at the kitchen and, eventually, the dinner table. As author Michael Pollan writes in his book, Cooked:
For the first time all day, it felt like we were all on the same page, and though it would be overstating things to credit that feeling entirely to the delicious braise, it would also be wrong to think that eating the same thing from the same pot, this weeknight communion of the casserole, had nothing to do with it, either.
How to start cooking at home
When you feel daunted by the task of preparing your own meals at home, consider the following ideas to start cooking, easily and deliciously.
#1: Start slowly
Pick one recipe for the week and gradually add more until you’ve landed on a happy number. For me, the several weeks post-partum meant nearly zero meals cooked at home. Then, I began adding recipes to cook, starting with just one per week. Now I look for five recipes to cook for the week.
#2: Shop with a weekly list
Sometimes the hassles in cooking start long before you even glance at a recipe. Learn how to stay organized and shop on a weekly basis, having picked out a few recipes and jotting down their ingredients. This way, there won’t be any mid-week grocery runs for a forgotten item.
Download and print this free weekly meal planner I made for easy organizing:
#3: Find quick (but not too quick) recipes
Cook a notch above “assembling” (slapping sandwiches together, throwing frozen pre-made shrimp scampi on the skillet) and aim for recipes with simple ingredients with a manageable cooking time—I find recipes that take an hour or less to cook.
#4: Cook at night after the kids are asleep
If cooking with kids proves too hectic, consider cooking after they’re asleep and saving the food for the next day’s lunch or dinner. The biggest downside is eating leftovers instead of fresh off the stovetop, but this method is a huge time saver. And sometimes there are just days where I want to concentrate on cooking and get lost in its intricacies; free to cook as slowly or as quickly as I want at night helps me do just that.
#5: Prep the night before
Similarly, look at the recipe and prep most of the ingredients at night. Chop and slice vegetables and dice the chicken for quicker cooking the next day.
#6: Cook with marinades and slow cooker meals
Marinades are conducive for saving time because all that’s required is creating the marinade and coating the meat overnight. The next day, simply plop the dish into the oven or or on grill. If you have a slow cooker, toss the ingredients together and allow the food to cook throughout the day, leaving you with a delicious meal after several hours.
#7: Make cooking a priority
The only way to squeeze anything new into our day is to stop doing one thing so that you can do another. Since we only have 24 hours in the day, sometimes we just can’t do everything—there’s an opportunity loss in doing one thing over another. Instead, agree to carve out time for cooking, even if it means not being able to read that extra chapter, or cooking at home with your kids instead of taking them to the park.
Here are some of my go-to sites for recipes, including some from the SSBE community:
- Simply Recipes
- All Recipes
- The Chic Table
- Keeping Up with the Holsbys
- The Gingerbread Mum
- 3 Tomatoes
Get more tips about food and eating:
- More than Just PB&J: Vary Your Child’s Meals with These School Lunch Ideas
- How to Slash Your Grocery Bill by 37% (While Still Eating Good Food)
- How to Get Rid of Picky Eating Once and For All
- Finally… Meal Planning for Beginners
- How to Improve Children’s Table Manners
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