Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ask the Internet: Cooking For Small Children?

Today’s question could be tomorrow’s post, sweet readers. It’s from moi.

Q: Last week, my cousin gave birth to a beautiful, tiny baby girl, and I pitched in watching her other two small children. It was great. We ate ice cream, played a ton of Candy Land, and hit that playground like it was our job.

Here’s the thing: they required a lot of supervision. (They’re little kids, after all.) And that meant there was no time to cook. We made do with fruits, veggies, and PB&J, but food involving prep time and an actual heating implement would have been tough to pull off. Never mind doing it three times a day.

So … parents of young children? HOW DO YOU DO IT? When do you cook? What do your kids eat? What’s your schedule like? How do you prevent them from going on an all-Cheerio diet? I’m in awe of y’all (especially you, cuz), and still totally baffled.

P.S. I don’t have kids yet. I don’t know if you could tell.

A: Sweet readers, I want details. And I’d love to turn the answers to this into tomorrow’s post, if possible. It’s an area in which I have very little (read: no) experience, and I know y’all can edu-ma-cate me. Please, fire away.

(Photo from Growing Kids.)

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

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Annie Jones said...

Basically, you just do it. :)

I don't think that it's a parent's job to entertain their kids every waking moment. When my kids were young (my now-grown daughter and my now 6yo granddaughter), I just sat them in the kitchen floor or anywhere I could see and hear them well, then let them entertain themselves with pots and pans, Tupperware, coloring book, etc. while I did my own business of cooking.

I also did some kitchen prep during nap times.

Hillary said...

What Annie Jones said ...
Some details:
-- My babies played on mats nearby when they were tiny and then in the kitchen "cooking," and now, sometimes my toddler watches or cooks with me on a chair strategically placed away from knives and the stove.
-- I do a lot of batch-cooking on the weekend, when the husband and I can tagteam the kids. This is also when I make babyfood.
-- The kids eat what we eat, starting at a very early age. I don't do multiple meals, but I do try to have at least one thing I know the toddler will eat on the table. He started eating baby versions of our meals around 9 months.

debbie said...

1. Nap-time cooking (though my son hasn't napped since he was 2, so it's more like Quiet-Time cooking)
2. The slow cooker
3. Big batch cooking--cook once & have meals in the freezer for weeks
4. Develop an arsenal of super-quick recipes. Bonus points if they're pantry based
5. Slightly older kids can hang in the kitchen & "help"--my 4yo does pretty well with a butter knife and a pile of mushrooms.

(can you tell, I'm writing a cookbook on this very subject? out next year, from harpercollins)

shris said...

Yeah, what Annie Jones said.

Also, there are prerequisites.

1) When you start out with an infant, they're not going anywhere. You cook when you need to cook, and when they yell, you move stuff off the burner so you can attend to them, or you let them cry until the you have the hot stuff out of the oven so it won't burn.

2) As they get bigger, you make your house safe for their mobility. So if they can crawl or walk, you start getting the cords and outlets and sharp edges covered or hidden or moved so you can leave them alone for a little while. Hand them a toy they like, explain that you'll be back in a bit and you're fixing dinner.

3) As they get interested, you perch them on a stepstool/highchair in a safe spot so they can watch. Give them a little bite or pinch or taste of whatever you're adding to the dish to keep their interest. Or give them a crudite (suitable to their level of maturity) to work on while you get dinner worked out.

4) If you have a housemate/partner/spouse/other, enlist them in kid-watching while you cook. Of course this one only works if available and acceptable to the person involved. If not acceptable, make *them* cook.

5) If all else fails, plug them in. Turn on their favorite video or TV show or whatever, and let them zombie-fy for a half hour while you get the dinner done. This is, of course, the least favorite option, but it works really well.

My twins are 5 years old, all of the above was double for me.

Gabrielle said...

I agree with Annie's comment. You just do it, and you make it a priority.

Like Annie, my toddler plays in the kitchen while I work on dinner. I often start dinner during her afternoon nap so that there's not as much to do at 5:00, the time when kids are most prone to having meltdowns.

I also do a lot of freezer cooking, which maximizes cooking time, reduces cleanup time, and often means that all I have to do is prepare a salad at 5:00.

As for a schedule, I aim for dinner on the table between 5:30 and 6, when my husband comes home. This insures that we'll be finished with dinner by 6:30, the kitchen will be cleaned by 7 (or earlier), and my child can be in bed between 7:30 and 8. But we're flexible when we want to be. Tonight, we'll aim for an earlier, quick dinner so that we can take my daughter swimming for the first time. Last night, she went to bed later because we wanted to take a trip out for ice cream sundaes.

Another thing that I've done to make mealtime work for us is that I refuse to serve one dinner to my toddler and another dinner for my husband and I. I don't purchase fish sticks, chicken nuggets, and french fries because these become the fallbacks of many families with picky children. We work through times of picky eating by continuing to encourage our child to eat what's on the table, but if she hasn't had enough, then I'll give her yogurt or oatmeal. Eventually, she stopped being picky and started eating exclusively what we eat. That means my child ate chicken spaghetti with us last night and some of her favorite foods are hummus, salad, and quinoa pilaf. She's a strange one, but I'm glad that at 17 months, she prefers adult food.

Lacey said...

I have 2 small kiddos too and I cook a hot meal nearly every night. We have a chalk board in the kitchen, which helps, otherwise they entertain themselves. I usually put on some Christian music while I make dinner and we all dance around being silly. :)

Kathleen Bakka said...

You learn to make do. The nicer, more heartier meals that I use to make during the week are saved for the weekend when my hubby is around to keep an eye on our son. Honestly I usually set my 11 month old on the floor either in the kitchen or the family room and I keep an eye on him as I make the meals. There are many times that I have to pause my prep to go chase him or find him something new to play with (tupperware/pots/pans/toy).

I love using the crock pot. Sometimes I make my homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs in the evening after he goes to bed so that I can just turn the crock pot on in the morning for a fantastic homemade dinner meal.

I work as a teacher so when I get home I am able to prep some of dinner while my son finishes his afternoon nap. Working during naptimes is a great way to prep for meals.

I make all of my sons food- its not easy- but somewhere you squeeze in the time to throw a sweet potato in the oven or a pot of carrots on the stove to boil.

I remember feeling very overwhelmed when he was first born and my husband feeling slightly jilted when it came to meals- but you get used to it and you begin to streamline your prep and meals.

It gets easier!

Rachel said...

I have a 20 month old and a 6 month old. What works for me is serving the kids early - around 5:30 or so - and cooking our dinner after and eating later. That way my husband is home and he can hold the baby while I focus on the food.

My older son has started to show interest in "helping," and is entertained with a few bits of food plus some utensils to "cook" with.

Milehimama said...

I have 8 children, age 1-12.

Often the kids will help me cook. The older ones will come and talk to me while I chop or prep. Even my 3 year old can help peel carrots.

Also, I don't prepare dishes that require constant, lengthy supervision. So I'll make rice - but not risotto. It's not difficult to find 5 minutes to measure water and grains and put it on for a boil, but standing at the stove for a long period of time just isn't going to happen.

Most of our meals are basic, homegrown meals and I do it in steps. If we're having stir fry, I might prep the meat, cutting into strips while the kids are napping in the afternoon. I might use pre-chopped veggies or frozen stirfry mix. I'll put the rice on when I have a free moment. Then when it's close to dinner time, I'll put the meat on for a few minutes cooking time.

Kids play nearby, or at the kitchen table, or with the pots and pans or measuring cups (depending on age). You can watch children from the kitchen - you don't have to be right next to small children every minute of the day.

BTW, this is why I have a real problem with the 30 minute meal/Rachel Ray concept. She is focused, working for the entire 30 minutes without interruption, which is just not going to happen in a house with small children.

Jim said...

Hello everyone, my wife and I have been following the ol' blog here for a bit, but this is the first time I've posted.
We're due next February, and we've been talking about making our own food for the kiddo. Gabrielle and Kathleen, you've been successful with this?

And Debbie, you're quite right about older kids wanting to help, this is me cooking with my 5-year old nephew - he loved it!


Anonymous said...

We use the crock pot (prep the night before after the kids are in bed) and plan to have leftovers revamped from our weekend cooking when we are able to tag team childcare. For instance we may roast a chicken on Sunday and then plan to have chicken quesidillas one night (super quick to throw together) and chicken soup another (stock made over the weekend after roasting). If all else fails we have sandwiches (tuna, grilled cheese, pb and b ect, fried rice (using precooked pre potioned bags of brown rice I freeze plus lots of veggies) or breakfast for dinner.

Another thing I do is wash/ prep salad fixings and pre chop veggies over the weekend so they are ready to go.


craftevangelist said...

All these other moms are super heroes. My TV goes on to a kids' station at 4:00 if I need to focus on making dinner. Often, I'm still interrupted and the kids love to "help" (usually in an effort to get a snack of what we're preparing).

Many times I'll cut up a bunch of veggies and put them on the table to get them eating something healthy while they're waiting for dinner and get them out of the way, if they're driving me nuts.

TJ said...

I agree with the ‘just do it’. The first battle starts in your head, so don’t defeat yourself before starting! As others have said, keep them busy with minimal clean-up activities. Depending on their ages, coloring books and plastic pots and pans with plastic food may be enough to keep them entertained while you cook. If they are old enough to watch you cook, help/sort/wash and/or test the food, let them do that while chatting with them about what you are doing.

As far as the actual food, you do have to avoid the very very high involvement foods and go for simpler dishes (not simple dishes, just slightly simpler with fewer steps or longer –not shorter- steps, so you can be interrupted without having mac-n-cheese flambé). Try to cook with the fire 1-2 settings lower unless totally necessary. Trust me on that one. And have a designated totally-out-of-reach area to put scraps and knives and other utensils that they can’t get into and you won’t flip by mistake and have it land near them.

Don’t underestimate how long a distraction will last. Assume it will take long even if it doesn’t.

Most of all, try to have fun. Kids are curious and fun to be around for the most part, and stress translates VERY easily and very fast in the kitchen. Good luck!

Kate E. said...

Ditto for all of the above comments. Nap time (or a quiet time when the child gets older) is essential for getting things done.
Also, when everything else fails, make taco salad. :)

Jen said...

I stick with mostly vegetarian fare to get meals to the table quickly. Meat other than fish simply takes too long to prepare so I do a lot with roasting vegetables, things I can start on the stove quickly and let simmer. And nap time is mostly dedicated to prepping dinner. Or making sauces to freeze, etc. I also try to let him help with things that would be fun, like snapping asparagus.

Anonymous said...

Sunday afternoons are a nice quiet time for me to help do some prep work. While my wife is playing with the baby, I often start going through things we will need (you have to have some sort of basic meal plan for this to work well).

But you know, slice an onion, dice 2 more, put them in little baggies in the fridge or freezer.. We buy the bulk foods when possible, like the 5lb bag of frozen peas, and large things of ground beef, so I transfer them to smaller, quart sized bags, and put in freezer or fridge.

A ton of the prep work can be done ahead of time, which really saves time later on.

Rapha said...

1) set up a play area in the kitchen - my daughter plays with her tool bench and the lazy susan is full of her cups/bowls as well as her kitchen toys -- she can play with anything in there

2) since she started solids at 6 months she eats what we eat. We never make her a separate mea so that saves a tonne of time. So for example as an infant if we were eating something like sweet potato curry, she would eat the sweet potato pureed. Now at age 3 she always eats what we eat - and she's an amazing eater as a result because she knows if she doesn't eat dinner she doesn't get anything else. So now she loves things like eggplant, spicy foods, broiled fish, curry etc...

3) Get the kids involved! Peeling onions is a great fine motor task, they can mash things up, mix things etc..

4) I also keep a box of oatmeal in the pantry that is just for playing -- so I'll throw down a plastic tablecloth and the oatmeal along with a bunch of spoons and bowls - very entertaining.

5) worse comes to worse - turn on the tv :)

Heather said...

Ditto to Annie Jones and Hillary.

A few of my thoughts -

I believe there is no need for baby food. By the time babies are ready to transition from breastmilk to solids, they are old enough to eat what the parents are eating - obviously some things need to be mushed up and there are allergies to think of but seriously, no baby food.

The book Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Goodsense changed my life. I am so glad I found it when my son was an infant.

For beginning eating, I would do an entire box of whole wheat pasta tossed with olive oil and store it in the fridge. I could scope out as much as I needed for a meal and add goodies like chopped veggies, cheese, etc.

Julie said...

All of the above. ? !

It is never to early to teach young children about the kitchen and how important it is. Get them involved in safe but meaningful ways during meal prep. It is worth the extra time it WILL take to do it. Make it a game. Hopefully, you'll have as much fun as they will and you'll learn things as well.

I have a four-year-old son who helped me learn to USE the eyes in the back of my head. He has turned into a marvelous cook's helper!

Ashley said...

I'm a registered dietitian who works with families on limited incomes, and I'd like to echo many of the above comments. I work with parents all the time on how to make mealtime simple (and affordable) so that the drive-through doesn't become a nightly staple.

Some of my favorite pieces of advice include getting your child involved in the kitchen as early as possible- even just playing on the floor until they're old enough to handle simple, age-appropriate tasks. Definitely only make one meal, not two separate meals for kids and adults. Offering kids "adult" foods over and over is helpful for dealing with picky eating behaviors. One-pot meals are great for minimizing clean-up time, and batch cooking/freezing is definitely a useful tool.

Amy said...

Wow do I suck, I put in a video!! :)

Seriously - kids start off small and immobile and sleepy, and they very g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y get mobile and require higher levels of attention. It's not like they're born needing help with their homework. You come to that over a period of time, and there are lots of stages in between.

When they're little babies, you stick them in the swing. When they're big enough to sit up you give them a pot and a spoon to bang on while sitting on a blanket on the floor. When they're mobile they take the opportunity while you're cooking to go get into things. When they develop the ability to listen and follow directions, you let them help a little, or you stick them in front of a video (haha) or you have them read a book or play in the yard while you cook.

My 4 and 3 year olds are down the street at the neighbor's, playing in the sprinkler right now. I could be making dinner if I weren't a complete slacker. Sometimes Daddy gets home in time to help entertain the kids while you make supper.

You just find a way to do the things you have to do (bathroom cleaning, floor mopping, laundry, cooking, bill paying, self-care like showering and going to the bathroom, etc.) with kids underfoot, when they're yours. You don't entertain them every second, either. It's not like babysitting where you feel like you have to give them your full and undivided attention. When they're in their own space, they can play unsupervised with a toy for a while from an astonishingly young age. Kids don't spontaneously combust when not directly observed, most of the time. :)

As for your specific question, mine generally have Ovaltine and a bagel for breakfast, fruit if we have it. Sometimes they'll have cereal or scrambled eggs if I'm feeling motivated. Lunch is a sandwich and chips and fruit, or mac and cheese, or soup and grilled cheese. Dinner is whatever I'd cook normally - meatloaf, spaghetti, tortellini, baked chicken, pork chops, hamburgers on the grill - normal food! I tend to make things less spicy than I would normally, because my oldest doesn't like hot spicy food. I also tend not to make casseroles because my kids don't like things all mixed up. I'd rather just cook it all once anyway. Seems like with casseroles you have to cook everything once, put it together, then cook it all again. I try to serve one item at each meal that I know they will eat. I only make them try one bite of each thing offered - because repeated exposure is how they learn to like new things - but I don't do the "clean plate" rule. I think that's silly with obesity such a problem in this country.

amybee said...

As others have said, slow cooker, batch cooking (double recipes - one to eat, one for the freezer) and cook once (bake a chicken) and make multiple meals out of it (once as is, leftovers in a casserole).

One thing that works for me is to cook after my kid is in bed for the evening. It wouldn't work for everyone, but cooking helps me unwind. I'll make the next night's supper, then all we have to do when we get home from work and school is pull it out and pop it in the microwave. Add a side, and we're set.

Another tip is to give your kids the same thing you eat. Don't get in the habit of making a separate meal for the kids.

And as Annie Jones said, you don't have to entertain them all the time. As soon as they are old enough, involve them in meal prep. They are less picky eaters when they have helped to prepare the meal.

Katie Krebs said...

We keep alot of fruit on hand. It makes a good, healthy snack and doesn't require cooking. And when I don't have time to cook, oatmeal makes a good fallback (It's at least healthier than Kraft mac and cheese!). I used to wear my daughter in a sling while I cooked, but now that she's bigger and grabbier I can't do that safely anymore.

It's not your job as a parent to entertain your kids 24/7. Your job is to raise healthy, capable adults. That means providing good meals for your kids, and teaching them to entertain themselves quietly while you cook. But nothing about parenting is easy, and that includes providing meals for your family. I'm on a never-ending quest to find cheap, healthy, good, and EASY meals.

erinlaughs said...

When my girls were younger I did a lot of batch cooking that I froze, so for meal times it was mostly reheating. Now that they're two, they usually play nearby or watch a video while I pull together dinner.

I think the most important thing is knowing what you can accomplish. We get home at 5:00 and need to be eating by 5:30 or so. That means any meals during the week need to take 30 minutes or less (and not by Rachel Rae's standards either). If there's a recipe I want to try that will take longer, I reserve it for the weekend when I can cook during naptime.

And menu plan! I can't stress that enough. It saves me every night.

todd said...

Hey -- I know the question was posed to moms, so I hope you don't mind if a dad replies, too. I have five kids, between 2 and 9 years old. My 9-, 7-, and 5-year-olds all love to help in the kitchen. One will pour bread crumbs while another cracks an egg into the ground beef that the third is mixing with her hands (and they LOVE getting in there with their hands). Whatever the meal, there is always something that they can do to help out. And if they don't want to? No problem! They'll go entertain themselves in the other room.

This behavior is not because they are older; they all got their start when they were younger, and now my 2-year-old twins help out, as well. They don't do as much (the older ones use knives, ovens, and stoves), but they can still shake a salt shaker or add in a pinch of oregano.

The "just do it" answers speak to the reality of parenting. The children (and the adults!) need to eat, so we do something about that. There are nights where we eat cereal for dinner (which is also fun), but for the most part, you find ways to integrate your family into "life"; it's no fun keeping them separate.

Jennifer said...

We only have 1 hot breakfast a week & my husband is home to watch the kids. During the week we all eat cold cereal and juice and the occasional banana (my daughters are 2 and >1 month i.e. breast milk only). Lunch is usually peanut butter & jelly and either yogurt or some kind of fruit (or raisins when we run out of fresh fruit). Dinners are prepared after naptime. Sometimes my daughter wants to help, other times she's fine playing on her own nearby, or as a last resort a movie (which happens a few times per week). The little baby usually sits in a bouncer in the kitchen (& at this point is usually sleeping). Also crayons at the table generally keep my older daughter occupied for a while.

Marcia said...

I work full time and have struggled from time to time with getting home at 4:30 or 5 pm and getting dinner cooked. Because my son wants to PLAY with his mommy, not watch her cook.

At 4, he can entertain himself for several minutes. So I cook things that need minimal attention. I can toss veggies in the oven to roast pretty quickly.

As an infant, I'd put him in the bouncy chair.

At 18 months...yeah, I wasn't doing much cooking. I waited until spouse got home to start it. Actually, at 18 months, I was part time, so I'd play with him for a solid hour at the park to tire him out before getting home.

At age 3...I used Dora the Explorer. I admit it. 1/2 hour is all I needed to get things going.

Myrnie said...

Oh boy, can't wait to see all the comments on this one.

I have a 4-year-old and a 20-month-old. Dinners are always one dish meals, I don't have time or hands to watch multiple pots. To keep the toddler out of trouble, if she insists on sitting on my feet, I'll put her on the counter near me (but away from the stove) and give her a little snack. (I know- not safe. But I do.) Nothing takes more than 20 minutes hands-on time, and that's if I'm making something really fancy. I teach piano in the afternoons till 4 or so, so I really need to plan out meals ahead of time, so I'm not faced with an empty stove and hungry kids.

Breakfast is always toast or oatmeal, or pancakes/waffles on the weekend when Dad's around to be with the kids.

Lunch is sandwiches, quesadillas, or more toast. (I make all our bread- we always have a loaf around for snacking.)

We make a batch of goodies every week- cookies, brownies, muffins, etc. for snacks and when they're gone, they're gone.

I've gotten to be really fast- cookies can go from cupboard to oven in about 10 minutes if you smash all the dough into a 9x13 pan to bake :)

My oldest daughter has gotten very, very picky- there are about 15 foods she'll eat now. But I serve her a bite of what we're eating, and she normally has bread and milk for dinner, or the base of our dinner if it's noodles or rice. (It IS wheat bread, so I feel a little better about that.)

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of the cook once, and eat for a few extra meals like other people had mentioned. Like I can slow cooker a pork shoulder with some salsa and we have several nights of burritos, nachos, tacos, etc. It makes it really easy to throw together meals without having to devote a lot of attention to cooking.

Also I do the time consuming meals on the weekends when I'm not working. And I make enough so we can eat it one night during the week. Making a few extra servings is MUCH easier than making a whole new meal.

And yes, when all else fails... throw in a movie and get 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted (most of the time) cooking time.

DRosa said...

It isn't like it gets better. Monday night tennis, Tuesday baseball, Wednesday tennis, Thursday baseball, Friday the inevitable sleepover. By the time we pull in from work, we often have 45 minutes to eat and be out the door. And we only have two.

All the above. There is a reason so many of our mothers were casserole dependent, and that is because you could make it when the kids went to bed and pop it in the oven when you got home. Today a lot of us favor the slow cooker.

Good easy slow cooker recipe - slice up some chicken strips, pour in a can of coconut milk and a little thai red curry, let cook all day, serve over rice with steamed spinich. Get a rice cooker with a timer and you are golden.

Kris said...

@Todd ... I can't believe I did that. I'm so sorry. It's been amended to say "parents" now.

Gabrielle said...

Jim asked about making your own food for the baby. I'm not sure if you mean making your own baby food or serving adult food to a little one, but either way, I've had success with both. In fact, I think making your own baby food helps baby become a good eater. I've been meaning to write a blog post about it, but I haven't gotten around to it, so here's the info. to get started.

I used a cookbook that a friend gave me, called Cooking for Baby, a Williams Sonoma publication. I also referred to http://www.wholesomebabyfood.com/ for ideas and recipes (and a great chart with age appropriate foods), but preferred having a cookbook in the kitchen. For baby #2 (on the way), I'm considering using the approach discussed in Baby Led Weaning, where purees are skipped and we'll go straight to solid food.

Keep the baby food making simple. Shop seasonally to save the most money and use veggies from the garden when available. Use BPA- free cups for freezing your baby food.

Amiyrah said...

I think when you are a babysitter compared to a parent, you think you just have to make it all work for the kid and move as fast as possible. When you are a parent, that ain't the case lol. We know(or learn) that the kid isn't going anywhere and if they are, we've already worried enough about them getting into things when we are not looking. So, those things are removed. I cook like I've always cooked. It does help to serve leftovers from the night before as lunch, or make sure I have a great amount of whole wheat bread(for PB&J), fruits and cut up pieces of meat for a quicker than quick lunch, but it's so not necessary.

If you really want to be gung-ho about it, pick some of your favorite 15 to 20 minute meals and make those "favorites" for your dinner table. Save the longer cooking meals for weekends. Because of this, I had to develop some interesting but kick ass recipes to use while dealing with my now 4 year old all day. Of course, I have them listed on my blog for reference. The applesauce chicken is an easy one and loved by kiddos(I mean, its applesauce!).

Anonymous said...

I have three boys, ages three and under. Fancy cooking is not for this season of life! I do miss trying lots of new recipes and spending extra time in the kitchen, but those days will come again as the kids get older. Right now we stick to basics and tend to rotate the same 15-20 dinners.

Breakfasts are the hardest. Everyone is hungry RIGHT NOW and even cooking an egg takes too long. We keep it simple and marginally healthy - yogurt, cereal, toast, etc.

Lunches are always one of three options: PB&J, mac & cheese, or "redneck bento" (finger foods - veggies, cheese cubes, kidney beans, fruit, crackers, etc. - in silicone muffin cups).

For dinner prep, I usually turn on a video to keep the kids occupied. That pre-dinner hour is when everyone needs a little chill time, anyway! Side dishes are simple and few (vegetables or potatoes). Desserts are a rare treat, which might not be such a bad thing anyway!

I often use church potlucks or family gatherings as an excuse to prepare something new or special. This lets me satisfy my fancy-cooking urges without stressing about it every day!


Anonymous said...

My favorite tricks for my 2 year old...

1.) Cook a box of whole wheat pasta, slightly underdone, toss with olive oil or butter, and put in the fridge to reheat and sauce as needed.

2.) Panini maker! Seems so much safer than hot stovetop, can be left unattended, make tasty grilled sandwiches.

3.) Whole wheat muffins - bake and freeze, reheat in microwave. Add lots of sweet potato, banana, apple, vanilla and cinnamon for yummy flavor.

4.) Premix dry ingredients for whole wheat pancakes, also prep and freeze wet ingredients (sweet potato and banana, again, or berries) for healthy add-ins.

5.) Prep a whole batch of mini whole wheat pizza doughs and freeze, then just pop them in the oven with sauce, cheese and, if you can, some spinach hidden under there somewhere.

6.) Frozen spinach cubes (cooked spinach and cream cheese blended to puree) and sweet potato cubes, perfect for adding to sauces, in pizza or pasta, quesadillas, etc. for a little added boost of nutrition and no added cooking time/effort.

I do cook separate meals for my child - I am not interested in eating like a 2 year old and she is certainly not going to eat most of the things I enjoy - but I do make very good use of my leftovers (e.g. spinach cubes).

My other trick - the high chair - she can come in the kitchen, sit in her chair and "chop" ingredients, and be out of harm's way.

Lyn said...

Great ideas here! I am a single mom so I could never hand my daughter off to a spouse. When she was in her "Up, Mama, Up!" phase, I got very good at cooking simple meals with one hand and holding her in the other - pasta, scrambled eggs, etc.

Sometimes she liked to pretend to cook on the kitchen floor with a old metal pot, wooden/plastic spoons, cups, etc. I bought a set of plastic measuring cups just for her to use. (Just don't get too creative. I thought she would get a kick out of pretending to make soup once and put some water in her pot. Of course water went everywhere. Don't try this at home!)

Now that she is 3, almost 4, she loves to help so I find simple things she can do. She often gets bored after a few minutes and finds something else to do. I do resort to TV or videos or PBSkids.com games sometimes, but she knows I can't stay and play because I have to make supper.

When she is really cranky, or it's too darn hot, or I am exhausted, I make a Kiddie Sampler Platter, which takes 5 minutes. Basically, little bits of things I know she will like on one plate and mostly finger food: rolled up slices of deli turkey or ham, pieces of fruit, a little bunch of grapes, applesauce, grape-size tomatoes, baby carrots, slices of bell pepper, avocado, cheese, a mini bagel with cream cheese, crackers, etc. My girl is not a big fan of dips but some kids love to dip veggies in creamy dressing or sauces.

Hannah @CookingManager said...

1. Break down cooking into small steps like soaking beans, peeling, chopping,etc. Aim to have an arsenal of prepared vegetables and cooked food Cooked Foods to Have on Hand for Quick Meals. Avoid items that take a long time to prepare, like meatballs.
2. Use a timer, not only to remind you when food is done, but for the next step. (and reset the timer if the food isn't done yet!)
3. Don't forget to allow time for defrosting (always in the fridge) or cooling off hot foods. The food is then easier to work with.
3. Put baby or toddler in a sling (not near the stove) or backpack.
4. Most important tip: Work with your child's rhythm. Don't expect kids to play or occupy themselves when you need to concentrate on a task. Wait till they are busy, then go and take care of that task.
5. Agreed that baby foods are unnecessary. Babies don't need to be spoon-fed, either, once they get the hand of swallowing. Let them sit in the highchair and eat soft foods from the tray, but stay nearby to supervise. It doesn't matter at what age you start--there is always a stage where you will have to clean up the floor.
Starting Solids the Easy Way

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl said...

I have 4 kids and I ditto Annie. Being a mom is different than babysitting, and sometimes, you just have to get stuff done (cooking, cleaning) and let the kids entertain themselves. Having multiple children helps here-my kids always have someone to play with!

And ditto whoever said menu planning was important. Menu planning seriously saves my sanity.

I also think it's helpful to get some cooking practice in before you have kids. I've been in the kitchen since I was 13 or so, which has made it much easier to churn out yeast breads and dinner meals even while juggling babies/toddlers.

RaeBerry said...

Menu planning is the only way to survive. We have gone to an all-veggie based diet during the week when only one parent is at home. Beans cook with little supervision and they can be doubled/tripled and then used in a variety of dishes for a few days. Chickpeas are being used in this week menu in: BBQ pizza, pineapple-red pepper sauce with kale, and the kids favorite "Dip" night hummus. Veggies purchased are immediately chopped so that it's easy to grab from the fridge for snacks or add-ins to recipes. We also made a kids kitchen for the little ones out of a plastic storage box that has four black "heating elements" made of construction paper and inside has measuring cups, wooden spoons, so they "cook" too.

Jen Blacker said...

I have a 19 month old. He basically eats what we eat. On Sundays, I prep little one cup containers full of various frozen fruit. Those are used as snacks during the week and are put in oatmeal, yogurt, or applesauce. He eats bananas too for snacks. I keep a ziplock baggie filled with whole grain cheerios (he prefers the flavor of those above all) and other Gerber snacks like the yogurt bites. For dinner, he typically has what we ate for dinner the night before. When I make tilapia for example, I cut his in half, add rice and veggies, then he has two meals for the next two days.

When we go out to dinner, if the place has crappy food to choose from on the kids menu, I just order off of the adult for him. He loves all kinds of fish, especially salmon. So he eats what he can, then the rest is for leftovers.

Just plan ahead. Easy to do. I plan what my family eats on a menu and stick to it. It saves us money and I create the menu with the sales going on at the grocery store. It's not difficult at all to feed your kids the right way, just takes time and planning ahead.

Anonymous said...

I am a foodie aunt and I make a point of having one weekend night a month when I take care of my neices and nephew ( 3 kids under 4) and then sleep over and take care of them in the morning until my sister and brother in law wake up. I almost always cook with them for dinner and breakfast. Even if you are not the regular parent it is doable. Last weekend we had salad and the toddlers tore up the lettuce leaves and loved helping me pour in oil and lemon juice and put in spices and shake the dressing. I baked the chicken but they did help me bread and stuff it. In the evening we also made cinnamon rolls which have to rise overnight and then bake. They had fun kneeding the dough and rolling it up. I put the rolls in to bake when the baby woke up( read woke me up) which is typically about 30 min before the toddlers wake up.Add some fresh washed strawberries and everyone ate a good ( ok slightly fattening slightly too much sugar breakfast)
So it is easy enough to do even when you are not the parent just pick your recipes wisely.

Georgie said...

Thermomix. Makes nearly anything without standing over a stove, reduces food prep time, etc.

Also meal planning so you don't stand there at 5pm wondering what to cook.

I have a good repertoire of things that are either quick to cook or don't need watching (e.g. a roast takes a long time to cook but one doesn't need to do much to it).

And really, you just get used to it!

Jane said...

I'm a brandnew mom and just starting to get the hang of this whole thing (a little bit anyway and only depending on the day) so reading these posts has been terrific.

A friend of mine came up with a brilliant invention to entertain that I'll try when my baboo is a bit older. She got a large, plastic container from IKEA (roughly 2 1/5 feet by 3 feet-the sort you would put out-of-season clothes and store under the bed), put rice (big bag from COSTCO) in it and some toys that she normally uses at the beach. Insta indoor "sandbox" that entertains while you cook, watch snow (we live in Ottawa, ON and the winters are LONG)...

I started a blog to chronicle my adventures in cooking for my little family.


Algae said...

My four-year-old is starting to help me. I picked him out the Curious Chef Nylon knives and I'm starting to teach him how to cut vegetables. (Tomatoes and peppers are okay, but onions aren't nice because they make him cry.) I'm hoping by winter I'll be able to say that we're having salad or tacos for dinner and he'll be able to do all the cutting.

I also slow-cook a lot, freezer cook a lot, microwave a lot. I have a Tupperware set that allows me to microwave meat and the fat, etc. drips into a bottom section. It's something I can actually trust my son to cook with, with minimal supervision.

That's the best way, IMO. If you can get them involved, it becomes part of your day and something fun to do.

you can take the girl out of the country but.... said...

The book "Deceptively Delicious" has great ideas for getting kids to eat vegetables and a greater variety of nutrients. The adults in my house like it too. Another book, "The One Armed Cook" has some really good recipes too. I haven't found that you can actually make any of them with one arm but there is some good stuff there. I used a couple of books for baby food recipes but found that they were too salty so I just steamed vegetables and pureed them in the food processor.

In terms of prep I put the baby in the Baby Bjorn and pray that I don't spill anything hot on him and my 2 1/2 year old just plays in the living room or on the deck. While on maternity leave I have made healthy home cooked meals a priority but when we are both working we try to make double batches of things and freeze half so that we always have something on reserve.

Ashira Datya said...

When my children were younger, it was some pieces of fruit and a 1/4 of a pb sandwich (when they were under 2); now, they each get a half a sandwich, some fruit and some juice or milk. Occasionally, they get Joe's Os (spaghettio wanna be that taste better) or mac and cheese. Now that they're old enough to "help" cook (4.5 and 3), I let them stand on a chair and stir (with supervision, obviously); they usually eat more when they help cook.

In the evenings, I let them help me with any baked goods I make, usually brownies or cookies, but occasionally I'll make a cake or cupcake (all from scratch); I make things like tacos a lot (Ortega taco seasoning; regular, not spicy) or spaghetti (sauce is my own recipe and i make my own pasta too) it's time consuming, but I just throw on some scooby doo or other kids' show and they zone out or the watch the dough being mixed together and rolled out.

It's all habit, it's hard to believe it's possible until you start doing it, then it just gets routine. And eventually, they just don't care about watching anymore. lol

Jennifer I said...

Your first child is a bit of a shock to the system. Both myself and my husband work full time, and I am the cook in my house, and dinner was a huge struggle at first. I had to learn new skills and recipes, for sure.

Quick meals, and getting as much of the meal prepped ahead of time, are the key for me. Crock pot and rice cooker are two essential things for that. You don't have twenty minutes to wait for the rice or pasta to cook, so I make those ahead of time, so when I come home, I am ready to go. (My rice cooker is programmable.) My meals are pretty simple, and I do make the same things most weeks. It's easy, and not much thought has to go into meal prep or grocery shopping. You must know what it is you are going to make prior to dinner time hitting, though -- there just is no time otherwise. Come home, cook, clean up, play with kids a bit, do bath and bed.