There’s an image people have of stay at home moms. A part of that image is the perfectly cooked dinner for her family, each and every day. But we stay at home moms know that it’s not always all that easy to do, especially when the kids are young and uncooperative. How do you manage cooking when the kids won’t cooperate?
There are some days when kids just don’t want to be out from underfoot. Or you just have too much going on with them that day, and despite being home it’s really hard to find a way to get dinner cooked.
No parent ever claimed that it was easy every day.
If you’re wanting to provide your family with a home-cooked meal every day you have to figure out how to make it work. If you plan ahead and have a few tricks up your sleeve, you can do it.
You don’t always know when the kids are going to be difficult. But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead. Knowing early on what you’re going to make for dinner or lunch can keep you from making rushed decisions and allow you to make healthier meals for your family.
If you can plan your weekly menu on a convenient day for your shopping, you ensure that you will have the ingredients you need for each meal. There are few things when you’re cooking more frustrating than to think you know what you want to make and realizing you’re out of a vital ingredient.
Chop Early, Chop Often
Think about the various fruits and vegetables you buy. How often do you need to chop them for dinner or even just for snacks? Wouldn’t your life be easier if they were ready to go when you needed them?
Don’t bother buying them chopped from the grocery store. They cost quite a bit more that way as a rule. Instead, chop them up at home. Find the time and get it done. Having fruits and vegetables ready to eat or cook with means that you’re more likely to eat them.
Of course, don’t chop too many fruits and veggies ahead of time. They go bad faster after you’ve chopped them, and you don’t want to waste food. Carrots may last a long time after being chopped, for example, but you know how fast bananas go bad. Make sure you consider how well each one lasts before you cut it up early.
Use Your Freezer
No, don’t put the kids in there. It may be tempting some days, but it just makes people talk about you.
When you can, make double recipes and put the excess in the freezer for another night. You’ll have to learn what freezes well; some vegetables really don’t do so well after being cooked then frozen. But you can make extra of just the meat part of the meal if you like and have a much easier time preparing dinner another night.
Chopping early works well with your freezer too. You can cut meats up right after buying them, and then freeze them. This works especially well if you can prep them to a point where all you have to do is defrost a meal and throw it into the crockpot, oven, or Instant Pot.
Some people will make enough meals to last a week or even a month, and freeze them for later use, all at once. I don’t get that organized as a general rule. Doubling up works much easier, in my opinion. My one exception is when we get meat at Costco – that’s too much to have in the fridge for long at all. That’s one of the ways I do my double bacon feta burgers, although it often comes out as a double recipe. If I’m making burgers, especially with bacon, my family will probably want some that night.
If you want to get serious about freezer meals, check out books about once a month cooking.
The Crockpot Is Your Friend
I love my crockpot. I can start dinner at a time convenient to me. First thing in the morning or just 4 or so hours before we need to eat. The flexibility is wonderful when you aren’t sure how you’re going to get time to cook at dinnertime.
This is especially useful if your kids are in a lot of activities that run right up to dinnertime. You can save a lot of money if you don’t feel like you have to eat out every time just because it’s so late. The crockpot will keep dinner warm for you.
Using a crockpot isn’t the only time you can start dinner well in advance. Soups can simmer for hours and need only occasional attention. Think about the meals that have longer cooking times but aren’t all that hard to prepare.
So Is The Instant Pot
If you can’t get things cooking soon enough for the slow cooker, using the Instant Pot is another great idea. There are a lot of great recipes available for the Instant Pot, and it’s pretty fast.
One of the most important things you should understand about cooking with an Instant Pot is that the cook time doesn’t start until the pot is at pressure. If a recipe says to cook for 12 minutes, expect it to take several minutes for the pot to come to pressure before that 12 minute countdown starts on the timer.
Stir Frying Is Quick And Easy If You Have The Ingredients Ready
This is one of the big reasons for Rule 2. If you have your meats and vegetables chopped in advance, stir frying takes relatively little time. Throw on some rice, stir fry the meat and vegetables with a little sauce, and you have dinner.
Tacos are also popular and easy if you have the veggies prechopped. It’s fun to let everyone who’s old enough assemble their own.
Keep The Kitchen Organized And Clean
With kids, it’s easy to have dishes stack up. Take a few moments and load the dishwasher or wash the dishes after every meal. It just adds to the stress when you’re trying to cook and the kitchen is an absolute mess.
As the kids get older, they can help with this or even handle most of it. Silverware and plastic containers are easy for even young kids to handle. Once your kids are responsible enough and tall enough, they can put away breakable dishes as well.
Know When To Use The Microwave
Sometimes the microwave just adds to the chaos. It’s incredibly easy to use and convenient most times, but other times it’s one more thing to do when practically everything else is ready.
Decide which is really easier for you. Throwing the potatoes in the microwave just minutes before you need them or throwing them in the oven an hour earlier. Steaming vegetables in the microwave or steaming them on the stove. The faster method sometimes is better, other times adds to the last steps of cooking a good dinner. Which works best for you?
Let The Kids Help When Possible
Younger children in particular love to help cook. While you can’t have young children stirring a pot on the stove, they can do things such as help to make the salad if the vegetables are chopped for them.
Older children may be at the point where they should be learning to cook, chop or just set the table. Assign chores and make a routine of it. They may complain and it may be harder for a little, but if it’s a routine there will eventually be less for them to complain about. It’s just a part of how they can help keep your home running smoothly.
Best of all is when you can tell one of the kids that it’s their night to make dinner for everyone. It’s good practice for when they grow up and head out on their own. It’s also a great break for tired parents.
I assign whole weeks during the summer to each of my kids where they have to help make meals at an age appropriate level. This includes having input on meal planning and grocery shopping. The older ones have to prepare entire meals on their weeks, while the youngest only has to help with the cooking.
Kids Like Lazy
You know those nights when you just don’t have the energy to make anything, so you just let the kids have cereal or something? You may feel bad, but your kids might just love it. If your parents did that when you were a kid, did you enjoy it? It will likely be the same for your kids.
I know the thing my kids like about nights that I tell them to figure out their own dinners is that they get exactly what they want from the food available. The selection may be limited, but there’s usually something that each child is delighted to eat.