I am no way an expert in this field. I have one kiddo. count them: one... not two... not three in diapers. one. There are days where I am able to make really great, big, and healthy meals while other days are near impossible. But over the past year and a few months I've managed to find ways to make healthy daily meals a bit more attainable, and more often than not, I do it by myself.
Here are my tips to make cooking with a little one easier:
Make bigger meals. Sounds a little crazy right? But spending an extra 5 minutes to chop more vegetables or and prep more ingredients to make a bigger meal is key. Bigger meals mean more leftovers. And leftovers are god in this house. Without leftovers we wouldn't be able to eat half as well as we currently do. We eat last night's leftovers for lunch, almost every day. This means, most days I really only have to accomplish making one real meal. So yes, leftovers, biggest and best trick for our household.
Get creative. Leftovers get boring, right? No one wants to eat exactly the same thing three days in a row. This won't work for all meals, but it can for many of them. So lets say you made a huge pot of black bean soup... it was delicious for dinner... and delicious for lunch, but now you still have soup leftover and you're not sure what to do... why not reduce the soup even more and make a really good base for a taco dish. Mashed potatoes? Shepard's pie! Chili? Chili nachos or burgers or hot dogs with sweet potato fries. Curry? Indian avocado burritos! Tomato soup? Reduce the soup and use it as a vegetable tomato sauce base. And on and on and on...
Time management. Be efficient. This is going to be a little too ocd for some people.. but there are certain things I must accomplish in a day or certain ways for me to get a task done to keep my anxiety level down. (ahem, vacuum) When I am in the kitchen I try to use my time as wisely as possible. For example: if I am throwing something in the microwave for thirty seconds, this means I have thirty whole seconds to grab all my ingredients out the fridge or all my spices I need out of the cabinet. A little extreme, right? But those thirty seconds here and there really make a difference and add up to minutes. And as all moms know... three minutes is a world of difference for a child/baby. A baby can go from perfectly content to a screaming ball of dramatics in 1.5 minutes. Use your time wisely and challenge yourself to do more. Without being careless and losing a finger, chop more vegetables in between stirring, puree soups while stirring, have vegetable steaming while doing everything else.
A clean kitchen. This goes hand in hand with being efficient. A clean kitchen is 100% easier to cook in than a messy one. It's a pain and takes up more time when you have to stop what you are doing because you need to clean a dish that has been sitting at the bottom of the sink. Sometimes, not (having) using a bath actually makes my life a bit easier, because I am able to clean dishes in the small side sink, clean countertops, or organize spices, while M plays in the bath. This doesn't work all days, 25% of the time she wants to grab for everything and climb out. (I understand I am very lucky with this ratio. She loves the bath). Anyway, a baby will interrupt you enough while cooking, you don't need a mess to get in your way too.
More multi-tasking, planning ahead, and creative thinking. Again, this takes thought and some time planning, and doesn't work for everything... Late at night, I grille vegetables while Marlowe is in the bath. Roasting is another great (and easier) option. It usually happens after supper time and I'm not going to eat the vegetables that night anyway, but they make great meals for the next day... or great items to store for later to put on sandwiches, salads, or toast ;) Other ideas are crock pot meals. After a kiddo goes to sleep, chop and prep items and put in the crock-pot that night or put in the fridge for the morning to have it simmering all day for dinner.
Get a friend (or a partner). Having someone over to entertain your kid is a great way to make cooking easier. If you're alone 14 hours a day and don't have the option of a partner there to help cook or be there for kiddo play time, then invite a friend. It's a win/win for both of you (but only if they like kids). They entertain your kids. You get to cook. They get to enjoy a great meal. And usually, they offer to help you clean up after. This is a great option if you hate my leftovers tip ;)
Turn it on. Turn it off. Come back to it. Great meals don't happen all at once around here, not usually anyway. Sometimes you just have to do it in stages. Sometimes you can choose to prep everything now and cook later. Chop things in the morning, leave them in the fridge, and cook in the evening. Or sometimes you have no choice and you just have to stop in the middle of everything and tend to a cranky child... that's totally fine! Just turn off the stove, make your kid happy (or feed them a few grapes to hold them over until dinner time), and come back to it! If things are boiling or in the oven, just set a timer and come back! There are very few meals that will greatly suffer because you stopped cooking for ten minutes and came back to it later.
Let them explore. I have one cabinet locked in the kitchen. The rest are all free for Marlowe to explore. Anything not baby safe is up high and out of reach, the rest is down below. Her favorite "toys" to pull out are the juicer pitcher, the coffee maker, and the lids to the pots. Being able to open and close all the cabinets is a huge entertainer for her. If she wasn't able to go through and curiously pull out a few items, she would be bored out of her mind when she entered the kitchen and would throw a fit and look to me for entertainment.
Grapes and other snacks. Every mom knows that snacks is one of the best ways to have a kid sit still. One step further, is to hold the snacks yourself. Hand them a few things every once in a while instead of giving them all the snacks at once. I don't know why this works here, but it does.
If all else fails: hold a baby or strap on a baby carrier and put that baby on your back. Just use caution, ya know?
Obviously not every one of my tips will work for every parent and child, each kid and need level is different and each cooking situation is different. Not all my tips will even work for me on all days. No matter how you do it, it's a bit of a challenge, especially by yourself, but it's not impossible. Healthy, wholesome eating, (and all the cooking that comes a long with it) is possible with a baby!
Have any more tips that work for you in your household? Any tips you learned a long the way? I would love to hear more suggestions! I think we all would! Please feel free to leave any other ideas in the comments or do your own post on your own personal tips to cooking with a baby, and link it back here. I'd love to try your tips and share them with other mamas (and fathers too)!