How to Cook with a Baby in the House

baby in a green highchair eating spaghetti I’m continuing my series about cooking with children.

Part I: 9 Great Reasons to Cook with Your Kids.

Part II: How to Cook with a Toddler in the House 

Part III: Cooking with Preschoolers: Distraction or Interaction?

 

I once took a counseling call from a mother having a hard time with her new baby. She complained that the baby starts to cry while she is doing important tasks. When I asked her for an example of a something she has trouble finding time for, she mentioned chopping onions for lunch.

I suggested that the onions could be prepared early and stored in the refrigerator until needed. If she has six hours until lunch, couldn’t she find five minutes when she is not caring for the baby? “Wait until the baby goes to sleep, then take care of the onions immediately,” I offered. She said, “You’re saying that I need to plan in advance. I don’t like to do that.”

So I told her that I have six children. After she said ‘wow,’ I told her that after my fourth child was born—yes it took me that long—I had to get my shopping lists tightly organized. If I were to run out of a critical ingredient in the middle of cooking, a lot of people will be hungry and unhappy and the day could be ruined.

“Planning in advance” and making other changes is an important part of our development as parents. Before we have children, we have  control over our time and can schedule as we wish. But babies have their own schedule, often a source of endless frustration. Accepting that our lives have changed and acting accordingly is one way that we mature as parents.

Fortunately it’s possible to put healthy meals on the table, stay calm, and meet our babies’ needs at the same time. Usually. Here are some ideas:

  1. Have meals on hand for the early weeks. In some communities people make a “casserole shower” or have a committee to provide meals for two weeks. You can also start storing food when you are pregnant. Even after the early weeks there will be days when you will be very glad to have a casserole in the freezer.
  2. Make the main meal your household priority for the day. The baby and other family members come first, but cooking comes before cleaning. If you start preparing early you won’t find yourself rushed at dinner time. Babies also tend to be calmer during the mornings.
  3. Break down the cooking into small steps. Steps might include peeling vegetables, setting water up to boil, marinating, measuring, etc. Plan meals that don’t require standing over the stove, and be prepared to set the cooking aside when your baby needs. When you do a little at a time, cooking seems to take hardly any time at all.
  4. Lower your expectations. It’s okay if your meals aren’t perfectly balanced or if the menu repeats frequently. You will have many years to cook your gourmet favorites. Experiment with skipping steps like sautéing, peeling, browning, etc. The difference in results may not be worth the extra effort.
  5. Bring baby into the kitchen with you. You can smile and talk to the baby while you are working. Because you are right there to calm her down quickly, you’ll return to your cooking task sooner. Straight on the floor is better than in an infant seat, especially one placed on the table. Carrying baby in a sling gives you two hands to prepare a meal, but avoid a front carrier when you are at the stove. If you get used to cooking while baby is up, you’ll get more time to relax while he sleeps.
  6. Get help when you can. Partners or older children can learn to take part in, or take over, cooking, or care for the baby while you work.
  7. If your baby is eating solids, strap her in the high chair for meals and give her some finger food right on her tray. This works well from about 7 or 8 months. It can keep baby occupied for 2 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on the baby.
  8. Once your baby is crawling or climbing, you’ll need to make more adjustments. Keep a drawer or shelf with unbreakable kitchen tools for baby to play with. Every so often add something different. You might have to save complex tasks for when baby is asleep or being watched by someone else.
  9. Use a timer creatively. You can use it to remind you when to check the food for doneness, and when to move on to the next step. I used mine recently to remind me when to turn on the oven for preheating.
  10. Keep a running menu and shopping list. Then you don’t have to think too much when you get that chance to cook or shop.
  11. Keep future meals in mind. If you are making rice to serve with chicken, can you make extra for a casserole? Can I bring these leftovers to work tomorrow? Do I have enough ingredients to double the recipe and freeze for another day?

There’s nothing like having a new baby to spur us toward learning shortcuts and setting priorities. But the most important lesson I learned as a new mother was to put my baby’s needs first. This shift in attitude helped me stay relaxed, in the kitchen and elsewhere. Ultimately it gave me more flexibility and time for myself, and my babies were happier too.

What tips can you share about cooking with a baby in the house?

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Wednesday Thursday! This is the day when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about Cooking Manager. You might:
– Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
– Link to a post on Twitter
Join my Facebook page and invite your friends
Subscribe via email
– Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update or on your site.
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

*I stole this idea from one of my favorite sites, The Happiness Project.

You may also enjoy:

Cooking with Our Mothers, Cooking with Our Children

Feeding Your Baby Frugally: The Early Months

Ten Essential Kitchen Tools for Breastfeeding Moms (a guest post at Breastfeeding Moms Unite)

Photo credit: Ella Novak

Share

Related posts:

Comments

  1. Aviva_Hadas says:

    Thanks for this post, I needed a pick me up & this did the trick by reminding me how on the ball I actually am, even when I don’t realize it! (Not trying to sound smug…) Also the reminder of how lucky we got with having a calm easily contented son was needed as well.

  2. Aw, you’re welcome Aviva_Hadas.

  3. All great tips! Preparing supper in the morning is really ideal. Learning to put up supper super fast is also helpful. The best tip I received is to make sure your table is set with something on the table – a salad, fruit. When the kids or your husband walk in, it looks like supper is ready. While they start with the salad or fruit you can finish preparing the meal.

  4. I remember doing the following with any or all of my five children, who are now older:
    1) Having the baby in a sling on me, which usually helped keep them calm when fussy, and of course being careful near the stove etc.
    2) Keeping it all SIMPLE. I remember sometimes feeling frustrated when I was not able to make fancy shmancy meals, but reminding myself that the baby comes first, as does my rest time, and that there will be plenty of time later for devoting more time to meals. I learned that absolutely nothing terrible happens if once in a while the older kids have healthy sandwiches with veggies etc, instead of complicated cooked meals.
    3) Getting older kids to help prepare according to their ability. It gets the work done and also teaches them about helping and contribution around the house as well. Same for washing dishes, throwing out garbage, clearing the table, etc.
    4) Using the slow cooker is helpful- a stew *thrown in* in the morning is ready by afternoon and is done.
    5) Did I already say “keep it simple”? If so, let me say it again.

  5. Great, great, GREAT post. I used to love making complex meals, but now with two little ones under two, I’m happy with noodles and prepared sauce! Thank you for the wonderful tips and the reminder that I will, someday, get to potchke around in the kitchen once again. I’m totally sharing this post on FB.
    Rivki recently posted..Having a toddler means being crazy flexibleMy Profile

  6. Very useful reminders! I cook while sling wearing my baby… couldn’t cut onions without it :) My babies only sleep when I’m near them so waiting for them to nap was not an option. They’d fall asleep and then wake up 10 min after I slipped away… I barely had enough time to wash a few vegetables. So, I learned to let them sleep in the carrier. The other thing that helped me was using my food processor properly. Sure, the veggies are cut smaller than I’d prefer… but, it gets the job done in a blink of an eye. Lastly, I became a huge fan of one dish meals. As you said, I’ll have time for elaborate meals one day… not today though ;)
    Nadia recently posted..Going UpMy Profile

  7. Some babies always seem to wake up or get upset just when you finally get to something important. I almost forgot what that was like. My baby is quite content to hang out while I do the dishes. It takes less concentraion than cooking, so I can talk to her and take breaks for hugs and kisses. One trick for multi-tasking, like cooking with a baby: When I’m trying to concentrate and complete one chore I keep a to-do list near by. Then when I think of something else i want to do, I write it down instead of getting distracted by doing it or trying to remember to do it.
    Yosefa recently posted..Our Olive Adventure Part 2- Pit and SoakMy Profile

  8. BookishIma says:

    Great ideas here – but I wanted to comment on your observation of how time and planning and focus are part of the changes that happen along with new motherhood. It sounds mundane, but I found that process to be profound – difficult, to be sure, but wonderful. It takes some time, too, much more than I would have liked. But time utterly worth taking.
    BookishIma recently posted..Making a Clay Chanukiyyah MenorahMy Profile

  9. Hi Hannah. Someone in the Facebook group “Whats for dinner” posted a link to your article. I hope you don’t mind if I share it (and probably some of your other posts, once I read them) on my parenting blog, Dummies4Parenting.blogspot.com

  10. Ms. Krieger says:

    These are all great tips. I have recently begun preparing slow-cooker meals one or two days a week in the wee hours of the morning (I get to watch the sunrise from the silent kitchen, it is actually quite pleasant.) Slow-cookery is new to me though, it takes extra effort to plan meal to cook in this manner.

    I also heartily endorse wearing one’s baby while cooking. Learn to wear your baby on your back! It keeps the little one away from knives and the hot stove (essential if your child emulates an octopus, as so many of them do beginning at seven or eight months). I found it best to wear my child on my back so that she could look over my shoulder and see what I was doing. I would talk to her as I worked. Very effective. She could be content for up to two hours like that until she was 14 or 15 months old.

    Now that she is a toddler I try to give her little “tasks” because she always wants to help. But that is the topic of your next article, right, Hannah?

  11. When a meal is done, there might be a left over baked potato or some extra noodles in the pot. If it’s a small amount of food that no adult would eat…you can save it for the little one’s lunch or snack (for solid food eaters). This way, you spend less time preparing or planning lunch or snack.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] How to Cook with a Baby in the House [...]

  2. [...] would say that 70% of marital dispute arise because the husband isn’t being fed on time.  Here are some tips on how to get dinner ready on time if you have little ones [...]