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