How to Cook With Kids (Or Inspite of Them) During a Big Cooking Day

Those who know us well know that the FishFam loves to eat. Everyone in the family loves good food and all enjoy cooking. My home is full of little chefs.

Case in point: Saturday afternoon FishBoy7 surprised us all with a HUGE platter of PB&J — on sourdough — about an hour before dinner. At first I was panicked, “There goes dinner.” But, as it turns out, it was a nice little appetizer for my family of hobbits.

I love to stash meals in the freezer so that I don’t have to cook every night unless I want to. And though I have lots of helpers, cooking with children underfoot can compromise a mother’s efforts at efficiency. The first time I did “once-a-month cooking” my eldest child was still in utero. He didn’t get in between me and a speed cooking session. However, times change and so do kids — and family size. When you have lots of little ones, making a piece of toast can seem to take hours. Forget about 30 meals!

Over the years, I’ve developed a number of approaches to pulling off big batch cooking with kids and sometimes, in spite of them. These same techniques will also come in handy when you’re preparing special holiday dinners as well, like Thanksgiving, Hanukah, or Christmas.

  1. Get a Babysitter. Often this has been my mom coming to spend the day or weekend with us with the express purpose of watching the kids so that I can fill the freezer. Enlist the aid of a teenage “mother’s helper.” It’s rare that I’ve paid for babysitting, but I would if I knew that it would buy me time – both on cooking day and in later weeks when we were reaping the benefits of a big cooking day.
  2. Make Use of Videos, Audio Resources, and Computer Games. Call this “free babysitting” if you will. It may not be the same as a human babysitter, but if my kids are entertained and NOT up to mischief, I’m okay with them using electronic devices while I work toward better dinners and family nights. I have often let them use these resources for the half hour prior to dinnertime. In this case, that time would just be spent all at one time. I do divide up the activities with playdough sessions, snacks and lunches, and other independent play.
  3. Have Snacks and Meals Pre-prepped. It’s hard to stop a big cooking session to prep another meal, so it’s helpful if you have kid food at the ready. It doesn’t take long to do it before you start. You could even pack a little sack lunch for each child. That will give them something to look forward to and save you unneccessary interruptions.
  4. Cook During Naps and After Bed. There have been many nights when I’ve been “burning the midnight oil” in the kitchen. I know the kids are safe and snoozy and I can work more quickly without needing to stop for something they might need. It’s also a great time for FishPapa and I to visit. And I’ve been known to put him to work, too.
  5. Plan Daddy’s Day Out with the Kiddos. Get your hubby on board. Explain the benefits of a big freezer cooking day and ask that he take the kids away for the day. This will buy you the peace and quiet to get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time.
  6. Include Them! I’m a firm believer in teaching kids to cook at a young age. And after my initial PB&J shock, I was so pleased that my boy took the initiative to prepare a meal on his own. My littles love to be in on the action. And for my homeschool-age kids, I work it into their lessons. Math, science, and history textbooks regularly include cooking in their lessons, so we do, too. Measuring, food chemistry, and historical dishes are a regular part of our curriculum and our menus. See my book, FishMama’s Guide to Cooking with Children for suggestions on how to make the cooking process more fun for you and the kids!

What do you to when you have cooking to do and kids nearby? How do you blend your roles as caregiver and cook?

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Comments

  1. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship says:

    I love including my 4.5yo son in the cooking, and have since he was about 2, but my challenge now is a 16-month-old who is too grabby to be in the sling and, although she's wonderfully independent sometimes, she can't play on her own forever. It's just the age. If I'm trying a new recipe, I get a little stressed trying to talk 4yo son through it while 16mo daughter is fussing or whatever. Then I'm not a good chef OR mama! I know it's just a season in my life…so for me, the midnight cooking is the way to go! (And I'm thankful my husband is home rather early from work compared to most men!)

    Thanks for sharing this post! I hope I can join up tomorrow afternoon!
    Katie

  2. Averyswife says:

    Yeah, I definitely have to utilize naptimes, bedtimes, and TV time. My munchkins are 23 months and 8 months and they are under foot ALL THE TIME. And if I'm not paying attention to them they're getting into EVERYTHING. So when they're awake = Mama gets NOTHING done.

  3. Those are great action plans:-)

  4. Ann Marie says:

    You make me feel so relieved! I often need to use the television to distract my littles while prepping for meals! :) It feels good to know I'm not alone!

    Great idea for a Day with Daddy! On several occasions Daddy has taken the littles for a morning trip to the park, then home for lunch and a long afternoon nap! It works great!

    My children are young (almost 4, 2, and 2months). SO lately I do a lot of cooking with baby in the swing and two little boys standing at the counter "helping" mama count scoops of flour, sugar, milk, pieces of bread! Whenever I'm making anything with dough – they get pretty insistent about helping!!

  5. Michelle (What's Cooking) says:

    I am happy you included cooking WITH kids in your list. It really does make a difference in how well they eat and enjoy their food – plus it is a great time to teach kids all sorts of things, from cooperation to math and science. I teach cooking classes to children and always include educational concepts, such as how our food choices affect the health of our planet. Keep up the good work!

  6. Katie @ goodLife {eats} says:

    It's not uncommon that I spend the entire naptime for M and preschool for L at work (which conveniently coincide), either in the kitchen or doing my freelance food writing. It's amazing how much more I get accomplished with out them underfoot, and then we can have fun later.

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