How to Cook with Kids

I often get asked how I cook dinner 5 days a week with two kids under 3 years old. So I thought I’d share a little about me and how I do it. I’ll keep it short and sweet because I know you’re busy too. 🙂

Q: Do you or your husband work? 

A: I used to work in the corporate world for over 10 years but decided to stay home with my girls. I’m lucky to be able to stay home now and enjoy the time I have with them. Trevor works full time locally.

Q: Are your kids in school or daycare?

A: Not really. Amelia will be 3 in a few weeks and she’s in preschool part time, Matilda is 6 months old and is with me 24/7. I really appreciate being at home with them and absolutely love watching them grow.

Q: Do you have help during the day?

A: We don’t live near my parents or in-laws, so it’s all on my shoulders! At times, it really is a lot. Those are the days you don’t see any posts from me.

Q: Does anyone else do the cooking or do you do it all?

A: While Trevor would love to do the cooking, he doesn’t have the time during the week. So he cooks on the weekends and I do all the cooking you see during the week. I cook dinner 5 times/week and often a special dessert or breakfast each week as well.

Q: Why do you do this?

A: Honestly, I love cooking. It gives me the space to be creative and not think about kid stuff. I read recipe books, magazines and food blogs every single day and am inspired by so many of the great home cooks and chefs across the globe.

I also want to be able to share all of our family recipes with both my girls and have them grow up appreciating how hard you have to work to have and make good food.

Q: So, how do you do it?

A: There are a few things I’ll share here that help me cook with two kids:

  1. Planning & Organization:
    1. I am naturally a planner and an organizer – it comes very easily to me. That said, this is still the absolute hardest part of my day because you live moment to moment and planning takes time. Time that I don’t usually have. So, I carve out a few minutes on the weekends while Trevor is at home with me and plan the next weeks meal plan. I make the shopping list and we do the shopping together. That way, the fridge, freezer and cabinets are all stocked with exactly all the foods we need for the entire week. Here’s what my meal plan and shopping lists look like.
    2. Since the meal plans are only for dinner, I have to plan for breaky and lunch too. For breakfast, I usually have a protein smoothie, oatmeal or eggs, so I always have those ingredients on hand. And for lunch, I typically eat dinner from the night before. Less to think about and it’s already made.
    3. The other thing I do is prep throughout the day. If I have 5 minutes in the morning, I’ll peel the vegetables and stick them back in the fridge. And if I find another 5 minutes after lunch while Matilda is napping, I’ll make another part of the dinner. That way, come dinner time, the prep is always done and all that has to be done is the cooking.
    4. And, keeping stock of what you have on hand is key. Staples make it easy to whip up something on a whim with your kids, like cookies! But also prevent you from wasting space in your kitchen by buying things you might already have or may never use.
    5. Food prep makes it easier to give your kids easy snacks too. Chop and wash your veggies and fruit at the beginning of the week and you can give them a healthy snack while you’re cooking with them.
    6. Lastly, while this is small, it helps with prep work – I never have dirty dishes laying around. Having a clean space to work in reduces the stress of cooking and puts all your tools at your fingertips. Speaking of which….
  2. …Tools (NOT sponsored):
    1. Having good tools at your fingertips helps make cooking and baking easier. Good knives, a good stove/oven and a self-mixing stand mixer are the most important things to me. I also have a learning-tower (more on this below), and smaller spatulas that are easier for Amelia to mix with. And, we use bowls with rubber bottoms that don’t slide when she mixes. Here is what I use:
      1. Wusthof Knives – a chef’s knife and a pairing knife are basically all I use on a day-to-day basis.IMG-3218
      2. Jenn-Air Stove/Oven – we debated about this one a lot during our kitchen renovation last year. I wanted the knobs on top for kid safety but also needed a big enough oven space to roast a turkey. Those two things are hard to find in one oven. And, I really wanted a double oven, but didn’t have the room. So this one has a second ‘oven’ drawer under the main oven. We used it during thanksgiving for the first time and it was amazing!IMG-3219
      3. A Kitchen-Aid stand mixer – I prefer a stand mixer to a hand mixer (or spoon) because I can multi-task. I can keep making part of a recipe while another part is being mixed. It’s especially helpful when I’m making something like whipped cream or a meringue, which takes a while to whip.IMG-3221
      4. A learning tower – this gives Amelia the ability to be at the counter with us while we cook, but has a safety bar behind her so she won’t fall backwards onto the floor like she would if she was standing on a chair. Ours is from Red Barn Collective and we absolutely love it. Amelia started using it when she could stand well on her own around her first birthday. At nearly 3, she is just about outgrowing it, but still uses it to get up onto the counter to cook with me. Matilda will be able to use this in a few short months, so it has a long life span. And when Mattie outgrows it, you can take the top off and it turns into a regular step stool. IMG-2939
      5. Our spatulas and wooden spoons (I have three that are exactly the same that I use everyday) are well loved. The spatulas are perfect for Amelia’s kid-sized hands but she does love the wooden spoons too. I prefer wooden to metal so they don’t scratch my pans.IMG-3223
      6. OXO mixing bowls with rubber bottoms: this are great because they don’t slide all over the counter when little hands are mixing in them. And, they’re big enough to hold basically any recipe. I have both the medium and the large sizes. IMG-3222
      7. My infamous Martha Steward red cast-iron pot (they don’t make this one anymore, but LeCreuset has a really similar one linked here):I use this pot every single day to make everything from pasta to one-pot meals. The cast iron helps the food cook evenly and the color is so nice. I actually got this at Christmas time about 5 years ago from Macy’s for $20. And while I could have bought a newer, nicer one over the years, I didn’t because I just love this pot so much.IMG-3238
      8. Staub cast-iron frying pan: like my MS red-pot, I use this frying pan every day to make all kinds of things, from eggs to curry. The cast-iron helps the food cook evenly and the La Mer color is so beautiful. My pan is only a few months old and it’s already well loved and well seasoned. IMG-3239
  3. Encouraging Amelia (and soon Matilda) to join in:
    1. This is something I’ve done since they were basically born. When they were both infants, I would wear them in a baby carrier while I cooked (like below). When Amelia was able to sit, I put her up on the counter with a mixing bowl and spoon and she banged away while I cooked. And when she could stand, she would stand with me at the counter in her tower and cook by my side. To this day, Amelia still eats whatever I’m chopping or making while we make it. Funny enough, once it’s made, she doesn’t always eat it even though she’s eaten all the individual ingredients along the way. IMG-3313 copy
    2. An easy way to start cooking with kids is making treats and having them decorate them. Fun, sensory-like activities that yield yummy food is a win-win in my book! It’s a fun activity to do for a playdate too!IMG-2946
    3. Kids love mixing, pouring, cookie-cutter cutting, ‘painting’ (aka, egg washing), etc… so give them a bowl and spoon to mix things. Let them pour the milk into the bowl. You can even put their hands on top of yours while you crack an egg. They will love getting their hands dirty and engaging with you. After all, kids love your attention so why not give it to them while making something good to eat?
  4. Have fun:
    1. Cooking shouldn’t be stressful. It should be fun. I know that’s a big statement if you don’t love to cook, or even if you do like to cook, but don’t have the time. My suggestion would be to start small. Try cooking once a month or once a week. If you feel confident in that, try adding another day. And another. Kids mimic what they see, so if they see good food being made, they’ll want to get messy and join in.

Hope you found all this helpful!

xoxo,

Julie

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