I get asked this question A LOT. More than a lot, really. When I post a food snap to my Instagram stories, I always, without fail, get asked how I make it happen when I have a wild toddler at home. I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not always easy (Henry doesn’t always cooperate aka allow me to cook without crying at my feet, 🙄) and I definitely don’t cook every night, but cooking is a passion of mine, and the reward is always worth it. So, today I’m sharing some of my tips AND some of my foodie bestie, Dani’s, tips on how we get dinner on the table with kids in the house. Dani has TWO kiddos, a two year old boy (Henry’s partner in crime) and the cutest baby girl.
Keep it simple.
First and foremost, recipes without a million steps or fancy ingredients are going to be your best friend after a full day knee-deep in diapers, toy cars, & answering “mama?” all day. We both have a favorite few websites we love to get recipes from that we know won’t be too daunting or extensive – but always turn out YUM. These are some of the winners:
Find your staples.
What works for my family may not work for yours and vice versa, but we all have our “staples,” the items we love to keep on hand in the fridge or freezer that we know WORK for everyone’s palate in the house. My husband and toddler are both the pickiest of eaters (ugh) and my husband is a vegan, so I like having stuff on hand that I know is a tried & true crowd pleaser. Skinnytaste baked chicken milanese cutlets are always good to have for me & my little one & Dani’s family loves How Sweet Eats’ bite sized meatballs.
Appoint a pint-sized sous chef.
Dani actually recommended this tip to me awhile ago – and it worked like a charm! For awhile, Henry just wasn’t having it whenever I tried to make dinner. He would cry at my feet until I picked him up and basically made dinner with one hand. Sounds fun and mostly efficient, right? So after complaining to Dani, she recommending letting Henry “help” me while making meals. This worked for her & even got her toddler to start branching out with his food choices. So of course, I was willing to try it too! The first day we tried this, I was making a simple spinach salad with nuts, goat cheese & raspberries. My child never touched a raspberry before & would never even dare try a soft cheese. WELL, let me tell you! He was helping me add ingredients to the salad AND sneaking some into his mouth in between. I’ve been looking into getting a “learning tower” just to keep things safe while he’s being my little helper. I think, personally, this is a great activity to do with your children – quality time & exposure to all kinds of new stuff!
Get on that naptime hustle.
Henry naps from 1-2:30ish daily. So, I can’t really make dinner during his nap like I used to do when he was taking several naps a day. BUT, what I can do is prep the bulk of the meal and then just pop it in the oven right before it’s time to eat. You can always chop all the veggies for a salad, make your meatloaf mix, get your taco accoutrements ready, or whatever it is that you CAN do ahead of time while they’re napping to make dinnertime go a little more smoothly.
Take some shortcuts.
I LOVE these enchiladas. They’re a total crowd pleaser when we have family or friends over. My secret? I use organic rotisserie chicken & Frontera’s salsa verde from Whole Foods instead of making my own shredded chicken and roasted tomatillo sauce and it’s SUCH a time & stress saver! And obviously just as tasty. There’s no shame in making your life easier!
Find a recipe buddy.
Typically every Sunday, before I head to the grocery store, I’ll ask Dani if she’s tried any new recipes lately or has any new recipes that she’s going to make that coming week. I know we have almost identical tastes in food, a similar routine at home, and basically the same sized family to feed (since I’m eating for 2 and all, kidding!). So, I know that I can count on her recipes to be winners and vice versa. Having someone to swap recipes with not only exposes you to fun new recipes that you may not have found otherwise, but it also saves time in digging through books and websites when you just did that to plan 5 other dinners for the week ahead.