Recently I was asked about how I find the time to cook while taking care of my toddler. Finding time to cook when you have young kids can definitely be a challenge. This is especially true during the newborn stage and early months of having a baby.
Despite how challenging it can be at times, I truly think that it is totally possible to find time to cook a meal for your family on a regular basis.
You may be thinking right now that I’m a super mom and total overachiever, but I assure you, that is not the case. I’ve simply learned to make it work, and you can too!
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Easily Finding Time For Cooking (Even With Little Kids!)
First, a little bit of context.
Currently, I am a stay-at-home mom with one toddler. I stopped working shortly before my son was born, and have been able to stay home with him his entire life.
And, for the most part, I have been able to continue to make home cooked meals most nights of the week.
Now, don’t forget, I’m not supermom. There were a few weeks after Elijah was born that I didn’t do a whole lot of cooking, primarily because I was too sore from delivery to stand for that long.
During that time, either my husband did most of the cooking, or we had something super simple that didn’t take a whole lot of time or effort. You do what you got to, you know what I’m sayin’?
Anyways. Once I was healed enough to be fairly mobile again, I pretty much went back to cooking dinner most nights. Keep reading to find out how I do it, and how you can do it too.
Tips To Make Cooking Quicker And Easier
First thing’s first: if you want to have time to cook, you really need to meal plan.
Right now you may be thinking, “but I can’t meal plan.” Yes, you can. And if you want enough time to cook most nights, you really need to get in the habit of planning out your meals ahead of time.
Look, meal planning doesn’t have to be a painstaking process that takes forever to do. Personally, it takes me about 5-10 minutes to plan out our meals for the week and put together a grocery list every Saturday.
So many people waste an incredible amount of time by trying to figure out what to make on the day they plan to make it. When you leave this decision until the day of, you set yourself up for failure.
Failing to plan ahead typically leads to wasted time that you could have spent cooking, doing other housework, or spending time with your kids and spouse.
What you waste when you don’t plan ahead
When you don’t take the time to meal plan ahead of time, you don’t just waste valuable time. Valuable time that you need, or you wouldn’t be reading this post in the first place.
But it’s not just time that you are losing. Typically, a failure to meal plan also leads to a lot of wasted food, as well as wasted money in the process.
If you are planning what to make for dinner on the same day you need to make it, it’s very likely that you will find that you are lacking some of the necessary ingredients. When that happens, you either have to waste time finding a new recipe, or waste time and money going to the store to get what you need.
Meal planning allows you to look at what you have on hand, and plan meals around the food you already have in the house. And, if you do need to buy more food or different ingredients, meal planning allows you to make trip to the grocery store. Ultimately, this leads to saving a ton of money, not the mention time.
If you are struggling to find time to cook because you have little kids, meal prep can be a huge time saver.
But what is meal prep? Basically, meal prep consists of preparing whatever you can ahead of time. Most people who meal prep opt to meal prep once a week. If you have kids, the weekend can be a great time to do this while you have help from your spouse.
Meal prep can take a lot of different forms, depending on your specific family needs. For example, some people prepare one large salad to be used over the course of several meals during the week. Many parents prepare part or all of their children’s lunchboxes ahead of time (cutting up fruit and veggies for lunches are a great way to meal prep).
Personally, I don’t do a ton of meal prepping for several reasons. Firstly, my toddler is not in daycare, and stays home with me during the day. My husband also comes home from work for lunch. For those reasons, we are all home for lunch, and we stick to easy to make lunches such as sandwiches.
I’m also not a huge fan of cooking, to be honest. For that reason, I stick to fairly easy to make dinners that don’t require much in the way of meal prepping.
I do make a point of dividing up our meat purchases into meal sized portions and freezing them in Ziplock bags. That way, I only have to thaw out enough for that specific meal, rather than trying to thaw an entire package of meat. And, freezing it helps it to not go bad before we get to it.
If you have kids and are struggling to find time to cook, try sticking with simple meals that don’t take a lot of time to cook.
Now, hear me out. Choosing simple meals to cook does not mean that they have to be boring meals that lack flavor. Believe it or not, there are a ton of amazing recipes out there that require very little time and effort to make.
Cooking simple meals does not mean that only your kids will like them, either. In the three years that my husband and I have been married, we’ve managed to put together a solid assortment of meals that we rotate through.
Most of these meals take around 30 minutes or less to put together (cook time is sometimes longer, but the time it takes to put them together is typically less than this).
The point is, simple meals are your friend when little kids prevent you from having much time to cook. And if you’re really into cooking, don’t worry. Time will pass quickly and you will soon be in a stage of life where you have more time to cook and your kids will entertain themselves better.
Finding Time To Cook As A Mom Of Little Kids
Cooking With Baby
After you have a baby, it’s likely that you’ll want to take a short break from cooking while you heal and adjust. And that’s totally okay! Don’t feel like you have to do it all.
If you’re lucky, someone might even organize a meal train or bring a few meals to you during the first few weeks. If not, have your hubby help out. Even people with zero cooking skills whatsoever can be talked through a preparing a simple meal.
Once you’re ready to get back into it, you’ll probably be wondering what to do with your baby while you cook. There are several ways you can handle this situation.
For some, baby wearing is a great option. Wearing your baby in a sling or baby carrier allows you to have your hands free to prepare food and cook. Assuming your baby likes to be worn, this is a potential solution to give you the time to cook while still taking care of your kids.
I will warn you though, that baby wearing may not be safe for all types of cooking. For example, I wouldn’t recommend cooking in a skillet while baby wearing. In this scenario, there is the potential that some hot grease or liquid could splash up and burn your baby.
Or, if your baby is very squirmy, or you may not want to risk cutting vegetables with a sharp knife. Just be smart about what you do!
In the early months of being a mom, I often used our baby swing to free up my hands for cooking. Whenever it came time to make a meal, I would put Elijah into the swing until I was done.
He was almost always happy and content to sit in the swing for a bit and watch the mobile or listen to the music. Or, he would watch what I was doing in the kitchen.
If you go this route, just be sure that you can still see and hear your baby from where you are. When Elijah was a baby, we lived in a small apartment where I could see the entire living room from the kitchen. So even if the swing was set up in the living room, I could still easily monitor him while cooking.
Once Elijah become mobile, we bought a plastic baby superyard and sectioned off an area of our apartment for him to play in. You may be laughing or judging me, but it was a huge lifesaver when it came to cooking.
After setting up the baby superyard into a square, I could let Elijah roam and play inside it while I took care of dinner. If you have mobile kids, a baby superyard can be a huge asset to help free up time–and your hands–to cook.
Don’t get me wrong, I make an point of playing with my son every day, even if we’re busy and it only ends up being for a few minutes. But I’m also a big believer in independent play.
Girl, you can’t be your child’s constant playmate. I know that will probably ruffle a few feathers, but we moms tend to get sucked into this belief, often due to mom guilt.
You are your child’s mother, not his all day playmate. I’m not saying to not play with your kid. I actually think you should really make a pointed effort to play with your kids. But I think that a lot of moms (myself included at times!) need to recognize the benefit of independent play and quit feeling guilty about it.
Independent play is beneficial–so use it!
Independent play is a healthy and beneficial time that will help your child grow and develop. Even if you and your child consider yourselves friends, you don’t constantly hang out with your adult friends, do you? No. Because you both have real life responsibilities that need to be taken care of.
And the same goes for you and your child. You have real life responsibilities to take care of, such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Not to mention the very real and crucial need to take time for yourself and refilling your own cup.
Anyway, to get back on topic, don’t be afraid of using your cooking time as a time for your child to practice playing independently. Set them up in a safe area where you can keep an eye on them as you cook, and then let them be kids. Don’t feel like you can’t cook because you have to constantly entertain your child. Instead, teach them to play independently at times so that you can take care of your responsibilities.
Of course, if your spouse is home around the same time you need to start cooking, enlist their help! Your hubby can play with the kids and take care of them while you focus on what needs to be cooked and prepared for dinner.
Don’t be afraid to ask–your husband isn’t a mind reader. And asking for help with the kids isn’t some twisted sign of weakness. Juggling it all is hard and takes a lot of work and strategy to get it all done. Don’t be afraid to utilize any and all help you can get.
Leave a comment below and tell me how you usually handle taking care of kids and finding time to cook–I’d love to hear from your thoughts!