Cooking with little ones

Anyone else find it challenging to cook with little ones in the house?   I’m past that stage since my kids are older, but not so far past it that I’ve forgotten the challenge. Recently a Casual Kitchen reader asked how to find time for cooking when working full time and raising a one year old.  Daniel asked for reader input on this issue.  After starting to write a several-hundred-word comment on his blog, I realized I was actually writing a blog post, so I decided to share it here.  These tips will help busy homeschooling mamas as well.

If you’re a mom of little ones,  do you think that you could find 2 hours every Saturday or Sunday to devote to some projects that would make meals easier?  Maybe in the afternoon during naptime?  If so, here’s what I’d do:

1. Saturday morning first thing, fill up your crock pot with bone-in chicken legs and thighs and cook with a quart or so of water until the meat is tender and falling off the bones, probably about 4-6 hours.

2.  When the meat is cooked, save the broth for soup and remove the meat from the crock pot.  Let meat cool and remove it from the bone, cutting into bite sized pieces.  This is a bit messy, but 15-20 minutes of work can net you prepped meat for 4  or more meals, so your labor is not in vain!

3. Put some of the meat into several zip-top baggies in 1-2 cup portions, depending on how heartily your family eats.  This meat will make easy stir-fries later in the week.

4. Set aside two other 2-cup portions of meat.  Use one portion to make a big batch of chicken enchiladas. A small family can cut my recipe in half and still get two 9×9 inch pans of enchiladas, one for next week and one to stick in the freezer for a couple weeks down the road.

5. The other portion of saved chicken can go back into the saved chicken broth from the crock pot and be the beginnings of a BIG pot of soup.  Make enough for dinner tonight  (maybe with cornbread or rolls?),  some for later next week, AND stash a container of the soup in the freezer for a future week.  (I try not to serve things more than once or twice in 7 days to keep meals more interesting.

6. After you’ve got the chicken squared away (or maybe the next day if you’ve used up all your baby’s nap time?) do something similar with a big (5-8 pound) package of ground beef. You can form some of it into a couple of meatloaves for the freezer (or maybe mini-meatloaf frozen in muffin tins?)

7.  Make some meatballs to toss into spaghetti sauce, and broil them in the oven before sticking them on a cookie sheet in the freezer.

8. Then cook the last of the ground meat in a skillet with onion and garlic.  Some of it can be frozen and used in beef stroganoff later next week.  Spice another portion of it with taco seasoning for easy tacos on another date.

With already-prepped meat and a few meals in the freezer, your meals are going to feel so much more doable during the week.  Cleanup afterward is going to be easier as well.  Stick an inventory list on the side of your fridge so that you won’t forget what you have prepped.  You will most likely find that prepping ahead will also save you money. There are lots of other ways to simplify your time in the kitchen, but prepping meat ahead is the FIRST one I’d do if I only had a few hours a week to devote to the project.

If you have other ideas for Daniel’s readers, will you go comment there and share them?  This is definitely one of those cases where more ideas are better, because then folks can pick and choose and decide what will work for their own situations.

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  1. Mary, thanks so much for putting this post together! I’m always inspired by your creative and solution-based thinking, and my readers always benefit from your insights. I’m grateful that my post struck a chord with you and unleashed all these great ideas. Thank you!

    Dan @ Casual Kitchen

  2. Beautiful! And just what I needed to read today, as I’m feeling particularly oppressed by the skyrocketing food costs in our area. I have my plan for the weekend! Thanks, Mary!

  3. A crockpot full of inexpensive pork can also cook for 6-8 hrs.on low, with a little salt & pepper & some sherry or red wine vinegar. I made up your Honey-BBQ sauce tonight, and served the whole thing with soaked brown rice I had cooked earlier & a quicky salad. It made a company-worthy meal, and I will double it next time, to have a special extra dinner for the freezer.

    I like to cook extra noodles, mashed potatoes or rice about once a week when I’m making a big dinner anyway, to help me out later.


  4. I absolutely pre-cook chicken in the crock-pot, too! Other recipes we use it for are chicken salad and chicken tacos.

  5. Just using the crock pot in general can save so much time and effort. Get the stuff together at night, toss it all into the pot in the morning before you leave for work, and there is it, waiting for you to eat when you get home. That inventor is my hero!

    Also, whenever I make something – unless it’s an experimental recipe that I’m not sure about – I’ll make enough for that day, another meal as leftovers, and a third to freeze for nights when I need to just pull out something for a heat-and-eat. Granted, we have a small family so that isn’t difficult, but it’s also a great time saver.

    The problem is that I’m terrible about marking what the food is when I freeze it, so we sometimes end up with what I call “Mystery Meals”. On those nights, we don’t know what we’re having for dinner until after it’s heated up and we can see/smell/taste it. 🙂

  6. We have a little one and three school aged kiddos. I divide up the hour before dinner into babysitting blocks of 20 minutes each. Each big sis or brother is scheduled to play with the baby for 20 minutes, then switch with a sibling. They keep the baby safely in the play area and it frees me up to get cooking!

    Sometimes this golden hour gives me enough time to pull dinner together plus prep ahead for other meals that week or process some garden veggies. As an added bonus the big kids are developing great skills, and the baby loves this special time with her big siblings.

  7. I have several meals that I cook in big batches: Enchiladas, meatballs, spaghetti sauce, lasagna, taco meat (for tacos, family nacho, taco salad),potpie, and meatloaf. It really helps when I am in a cooking rut, or just have too many other things going on to be creative in the kitchen.


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