Finding time to cook healthy meals with a small child
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This particular question is a whole post, so I separated it out from the others this week.
How do you find time to cook and eat healthy meals with both parents working full time jobs and a toddler?
We eat out and buy prepackaged food a lot despite working from home half the week (and we live in DT to boot) since we are so tired after work (and extra work/ cleanup etc after kid sleep.)
How do you do it all most of the time?
I’m assuming “DT” means “downtown”?
Anyway, I do understand what you mean by not feeling like you have ANY time at all. It isn’t easy, but I found that sticking to a schedule helps a lot.
#Priorities… and pretending that pre-packaged food or restaurants don’t exist at all, will make you get seriously creative and organized, but I noticed when I started relying on eating out (e.g. buying my $20 fancy salads rather than making my own, a VERY BAD habit I have stopped), you make do without.
I did write a post about my Minimalist Fridge and in it, I had a lot of notes about how we keep it so clean and free.
My fridge kind of looks like this every week and by Friday, it is EMPTY except for the milk, and maybe a few things here and there.
At any given week, I can snap a shot and it looks like this, like today (as I am writing this post):
This is kind of how we do it with more detail:
1. We have a food schedule and we stick to it, eating the same thing for that week
By that, I mean every Saturday morning my partner goes out and does all the groceries and household purchases (e.g. toilet paper, buying a new spatula, etc).
Then every Sunday morning, at 7 a.m.-ish, he suits up and cooks the meals for the entire week. He cooks both of our lunches (we eat the same thing every day for that week), and lunches for Little Bun (organic soups mostly, pasta, oatmeals, etc).
This means that Monday to Friday, I am eating the same lunch (cassoulet this week), and so is he. There is no variety. People hate this idea, but I am okay with eating the same thing daily. I just add different sauces (e.g. hot sauce one day) to make things different, or use leftovers from our dinners to add something different (e.g. leftover green onions or chicken).
The next week, he changes it up to something else, and we eat that for the week.
Obviously this is not for everyone, but people who say “I cannot eat the same thing daily”, or “I hate leftovers”, are already set up to pre-hate and hate this schedule, and yet… that is the price we pay to be able to have free time and good food.
We are not rushing to get home to get the pasta started, the dinner cooked, WHATEVER. We aren’t doing any of that. We come home whenever, we eat around 6-ish and that’s it. No stress.
2. Our nights are “open” dinner nights
Don’t think we’re saints! My partner buys cheese, baguettes, pre-marinated chicken (although this week he has decided to do it himself), frozen duck confit, and he doesn’t cook, he assembles.
He really doesn’t consider our “open” dinner nights cooking. He is grilling here and there yeah, but he isn’t really doing major dinner work like using a frying pan and cooking an omelette with mushrooms every night. He does that once in a while. It’s just too much work and time to prepare new lunches and new dinners each dang day.
Our “open dinner” nights are also only 3 times a week. Mondays and Tuesdays, he doesn’t do dinner, we just eat what is in the fridge, or make something quick. Little Bun eats his vegan soup & oatmeal on those nights. That way, my partner gets a cooking break too. It isn’t fair for him to cook all the time and I hate doing dishes so often.
3. Our breakfasts are kind of loosey-goosey…
Bla bla bla we’re supposed to eat a breakfast every morning. Well, my partner finds he isn’t hungry in the morning, and I find that drinking my matcha green tea lattes with chia seeds in there, and having a piece of fruit in the morning is enough for me. Mid-morning, I do attack my (new) salad addition at the office between breakfast and lunch to give me energy before yoga, but otherwise, we don’t have much of a breakfast.
Little Bun eats breakfast at pre-school of a banana, a bowl of cereal, and whatever they give him because he thinks it’s special, so we’ve quietly decided to let them give him what he wants if he wants it for the breakfast.
On the weekends, Little Bun eats a breakfast of a piece of fruit (again, banana, orange, etc), and then around 10-ish I feed him a huge bowl of vegan soup and oatmeal (his favourite with red peppers and tomatoes). He gets ALL of his vegetables in that week with that one bowl.
4. We make extra food when we do cook
A whole chicken, grilled on the BBQ is not something we eat completely at night. My partner cuts off the breast and adds it to our lunches for the rest of the week as a surprise.
We just eat a leg and a wing each, sharing with Little Bun. Also, we have started buying smaller chickens, they taste better and there’s less waste / meat, and costs less money. We don’t need THAT much meat.
5. I supplement with my own foods
That salad I mentioned that I eat mid-morning? I’ve started buying dressing, keeping it at the office, and just eating salads mixed with that, a few tablespoons of grated cheese, and I am beyond happy. I love my salad “snack” before yoga.
6. We use up what we have as a leftover
Leftover whatever?? Eat it. We make a meal out of it. We figure it out.
There usually aren’t any leftovers with a mini hungry Little Bun running around squealing and burning off all that energy, and I do have a very generous appetite for my size with a great metabolism, but if there are leftovers, they disappear.
7. We eat as fresh as we can and therefore strive for ZERO WASTE
We supplement a lot with snacking with fruits . We don’t keep things like candy, cereal, etc… there is nothing to “snack” on in our house. The closest “snack” we have is nuts.
People hate coming over and I am sure Little Bun’s friends will avoid our house as there is “nothing to eat”.
We really try our best to make it ZERO WASTE in our house. I hate, HATE throwing out food. We also don’t have vegetables rotting in the crisper because we bought them when they were pretty but forgot to use them.
The best recipe to use up leftovers? Make some pasta or rice on the side, fry all the vegetables with or without protein in a pan, chopped up like in a stirfry, and then mix the two together (pasta or rice with the mixture) with some sauce (tomato, soy, whatever). DONE.
8. We don’t buy extra things without a plan
Buying turnips this week? Don’t buy more than what you need. We don’t stock up on any of that stuff.
9. My partner makes and freezes meals
Mostly the vegan soups. He makes the stews / soups, then freezes small portions in glass containers, and pulls out 3-4 a week for Little Bun to eat, to minimize waste and time spent cooking.
If Little Bun refuses the food, he eats it. Win win.
10. We don’t really have separate meals for Little Bun
I know plenty of families who make different meals per child/person…. and frankly, I privately think it is a lot of work to accommodate people who are NOT COOKING.
If you are cooking, why not? Make your own meal, don’t eat what is prepared, but if someone is taking the time and love to prep your meal for dinner, you best shut up and eat it, making happy, appreciative growls as you eat it.
My parents never catered to us, and neither did my partner’s parents for his siblings and him. We don’t do this to Little Bun either.
Little Bun eats, or he “starves”. By the way… he never “starves”. He usually asks for something else if he doesn’t like it, but ALWAYS gives in and eats it.
Sometimes, he loves the soup so much (the vegan stew we make with red peppers, tomatoes, caramelized onions, turnips, fennel) that he asks for more.
This is a serious, 2-quart sized bowl, that was half full, so about 1 quart of vegan stew + oatmeal, and he ate it all and wanted MOAHHHHH!
11. We save a lot of time elsewhere
For time in general, we also started doing less. I do dishes maybe 3X a week now instead of 7X.
I vacuum every 2 weeks (seriously…), and a little dust has never hurt anybody.
12. We don’t own a television
Out of left field? Not really. I am of course not saying you do this, or condemning TV (it is a nice mental break, sometimes I wish I had one), but we do have a LOT of free time without it, I must admit.
We don’t stay up late to watch TV, we don’t have TV shows we MUST WATCH every night, and we aren’t rushing home to get things done so we can watch our shows.
We used to have a TV on occasion, in the hotels when we lived long-term in them, and even without a child, we felt like we had no time at all. I was always rushing, I was tired at work… and only recently have I started thinking more about it.
This apparently, is not made up. I have been curiously quizzing my colleagues politely about their nights, because they were all freakin’ losing their minds that I don’t own a TV nor watch it. I do watch shows, don’t get me wrong (Game of Thrones, The Good Place, etc), but I wait until they’re out on Amazon Video to purchase, or on DVDs borrowed from friends who watch the same shows.
I don’t need to watch TV THAT NIGHT, with the LATEST episode, right away.
Without a TV, I am thinking: Okay. I have free time. Let’s see… I can start laundry, maybe do X, Y… do Z… get prepped for tomorrow…
With a TV, I am thinking: Okay I have free time. What’s on? *click*
As it stands now with a small child…..