In Ask Sherry

Finding time to cook healthy meals with a small child

You asked, and I am answering every Friday once I have enough questions!

You can ask any question using the form here.

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.


https://www.savespendsplurge.com/whats-currently-in-my-rather-minimalist-fridge/

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.

AMIRITE!?

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…..

For realz.

Still have a burning question?

You can ask any question using the form here and all of my previous Ask Sherry posts are here.

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have paid my $600K home in cash (my half was $300K), my $180K casr in cash, worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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12 Comments

  1. Elisa

    We are so implementing this as soon as we bought more glass containers. Hubby likes to cook everyday (fresher meals) but I do all the cleaning so it’s so not very inconvenient for me. Love how clean your fridge is; totally my fridge goal :D. Do you have recipe for the veggie stew btw, baby bun seem to love it and hoping my toddlers too 😀

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I hate.. hate.. cleaning nightly. He sort of assembles/cooks nightly too and I groan inside (silently) when it involves pans and frying…

      The veggie stew is pretty easy:
      – Carrots
      – Stewed tomatoes
      – Red peppers
      – Caramelized onions
      – Red lentils

      That’s it. Adjust the amounts as you wish. More peppers, less.. more carrots.. less…

      Little Bun loves the stew because he has no choice. He eats it and that’s it. He now asks for it, and loves it, but we started him when he was very very small. Between the veggie stew & .. oh.. “fancy” meals like pasta, he takes the pasta.

      Reply
      1. Elisa

        Thank you! That’s super simple and straightforward. Gonna try that tonight 😀

        Reply
        1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

          How did it work out? Any luck?

          Reply
  2. CorianneM

    Ah so you eat the same thing for lunch the whole week! I do too for like 2-3 days. I suppose I could extend it (i just need more food containers!). I don’t really mind eating the same thing over and over again if it’s for a week. It’s just finding meals that will stay ok for 4-5 days in the fridge and not always the same things that is a bit of a puzzle sometimes.

    (Though I do not like soup for lunch every day. Once or twice ok, but more: no! I need something more solid to chew on haha)

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      We have a lot of food containers, almost the exact amount we need for 10 lunches a week when we both work.. then I added on stuff like my salads, so that’s just stuff I make do with the other smaller ones I have lying around.

      I have a LOT of free time by not bothering to make new things daily, and things that say okay in the fridge for 4-5 days would be: No seafood, nothing delicate, mostly beans, brown rice and white rice works, pasta is good, avoid bread….

      Reply
  3. liteadventurer

    We’re big on frozen veggies. They taste great, last forever, and you can make exactly however much you need for any given meal. One can argue that they’re the freshest produce at most grocery stores since they’re put in a frozen state before being hauled across the country on the back of a big truck.

    My quick go-to meal is a simple stir fry. Either a meat or tofu and a ton of veggies into one big pan with some oil and sauce and you’ve got a complete meal in 15 minutes.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I’d agree with that — picked and frozen at the prime of its time. We do that with the tomatoes when we make our paste.

      Me too – stirfry is the way to go. Throw everything in there, toss a sauce in, add rice or noodles or pasta. Eat.

      Reply
  4. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

    LOVE YOUR FRIDGE.

    I’ve been so lucky to mostly be telecommuting, I can work and cook instead of commute. We would do more like you do if we didn’t have me in the back pocket as the dinner chef. And oh goodness, that reminds me we have a big chunk of Brie I forgot to serve our guests this weekend, so I think that’s going to be a big part of my week this week 😉

    We’re working on mostly eating fresh but we keep cereal and crackers on hand for me and PiC. We’re going to have an extra freezer to store frozen meals to help us prep ahead, too, because our primary fridge is usually stuffed full of fresh produce.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      We try not to stuff anything in our fridge because I have noticed we DO NOT EAT IT. If I don’t see it in my face, or in my food, it is like it never happened.

      Reply
  5. Yet Another PF Blog

    Your fridge is so clean! @_@

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      It’s near empty at the end of the week. Nothing can hide or fester bacteria in there.

      Reply

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