Feeding highly-dependent small children when they’re hungry after a long day can be one really stressful episode. When they want something, they want it yesterday.
Getting a tasty, wholesome and real dinner on the table in minutes will keep the whole family calm and help make your return to work that much smoother—and perhaps allay some of the emotion surrounding it all.
Here are some of my fave tricks for helping you get through your evenings and to the calm of a bedtime snuggle:
1. Meal planning. Yep, it’s kind of obvious but I had to include it. Every week I plan and shop so that I can come home to a fridge stocked with everything I need to whip up the night’s dinner.
2. Pre-preparing. This goes hand in hand with meal planning and is the next step to enlightenment—pre-cook a few meals on the weekend. I’ve been doing this for years and it really helps to take the pressure off weeknights. I love to make a soup or curry, a bolognaise sauce or even just have some meat marinating ready for the oven or BBQ.
3. Vegie cubes. Having cubes of frozen vegie blends on hand is a terrific way of adding additional vegie content to your little ones’ meals. Even if they’re eating the family meal, stir in a cube or two of some extra veg. It helps to cool the hot meal down quicker and boosts their nutritional intake. It also saves you having to cook vegies fresh every night.
4. Always have a thick vegie soup in the freezer. Winter or summer, a thick soup with a piece of toast is the ultimate in comforting dinners and if you always have one in the freezer you are only ever one defrost button away from serving up a fabulous dinner.
I’m also a big fan of using the gadgets that we have around us—they were designed for a reason, use them!
1. Microwave. Did you know you can cook pasta in a microwave? This is an awesome cheat for parents of small children. It lets you put the pasta on to cook whilst you bath the kids then come out to freshly-cooked, fail-safe pasta with no waiting for pots to boil, dealing with boilovers or carrying vats of boiling water to the sink with small children underfoot. Seriously, it’s the bomb! Try it. Instructions are here.
2. Slow cooker. I recently got my first slow cooker and I love it. With three kids, my mornings are typically pretty busy so I’m not great at getting it on in the mornings, but what I am finding really handy is once everyone is settled for the night, I can quickly get tomorrow night’s meal on to cook slowly overnight. I just leave it in the slow cooker all day and set it to re-heat when I get in. On the odd occasion that I do get it on in the mornings, then it’s warm and ready when we get home at night. It also works if I have something in the fridge I can pop it in there in the morning and set it to low and it heats up for me. It’s really great.
3. Set your oven to turn on at a specific time. Slow cookers are great but we don’t always want to eat casseroles and slow- braised meats so I also recommend getting intimate with your oven’s automatic settings. These are great for oven baked dinners such as lasagne or roasts – you can load it all into the oven in the morning and set the cook start and end times. And voila, you come home to a hot roast dinner! What a super parent you are!
I hope some of these ideas help you avoid the contempt of HANGRY children—they’ve saved me on many an occasion.
Written by Emily Dupuche, founder of Food Babies Love. Emily Dupuche is a mother and the author of Food Babies Love, a guide to introducing solids.