When my family’s apartment flooded, we — my husband, 10-month-old daughter, geriatric rabbit, and I — decamped to my parents’ house. As we waited for insurance companies to settle the bill, we divvied up dinner duty: My mom and I took turns during the week and on weekends, my husband would cook, or my dad would get takeout.
In some ways, it was easier. I cooked less frequently, if for more people, and that meant sometimes I could enjoy feeding little bub instead of trying to make dinner at the same time. Even still, it’s awkward cooking in someone else’s kitchen!
As a work-from-home mom, I’d already developed some strategies to get dinner on the table, and they came in very handy as we all learned to get along. Here’s how we made it work.
1. I made a lot of soups, stews, and casseroles.
Tonight’s dinner can be tomorrow’s lunch — or, if frozen, lunch a few weeks from now. Soups, stews, and casseroles are prime candidates for big-batch cooking, as are most slow cooker recipes. And all those soupy, long-cooked things are great for littles (especially those without teeth).
Read more: Cook Once, Eat All Week: 10 Big-Batch Suppers
2. I made friends with the freezer.
If you let it, the freezer can be your best friend. Beyond the wonders of soups and casseroles, you can also stockpile staples like cooked barley, beans, and quinoa. Divide them into kid- and grown-up-sized portions, freeze in airtight containers, and (this is important!) label everything with the item and date. Your future self will thank you for your foresight and labeling abilities, because no one likes playing freezer roulette.
Read more: One Thing You Need for an Organized Freezer
3. I embraced laziness.
This is one part psychological trick and one part hands-on: First, let go of the expectation that meals need to be Instagram-worthy. Instead, revel in the ease of a slow-cooked stew (see above) or sheet pan supper. Save the fancy meals for when you have the time to labor over tiny details — you know, after the kids have gone to college.
Read more: 10 Lazy Weeknight Dinners You Can Make with Lentils or Beans
4. I compartmentalized my meal planning.
You know those baby plates with separate compartments? I’ve started to think of meals like that: vegetable, protein, and grain, preferably in a variety of colors. For me, it’s easier than thinking of an entire meal. It also simplifies shopping because I can get pieces of a meal knowing they can Tetris together during the week.
In practice, this means me grabbing green beans (vegetables, check) and wild salmon (protein, check) out of the fridge. I know I can cook both of those on one sheet pan while reheating last night’s risotto (grain, check), and I know that if I cut things into small pieces, bub can eat it. Dinner is done!
Read more: Crispy, Cheesy Sheet Pan Pork Chops
Welcome to Dinner with Kids
This series explores the shifting dynamics of the dinner table when kids are involved. We asked families of all shapes and sizes for their tips for mealtime success. You’ll learn a few things, laugh a whole lot, and find that when kids are involved, dinnertime is always a little more eventful.