Do you want to create an environment in your home that is as stress-free as possible, while still cooking delicious, simple and healthy meals for your family with kids underfoot? Here’s 6 Tips for Making Dinner Prep Happen with Kids.
Hey, friends! I’m Natasha. I’m a wife, mom of two, and the gal behind The Seasonal Meal Planner. I love helping women organize their meals and create an intentional plan for hospitality, so that they can invest their energy into people not just food!
I’m just going to go ahead and say that you should forward this on to your friend who just had a baby, and here’s why: when I had my first child about 4.5 years ago, I was a mess. The transition to motherhood was hard and filled with a lot of days unsure of what my purpose in life was anymore, wading through new responsibilities and struggling to keep up with the daily tasks of managing a home. The “normal” stuff like laundry and feedings felt like big mountains to climb during the day, and dinner was at the top of that list. There were many days when my husband would get home from work, I’d be sitting on the couch with our new baby, and as the door unlocked and my husband entered our home, I was reminded: these people all want to eat. Oh yeah, what’s for dinner?!
On the nights when I would remember to make dinner, I was usually frazzled, bouncing a baby either on my hip or in the bouncy chair toy – running back and forth between her and the stove, spilling spices, burning food, and generally becoming the most stressed version of myself. Can anyone relate?
Over the years I have gained a bit of wisdom and some skills for making dinner prep happen. And as we’ve added a second child and the kids have grown up a bit, rambunctious children bring a whole new category of juggling. So, here are some tips to create an environment in your home that is as stress-free as possible, while still cooking delicious, simple and healthy meals for your family with kids underfoot!
6 Tips for Making Dinner Prep Happen with Kids
1. Teach them to play independently
Once my son was about 1.5 years old, my two kids started playing together. This happened naturally, but it does take some coaching to make sure that they can play well. I have spent some considerable time coaching my oldest how to handle conflict with her brother and treat him with respect. We have also discussed on multiple occasions how he is younger and what he is and isn’t capable of. She is learning some great lessons by learning to bear with a younger brother who is more selfish and unaware. I’ve noticed that as we’ve trained them to love each other and play without mommy or daddy’s intervention, we are able to get more tasks around the house accomplished. In those moments when the kids are off somewhere in the house playing well together, I try to utilize that time to do some tasks that keep our days running: prep dinner, load the dishwasher, or sweep up the crumbs from a previous meal.
2. Have them help
Teaching kids to cook is a skill that will serve them for their entire lives. I think the majority of my friends didn’t grow up with parents who cooked for them – TV dinner era, anyone? So now we are having to teach ourselves, and how hard is that as an adult?! If you start kids young, cooking ceases to be intimidating and instead becomes second nature. Kids learn listening, following instructions, safety, and responsibility when helping in the kitchen, not to mention grow their confidence to tackle a new task and master it. Start slow with baby’s sprinkling cheese on quesadillas, or stirring and dumping dry ingredients with supervision. As children get into preschool and school age, they can help cook scrambled eggs, butter toast, make sandwiches, cut small pieces of fruit and vegetables with supervision, etc. It’s a challenge allowing kids in the kitchen, but sometimes when my kids are going crazy and running laps around me, I realize they just need a job, and hand them something to do in the kitchen with me. It keeps them entertained and helps me get dinner done – win, win!
3. Play outside while you prep
This is definitely seasonal, but in the warmer months I LOVE that the kids naturally want to play outside in the afternoon after naps. I can fill up the water table and lay out some pots and pans on the back porch and go into the kitchen and cook away. Of course, this works super well for us because our kitchen has a large window/door that leads to the back yard. If your home is set up in a similar way, this is a great option! You could even let your kids play with some trusted neighbors while you cook, or have a friend pick them up to take them to get their wiggles out at a local park. The importance of community cannot be understated here! It takes a village!
4. 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of nap time
I try to take at least 10-15 minutes after lunch (sometimes before naps and sometimes after the kids go down) to prep whatever is needed for dinner. If you are working outside the home, you can easily do this the night before, too! Even having the veggies chopped or the soup simmering can be incredibly helpful around dinner time. Most nights my only 5 o’clock task is assembling, not really cooking!
5. Prep lunch and breakfast on the weekend
I love starting my week with some meal components prepped ahead. Making sure that I have some breakfast, lunch and snack options available for quick assembly is KEY to making our days less stressful when it comes to food. My kids are always asking for a snack, so having them ready in a box on the lowest level of the refrigerator is super helpful. Having some hard boiled eggs and sugar-free almond butter for me saves my sanity when I’m running out the door to story time or work and need a quick protein punch to sustain me to the next meal. I share our meal prep on insta every week using the hashtag #NRMealPrepSaturday if you need any ideas!
6. Be gracious with yourself
Regardless of what you do to get dinner on the table, above all, be gracious with yourself! Kids are ever changing and their needs are constantly shifting – which changes how we tackle the rest of our life, right? I need all my energy for taking care of our kids, but we also have to eat, so don’t stress if you get take out more times than you would like for a short season, or utilize a meal delivery service during busier months. Life is meant to ebb and flow, so do your best to flow with it!
If you’re wanting to get in a better rhythm with meal planning, be sure to check out this post where Natasha shares how to make meal planning work for you. It’s so helpful!
If you loved these tips, head on over to her website where she shares family friendly recipes, practical tips for meal planning, and encouragement for hospitality.
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