Cooking With A Baby

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I didn’t realize it at the time, before my son was born I had complete control over my time and schedule.  After he was born, I learned he had his own schedule, which caused endless amounts of frustration for me.  One of the biggest frustrations was cooking.  Gone where the days I could spend 3 hours cooking an amazing meal (often two meals as my husband and I eat very differently from each other).  Accepting that our lives have changed and acting accordingly is one way that we mature as parents.  It took a bit of work, but I learned that it is possible to put healthy meals on the table, stay calm, and meet my son’s needs at the same time. Usually.  

Here are some ideas that helped me:

1. Have meals on hand for the early weeks.  I encourage my students to start storing food during the last weeks of pregnancy. Many moms will set up a “meal train” and ask family and friends to bring dinner for a few weeks.  Even after the early weeks, there will be days when you will be very glad to have a casserole in the freezer.

2. Make the main meal your household priority for the day. The baby and other family members come first, but cooking comes before cleaning. If you start preparing early, you won’t find yourself rushed at dinnertime. Babies also tend to be calmer during the mornings.

3. Break down the cooking into small steps. Steps might include peeling vegetables, setting water up to boil, marinating, measuring, etc. Plan meals that don’t require standing over the stove, and be prepared to set the cooking aside when your baby needs you. When you do a little at a time, cooking seems to take hardly any time at all.

4. Lower your expectations. It’s okay if your meals aren’t perfectly balanced or if the menu repeats frequently.  This was the hardest for me, but I would remind myself that there will be plenty of time in the years to come to make my gourmet favorites.

5. Bring baby into the kitchen with you. You can smile and talk to the baby while you are working. Because you are right there to calm her down quickly, you’ll return to your cooking task sooner. Baby in a seat right on the floor is better than in an infant seat placed on a table. Carry baby in a sling to give you two hands to prepare a meal, if baby is happy with that arrangement. Avoid a front carrier when you are at the stove. If you get used to cooking while baby is up, you’ll get more time to relax while she sleeps.

6. Get help when you can. Partners or older children can learn to take part in, or take over, cooking, or care for the baby while you work.  Many mothers have hired a “mother’s helper” to watch the baby while she is home.  If baby needs to nurse, the mother’s helper can take over the meal prep while you tend to baby.  Consider having the neighbor’s tween be a mother’s helper.  She can gain babysitting experience, and will usually charge less because you’ll be home.

7. Put baby in his high chair.  If you’re baby is sitting up on his own, you can bring the high chair in the kitchen and put food or toys on his tray.  I found my son was happy to be in his high chair because he could see what was going on better.  

8. Once your baby is crawling or climbing, you’ll need to make more adjustments. Keep a drawer or shelf with unbreakable kitchen tools for baby to play with. Every so often, add something different.  A whisk and empty box was a huge hit in our house.

9. Use a timer creatively. You can use it to remind you when to check the food for doneness and when to move on to the next step. I used mine to set limits for other things.  I would chop as much as I could in the time given.  If it didn’t have as much as the recipe called for, it usually worked out OK, or I would add in something else to make up the different.  I’ve created some fantastic recipes this way.

10. Keep a running menu and shopping list. Then you don’t have to think too much when you get that chance to cook or shop. A standard menu also means your shopping list stays the same, but flexibility will allow you to take advantage of sales and enjoy produce in season.

11. Get ready for dinner first thing in the morning.  Move a casserole to the refrigerator each morning, and pop it into the oven in the late afternoon. Then all you have left to prepare is a salad.  There are tons of crockpot recipes out there that you can prepare the night before or first thing in the morning.  

12. Keep future meals in mind.  If you have enough on hand, try making a double batch of something and freeze half.  This is especially easy to do during pregnancy.  If you are making rice for a stir-fry, can you make extra for a casserole?

The most important bit of advice I received as a new mother was to meet the baby’s needs first.  The dishes and laundry will keep, but your baby wont.  And sometimes, it’s OK to order in Chinese.  

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Flourish Baby is committed to diversity and inclusion. Amanda Dean supports all birthing, breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and human milk feeding families, inclusive of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, national origin, creed, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, family structure, primary language, ability, or socio-economic status.

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