Mama Monday: Feeding the Family: It's Time to Cook!

This week concludes my three part series on Feeding the Family. We’ve covered budgeting and planning a menu. This week I’m sharing how I manage to cook while having small children in your family. My youngest is three now, but I still cooked like I do now while I had infants and toddlers. It takes some planning, some practice, and a whole lot of patience to get delicious, home-cooked meals on the table when you have little people underfoot.

When You’re Shopping

If you are privileged enough to get to take your children shopping with you, then you know how traumatic it can be for everyone involved. You need to get in, buy your groceries, and get out (hopefully alive!). Recently I’ve found myself having to backtrack because I forgot to grab something a couple of aisles before. Can I just mention how much I hate this? It adds time to our time in the store, and I’m swooping all over the store with my cart full of kids and groceries like some kind of crazy woman. {Yes, I have a flair for the dramatic. Do you know my oldest child? She takes after her mom.}

Anyway, while I was prepping to write this blog post, I got to thinking about how I organize my shopping list (I don’t), then I started thinking about how I would like to organize my shopping list so that nothing is missed the first time through. I wanted to maximize my time in the store, so I spent about 30 minutes making my own personalized grocery list template.

About two weeks ago when we went shopping, I took pictures with my phone of each aisle and how it was labeled. I came home and created text boxes in a Word document to make my own customized grocery list that was laid out like the store that I shop at the most. Now I can write my list by putting items in the exact aisle or store section where they are! A winning situation for both me and the kids since we’ve been getting in and out of the store faster than ever.

When You’re Storing

So once you’ve bought your groceries now you have to figure out how to get it on the table in a timely manner with small children wanting and needing your attention. The MOST important part of cooking, especially with infants and toddlers, is the preparation stage.

Organized Pantry: I saw this idea recently on Pinterest and knew that I’d want to use it one day. Well, this blog series inspired me to do it, and I must say that it has been super helpful around my house. I have a really small pantry. It’s about 2 feet by 2 feet floor to ceiling. My mom doesn’t even have a pantry; she has to use a couple of cabinets in her laundry room. Fortunately this idea can work for any size or style of pantry. I bought six clear, plastic shoe boxes without the lids. Then I used this free printable labeling template that I found on Pinterest as well {seriously what did I do before Pinterest!}. I labeled each box with a day of the week Sunday through Friday since we do leftovers on Saturday, laminated the labels, and taped them to the front of my boxes.

Now comes the helpful part: fill each box with what you need to make your menu for that day {obviously not perishables!}, the spices and seasonings, oil, flour, canned foods, potatoes, onions, etc. I even include the recipes that I will be using that day.

What I love about this system is all I need to do when it’s time to cook supper is grab my box for that day and cook. This has made my life so much easier since I’m not rummaging through the pantry trying to find that can of green beans that I KNOW I bought. I load these boxes as I unload my groceries from my weekly shopping trip. Easy-peasy! {You could also set up this same system in your refrigerator if you were so inclined to make grabbing the perishables easy as well.}

When You’re Prepping

For me the part of cooking that eats up most of my time is the prep, peeling, slicing, dicing, seasoning, etc. When you have small children around, you need to be able to get dinner on the stove or in the oven as quickly as possible. You never know when a baby might need to be fed, a mess cleaned up, or a catastrophe averted. The easiest way to move things along in the kitchen is to have everything pre-prepped as much as possible. Peel and cut veggies. Season meat (and make sure you let it thaw the day before!).  Measure out spices and flours. You can get all of this prep done during naps, before work, or while the kids are eating breakfast and/or lunch. Prep usually take me anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on what I’m making. That’s quite a bit of time saved!

When You’re Cooking

Some of my favorite memories are with my kids in the kitchen. I am not one to shy away from letting my children around hot stoves or ovens. They learn to cook with me right there to guide them. However, when they are young, you don’t want them underfoot or in danger of accidents. Here are some of the things I do and have done when I need to keep little bodies out of the way to get bellies fed.

For infants:
  • Bumbo
  • Johnny Jump Up
  • Exersaucer or walker
  • Swing or bouncer
But the most important thing with infants (at least with my kids it was like this!) is to talk to them while you’re cooking. If anyone had walked in the kitchen when my kids were little they would have thought I was insane!

“Mommy’s putting the green beans on to cook. Green beans are so delicious! You’re going to love them. Now Mommy needs to peel the potatoes. Potatoes are native to the Americas, but quickly became a source of sustenance across Europe after exploration (learned that tidbit writing my history senior thesis paper in college).”

You get the idea. Just talk and talk or sing and sing, do something to let them know that you are right there and everything is okay.

For toddlers:
  • Run up some water in the sink and let them play.
  • Make a zoo on your refrigerator or any refrigerator magnets.
  • Put rice or beans in a dishpan, give them some measuring cups, and let them have fun (make sure they are past the put everything in their mouth stage first!).
  • Put a play kitchen nearby so they can cook while mommy cooks.
And again…talk and sing your heart out! Toddlers especially love learning words so show them some kitchen utensils and teach while you’re cooking!

For preschoolers:

I start letting my kids help around this age (if I have the time to do so!). Let them mix, pour, and shake. They love it and it gets them started young on knowing their way around the kitchen.

{Full Disclosure}

I have also been known to put on a movie or send them in the backyard to play so I can cook dinner. I sometimes have to be that mom. No apologies. That’s just life. :)

Feel free to leave some of your tips for entertaining little ones while you cook in the comments.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood stop on by, because something yummy is always cooking in the tree house,



  1. This is great, Chelli!! I especially like the "talk to the kids" part.

    One thing I do, to cut down on prep-time, is I have my girls measure out the spices I need - ahead of time. Some recipes have a LOT of spices, so we'll do enough for several meals. For example, my chili, spaghetti sauce, and chili Colorado recipes. I'll have them make several "packets" so that we can just grab & go when we want to make these recipes. Sort of like the packets you can buy at the grocery store - I have them ready to go! Just be sure to put your "sweet" packets in a different location than your "savory" packets!

    1. Love the spices idea! Might have to try that with my oldest to help her with her fractions. ;)

  2. I really love this!! I'll keep this handy for when I become a mom. I definitely want to do this too. You're such a cool momma :).

    1. Awww, thanks! I don't know that my kids would think I'm all that cool. I am "Mom" after all! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I love your shopping list! What a great idea. I HATE backtracking in the store. Nothing worse than dealing with cranky kids only to have to turn around and go back through areas you had already been through.

    1. Thanks! It's good to know that my kids aren't the only ones who get cranky in the grocery store.