"Everything changes when you have a baby." That's what one reader wrote in response to my post last week asking for advice on getting back to cooking after you have a baby — and boy, is that the truth. Dozens of readers offered their own bits of wisdom for re-entering cooking life (thank you for that!), and here are the top five tips I gleaned from all the input.
1. Cook big batches of food at the beginning of the week.
Cooking ahead has always been key to managing busy schedules, and readers stressed that it's even more important with a new baby in tow, when starting a dinner from scratch every night proves to be tiring and difficult. Instead focus on one marathon cooking session a week (with help, of course!) to prep a few meals that can feed you for the week.
Start here → 17 Meals That Make Great Leftovers
I recommend cooking good large meals with your husband on Sunday or such for eating as lunch during the week. When breast feeding you really need it. For example this weekend I made a big pot of puréed acorn squash soup, traditional chicken salad, healthy muffins, and granola. If I have yogurt, wheat wraps, hummus and veggies, and some fruit in the fridge, I can dip into those through the week and have good meals every day. - Sarah A.D
I cook in large batches and try not to put pressure on myself. A big pot of soup, a dish of lasagna, cut up fruits and veggies for snacking. On the weekends my husband grills some meat with enough for leftovers. Also, freeze a batch of homemade pizza dough then defrost and top with whatever veggies sound good at the moment. In those moments of desperation and hunger because of a nursing infant, I eat a Clif bar. - wvboggs
Make aheads: quinoa, lentils, sweet potatoes, chunks of roasted squash, hard boiled eggs, etc. are all great to throw together over greens as a salad for the next day. Add some dried fruit or nuts or avocado for extra nursing calories. Pack it up the night before. - groundhog mama
I found that cooking big meals on the weekends, so that you've got enough leftovers to make it through the week helps tremendously. That way you have minimal cleanup during the week and still have satisfying home cooked meals. - Sweet_Cheeks
2. Embrace passive cooking.
As one reader put it: "One (hyphenated) word: slow-cooker!" If you have one and have never really put it to much use (ahem, that's me), now is the time to start. Hands-off cooking is the way to survive with a new baby, readers say.
Start with these recipes → 15 Hearty Meals for Your Slow Cooker
Embrace passive cooking. For example, roast a couple of chickens, freeze one, and you have your protein sorted for quite a few meals. Make a big stew or soup in the slow cooker. Shake up a jar of vinaigrette to dress bagged salad. - pearmelon
Why not start with a few easy crockpot meals, pastas and casseroles? Do the prep work whenever you have a burst of energy and the baby is napping. Buy frozen vegetables if you want to really make things easy. - happydaysarehere
I'd load the crockpot in the evening when baby was down [hopefully] for the night & set it in the fridge. Next morning, I'd set it in the base & plug it in. There was pot roast, whole roast chicken (both w/veggies tossed in) soups & stews, chili, rice based concoctions. Recipes were doubled when possible & frozen for future meals. - discerning
3. Don't feel guilty about shortcuts.
Do whatever is necessary to make sure you eat, which means don't be above pre-made meals from Trader Joe's (there are some great ones!) or a meal delivery service if that's what it takes. Super simple meals, like hummus in a toasted pita, or meals made from frozen vegetables can be great go-tos.
Start here →
- 5 Ways to Cook with Frozen Spinach
- 5 Ways to Cook with Frozen Corn
- 5 Ways to Cook with Frozen Potatoes
- 17 Recipes to Make with a Can of Chickpeas
A bowl of cereal for dinner and stress-free bedtime cuddles with the baby win out every time over a wholesome, home-cooked meal that leaves everyone in tears. - happydaysarehere
Give yourself as much space and time as you need. Do NOT feel pressured to force yourself back into the kitchen. Shop at Trader Joe's, they have so many wonderful premade options. I love their lasagnas and chicken pot pies and frozen burritos. Start with easy stuff to cook, like a big pot of rice, and throw a can of black beans on top and call it dinner. - hedge
I did a week of meals where all the ingredients were provided and prepped - I wasn't thrilled with the quality (Hello Fresh was the company), but I've heard MUCH better things about Blue Apron. It was a nice way to get back into cooking. - pixierae
There's no shame in keeping it super-duper simple on nights when you just can't deal. Nothing wrong with store-bought hummus in toasted pita pockets with some lettuce and tomato tucked in. Or a quesadilla with avocado slices. Or one of those tortillas soups that use shredded supermarket rotisserie chicken and a bunch of pantry staples. - citygirlsf
A mix of homemade and pre-made is helpful to get back on your feet - a store roast chicken and a homemade side, stuff like that. - amym1
4. Double or triple everything you make.
This is so simple: whatever recipe you have time to make, just automatically double or triple and then freeze the leftovers to save yourself time later on.
My family is just myself, my husband and baby, and most recipes are for at least 4 people - we always have leftovers, which go into the fridge for lunch or the freezer for a dinner when I can't get my act together. I work a couple of these "freezer meals" into my weekly meal plan. I have also learned to freeze leftover soup in single serving sizes. It defrosts faster, and with a piece of toast, I count it as a complete meal. - SP204
If you have thirty minutes to make a recipe, just double it, and survive on leftovers for a few days. Buy fruit that is already cut if you need to save yourself the effort. Spend your time where you feel you need to and want to at this stage. - hedge
5. Most of all, go easy on yourself.
This is such a transitional time, so the most important thing is to let go of the guilt and just do the best you can. I really appreciated hearing so many readers echo this sentiment! So true.
Give yourself a pass! If cooking feels like a weight now, stock your pantry with easy to eat stuff and remember it's early days and things will be different in a month or even a week. - Emperor's Crumbs
Delegate. Maybe your husband will do the shopping, or maybe sign up for Fresh Direct or one of those menu/ meal services. No guilt, just survive. - heja
With my second child, I mastered what I called C-plus cuisine. It isn't awesome food, but it's not takeout from Burger King, either, and everyone is fed, which is all that matters. Quintessential C-plus cuisine can be prepared with one hand, and thus requires no knife work. A whole-wheat tortilla smeared with refried beans and pre-sliced deli cheddar, then microwaved, is hardly the platonic ideal of a quesadilla, but when you're breastfeeding, ravenous and being called upon for unending care, a stack of these will do the trick. - pragmaticinSLC
A number of readers recommended Debbie Koenig's cookbook Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals, and Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents ($12 on Amazon). Here's what they said about it:
This is an awesome cookbook with recipes in the format of "first " "second " "right before you ", as well as big batches, hand held foods, etc. It is my go to book when I feel the need to cook a new recipe from scratch. - pixierae
Two of the best cookbooks that helped me get back in the kitchen were Debbie Koenig's Parents Need to Eat Too and Tyler Florence's Start Fresh. Koenig's book is great in that its chapters are divided into recipes dedicated to specific types of cooking/meals. For example, naptime cooking, one-handed meals, recipes for people who don't know how to cook, batch cooking, etc. The naptime cooking chapter was particularly helpful to me. - Plaidpants
Thanks again for all the great advice!