MFC’s 10 Rules for Stress Free Cooking (and eating)

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I am well aware that not everyone finds cooking and baking as relaxing as I do. And even though I went to school to study it, spend free time reading cookbooks and think endlessly about new things to make – I get stressed out about what to make at times. And about what the kids are eating – and not eating.

So here are 10 rules I have implemented to ensure we have a fun and healthy relationship with eating and cooking.

1. Get everyone involved. Even my 2 yr old helps out. Some examples:

  • Keep healthy low sugar cereals on a low shelf that they kids can retrieve in the mornings along with bowls. Have them set the table and help them pour cereal into their bowls.
  • Assemble and mix batters.

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  • Discuss the week’s dinner plans with them and let them have a kids choice night where they decide what the family will eat.

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  • Have them set and clear the table.

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  • Let them butter their bread and even make their sandwiches – may not be pretty but helps them develop a multitude of skills.

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2. Don’t have foods in the house you don’t want them to have.

  • Pretty straightforward. My kids used to be obsessed with cereal bars. I just didn’t feel good about having it be a core item of their diet- once in a while was fine but it was getting out of control. Then some inner voice nudged me and reminded me I was in charge and to simply stop buying them. Rode out a few days of sporadic whining for them and then it was forgotten.
  • Same for cookies and sweets – if I buy ice cream for dessert I purchased a pint of some local, small batch ice cream. Not the gigantic gallons. Likewise for cookies – if we have purchased cookies in the house we all mindlessly nibble at them. Instead I will have us make 10 minute brown butter chocolate chip cookies – it is an activity and dessert all in one!

3. Meal plan – even if it is just the morning of.

  • There are many wonderful meal planning apps/calenders/ideas out there. I have a large calendar on my fridge that I will make little notes on regarding what I want to make.
  • This is my system – I designated a category for each day so I have a general idea what to think towards in terms of dinner. Monday is meatless monday, Tuesday is international food (i.e. mexican/italian), Wednesday is breakfast for dinner or leftovers, Thursday is soup/sandwich, Friday is pizza, Saturday is kids choice (we almost always have date night and eat dinner out) and Sunday is casserole or roasted chicken/meat.
  • And if you find one meal is always more stressful then another because of tired kids or mommies – keep that in mind and try to make sure the other meals are well balanced.  

4. Follow Ellyn Satter Division of Responsibility for feeding little ones.  Read about it in this post.

5. Have a handful of back up meals that you can bust out in a few minutes – omelets, organic chicken patties in the freezer, a good organic tomato sauce and whole wheat pasta, a great grilled cheese – so if the day has gone to hell and you have no desire to cook what was planned, you have something to fall back on.

6. Smart grocery shopping.

  • Goes with number 5 – grab some organic, healthy convenience foods so you are not stressed out and starting from scratch on an insane day. Just today I purchased Applegate Farms chicken patties and organic tater tots. Pure kid food, but I try to choose the best version of them – antibiotic free chicken, organic potatoes in the tots, organic applesauce – stuff like that.
  • When possible, follow the EWG Dirty Dozen, Clean Fifteen shopping guide.
  • Shop farmers market – better produce and meat along with cheaper prices.
  • Join a CSA.
  • Look for farms where you can directly purchase meat from well cared for animals – for example, Flying Pigs Farm is at our Farmers Markets, but if they were not, I would be purchasing online.
  • Shop small and often if it is feasible to cut down on waste.

7. Batch cook basics on the weekend even if you are not sure what the meals will be. Just set aside 1 hour – and either involve everyone or use it as a chance for some alone/quiet time for yourself. Put music on and have fun. This is what I usually make:

  • Roast vegetables (broccoli/cauliflower/carrots/sweet potatoes).
  • Clean and prep salad greens as needed (wrapped in a paper towel and into a ziploc bag left open a bit).
  • Make a dip for veggies.
  • Make a big batch of something for weekday breakfast – waffles/pancakes that you toss in freezer, granola, fruit salad, muffins.
  • Make a grain – rice/whole wheat pasta/quinoa.

8. Have set times for meals and snacks. And keep snacks very minimal and leaning towards fruits and vegetables. 

9. If you are following a recipe, read through the entire thing before you even shop or start gathering the ingredients. It takes a moment to do, but can save you much frustration and time.

10. Let it go and make smoothies.

  • Can you tell we have watched a lot of Frozen around this house? But seriously, it is not only a great song but a great mentality for cooking. If you burn it or it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped – a smoothie packed with fruits-greens and yogurt is a meal all in one. Or there is always toast or cereal to the rescue! Or haul out the hummus, cheese, crackers, veggies and fruit and have a little tapas meal.
  • And of course, keep your favorite take out places on speed dial. Perhaps it is exactly what is needed.
  • Sometimes you just have to have ice cream for lunch and be ok with that.

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