Preparing meals for the family for the whole week can be a struggle some times. When it was only my husband and I, we could be more flexible and between the cooking, the take away, and the catering at work some days, we managed to survive. With a toddler, it all changes. With two toddlers (or a toddler and a newborn) it changes even more.
Should I keep both my kids in the same evening schedule despite of their age difference? Where do I find the time to cook dinner? And to prepare meals for the week? By the time the kids are sleeping and I can actually sit down and have dinner I am starving.
Here are some examples of evening routines and ideas for cooking and meal prep.
1 toddler, 1 newborn, different schedule
- 5-5.30pm: Parent#1 arrives from work and picks up toddler from school (newborn was fed around 4pm for the last time)
- 6pm: Parent #1 prepares dinner for toddler
- 6.15pm: Toddler eats by herself while Parent #1 prepares dinner for parents and meal for toddler for next day
- 7pm: Parent #2 arrives from work. One parent helps toddler finish dinner / clean up while the other feeds newborn
- 7.30pm: Parents have dinner while toddler plays, all together in kitchen
- 8.00pm: One parent gives toddler a bath while the other puts newborn down to sleep
- 8.30pm: Parents kiss toddler good night
- 8.35pm: Parents enjoy some couple time while kids are sleeping
- Right before going to bed: one parent feeds the newborn and the other puts her down to sleep
2 toddlers, same schedule, cooking at home, parents get home early
- 5-5.30pm: Parent#1 arrives from work and picks up kids from school
- 6pm: Parent #1 prepares dinner and meals for next day for everyone while kids play
- 6.30pm: Parent #2 gets home, we all have dinner together
- 7.30pm: one parent takes care of bath and getting ready for bed, while the other picks up the dishes
- 8-8.15pm: Kids are sleeping by that time
- Parents get to enjoy some couple time
2 toddlers, same schedule, cooking at home, parents get home late, babysitter (3h / day)
- 5-5.30pm: babysitter picks up kids from school
- 6pm: babysitter prepares dinner (for everyone) and meals for next day for the kids
- 6.30pm: kids have dinner
- 7.30pm: one or both parents are home by then; sitter picks up the dishes and finishes prepping meal for next day while parent takes care of bath and getting ready for bed
- 8-8.15pm: Kids are sleeping by that time; sitter leaves
- Parents have dinner and get to enjoy some couple time
In the examples provided, there’s no more than 15-30 min per day allocated for cooking and meal preparation. How’s that possible? For starters, get a slow cooker and / or an InstaPot and let them do 90% of the cooking for you. Another idea is to spend 3-4 hours cooking together during the weekend: it’s a fun activity for kids (it will obviously depend on their age) and it will save you some time during the week. Finally, meals don’t have to be super elaborated to be healthy, we do 2-4 meals per week which are basically leftovers or multiple types of snacks together in one tupperware. e.g. baby carrots, one egg, apple slices; fish sticks or chicken nuggets (home made) and half avocado; quesadilla (flour tortilla with chicken or deli + cheese done in the grill) + strawberries; cheese or veggies omelette with fruit. For adults, salads are a good option since you can make them different every day and they don’t take that long to prepare.
When your toddler wants to cook with you but “you don’t have time”
I love it when my child wants to cook with me… but I don’t usually have time for it during the week. What do you do then?
We got her this adjustable step stool so she can reach over the kitchen island. That was a great investment because before that she’d try to climb up our legs, get frustrated, pull my pants, and we’d all end up crying.
I try to keep her engaged by describing what I’m doing and asking her questions even if she’s not actually doing anything. And finally, when this takes too long or is not working… I gave her snacks: usually cheese or fruit, or something which is going to be part of her dinner anyway.
When your kids have different schedules
For the parents’ mental health… stick to one and only one bedtime for all of your kids. For us, the only exception to this would be when you have a toddler and a newborn, since the newborn could be on on-demand feedings. Personally, we’re absolutely planning on merging schedules when our newborn starts eating solids. It’s either that or going crazy!!
No matter how difficult it seems, don’t despair! One way or another, it’s possible to have a full time job, to enjoy some family time, and to never miss a meal.