The one thing you must know as a parent who doesn’t enjoy cooking

… and if your finances don’t — or won’t — stretch to hiring a cook (I wish, that would make my life so much more relaxing), the key tip to stop wasting fresh produce* is to make a meal plan. No, it’s not spontaneous, I’ve had friends smirk because it’s so boring, but as they like to cook, they have no idea how much of a chore food preparation can be for the unwilling.

meal-planning

Here are the things I do to use up what we’ve got in the food cupboard, refrigerator, and freezer:

  1. Take a look in your freezer. Anything been in there a while that needs to be used? We’ve been known to have kept some pizza bases — on reduced from the supermarket — for several months before actually getting around to having a pizza night. But for this real-life example, we have loads of chicken breast and a bag of Foochow fishballs (that I’ve bought).
  2. The next step is to look in your food cupboard or pantry. We already have cashew nuts (chicken and cashew nuts, a new recipe I’m going to try) and ba kueh noodles (ba kueh with fishballs).
  3. One of my other food cupboard staples is anchovies. The Child loves anything involving pasta (or rice, or noodles), and as one of the easy meals I tend to fall back on — around once a month — is pasta puttanesca, I’ve always got black olives and capers in the fridge, too.
  4. I’m trying to make sure we have two servings of fish a week, so we’re also going to have oil-poached fish with rice salad (using those cashews again).
  5. The other fall back that’s frequently used in this household is fried rice, which is used to mop up whatever ingredients are sitting in the fridge, sad and lonely. Our fridge is also chock-full of sauces and condiments, so it never tastes exactly the same. Another good stand-by is soup (invest in a stick blender if you don’t already have some sort of blender, it hides many sins — by that I mean re-using frozen, cooked vegetables, not crime scene evidence).
  6. Our final meal in the plan is something The Husband likes, slow cooker chicken burrito bowls.
  7. I like to take a night off cooking (I’d like to take forever off cooking, but needs must), so one night a week we buy a takeaway.
  8. So for this week, we’ve had to buy fish fillets, avocado, onion, spring onions, black beans and brown rice. Obviously, we buy fresh fruit and vegetables for juicing as well, as well as snacks, milk, that sort of thing.

Bonus tip: keep leftovers if you’ve made some rather good fried rice. Cool it quickly, then stick it in the freezer. You can pop it into the fridge to defrost at a later date and steam to re-heat.

It’s actually taken me months to figure this process out. I use a table in a word processing document to plan our meals, which also includes a table of meals that are ‘in rotation’, i.e. things we’ve cooked that I’d willingly cook (and eat) again.

Caveat: I have no idea if this actually saves us much money when grocery shopping, but it eliminates the chances of us going out for dinner or buying takeaway more than we really should. By now, however, we have a pretty well-stocked food cupboard in terms of nuts and seeds, tinned and jarred ingredients, and as previously mentioned, sauces.

* This is no guarantee that you won’t be wasting cooked food because your toddler has decided to play with it instead of putting said food into their gob. I also don’t like some recipes I try, and then I can’t eat it.

Bathtime for toys

bathtime for toys

Suggest that some of your child’s favourite plastic toys could do with a bath. (This also works as an inducement to head home when you want to but your toddler doesn’t.) Use a sink, bowl, whatever works for your domestic setup. The Child stood on a stool in our ensuite. She also had a plastic apron on, but we only have one because it was a present. Run some warm water, put the plug in the plughole, squirt some washing-up liquid into the sink / bowl. Let the kid go nuts. Yes, the bathroom will get wet and soapy, but then all you have to do is wipe it down and your toddler has now helped to clean the bathroom! BONUS.

Leaving the bathmat on the floor maybe wasn’t so smart, though.

When biscuits and toddlers meet it is never neat

Decorating biscuits (and eating most of said biscuits) just before Christmas was something The Child most enjoyed. The OCD part of me was not very thrilled with the lack of symmetry in her style of decoration.

decorating biscuits

Never mind. I thought I might get her involved in baking biscuits to decorate*. I have baked a few times in the last two years, but it isn’t exactly something I do for fun. She was up for it, until it actually came time to mix the ingredients. But she was completely enthusiastic about cutting out the shapes with her star- and teddy-shaped cookie cutters.

Me: It’s not play dough. It’s real dough. We’ll have to roll it out again.

(One minute passes.)

Me: I told you, it’s real dough. We need to roll it out again.

Then she lost interest after the biscuits went into the oven. After they came out of the oven, however…

The Child: I want a biscuit. I want a biscuit.

* The dastardly plan is to slowly get her involved in preparing food with me, so she doesn’t behave as though my asking her to try new foods is a suggestion to cut off her ear.

Monoprinting, or messy play with a brayer and cotton buds

Monoprints

There is a brilliant painting idea over at Tinkerlab — cookie sheet monoprints. The Child is generally enthusiastic to try anything paint-related, so on a quiet day at home, I set up our:

  • shower-curtain-slash-tablecloth (a cheapie that I also use as floor mat)
  • shallow baking tray
  • washable poster paint (just generic ones from Sainsbury’s and The Works)
  • brayer
  • cotton buds

The Child also chose which full bib she was going to wear, then into the high chair she went.

P1212012
It started out so well…

She chose some colours, including a couple I had to mix, and I showed her how to use the brayer to spread the paint around. I took Tinkerlab’s cue and let her get on with it, only helping her press paper onto the tray to make a print.

P1212049
And this is how it always ends

And the above picture shows why I didn’t keep nor photograph any of the prints The Child made. She really enjoyed the experience, so we’ll definitely do this again, but with fewer colours on offer this time, so we can get some prints that are a little more colourful — that grey did not look good in real life, and I love the colour grey.

Hypothesis: you will eat your greens… if they’re liquid

Pre-experiment observations:
At first glance, making my own juice doesn’t actually sound like something a lazy parent like myself would do. However. It’s a lot easier to persuade The Child to try some suspiciously-green-but-kind-of-fruity-tasting juice than expecting her to munch on a stick of celery.

(At the moment, she will eat broccoli, mushrooms, carrot, cucumber, sweetcorn, and vegetable soups, all with varying levels of I’m just humouring you, Mother.)

Green juice
Kale, celery, clementine, Braeburn apple, honey (and a touch of water)

Method:
If you already have a juicer, stop reading now, because you are clearly not that lazy a person and will clean it. We have a blender. Not a fancy Vitamix, but a Kenwood that I really got for the food processor. All the literature says to add the liquid, then soft fruit and veg, then the firmer stuff (everything should be preferably organic, all well-washed). Blend at high speed until well… blended (or pulse, I’m not yet sure which is better). If you’re into the added goodness of fibre, pour a mug or glassful straightaway and enjoy. Otherwise, strain through a sieve into a jug or mug / glass. Tell your kid it’s juice. You are not lying, it’s just not a Fruit Shoot (or in Scotland, juice also means a fizzy drink, I still can’t get over that).

Giving your kid green juice does not replace eating fruit and vegetables (unless you think pooping is for the weak). It’s an additional hit of vitamins and minerals with a sneaky side of raw edible plant flavour to which your annoyingly temperamental two-year old toddler would ordinarily react as though she’s encountered a swarm of killer bees. And it’s probably a good afternoon snack. It’s better than a doughnut, anyway.

Results:
Well, The Child drank the clementine-raw-broccoli-raw-celery-grapes-honey concoction, and didn’t do her usual ‘YUCK’ face with complementary — but not very convincing — sound effects. She did demand a piece of chocolate halfway through, which we countered with the deal of her finishing her juice first, so I’d say initial empirical results are decidedly mixed.

Further experimentation required:
I am dying to see what she does about kale or spinach. And carrot-apple. But not too often, otherwise she’ll catch on. The Husband successfully used a form of reverse psychology this time (“You’re not going to drink it? Okay, I will… oh, you want it now?”), I might need to be more manipulative in future (along the lines of, “This drink is not for you…”).

Notes:
This is most suited to adults and toddlers who are already eating a good amount of solid food. If you are weaning your baby, go to town introducing them to chunks of fresh vegetables and fruit, this is more than likely the only stage in their childhood where they will try the stuff with relish. (Except for The Child’s best mate, that kid likes all sorts of raw vegetables.)

I do not advocate vegan, juice, raw food, nor paleo diets. I think the most important thing is to be varied in what we eat and drink (plus I love a steak). Although in my current state of incubating a new parasite, all I’m interested in shoving in my mouth are KFC’s Hot Wings and hot and sour flavour instant vermicelli soup.