One of the questions I get asked very frequently is ‘how I manage to cook with a very active child at home’. So I thought of writing this post. I am by no means a person who can give tips on this topic, but I am happy to share how I manage. If it helps anyone, I will be very happy.
I grew up watching my aayi cooking for large functions at home. She would make everything from scratch, with some help from dad and my granddad. We had very frequent power cuts, so she had to grind big quantities of coconut on manual grinder to make traditional Konkani dishes. My brother and I were very clingy kids, so I don’t know how she managed it. I have never cooked for such large gatherings. But I have started cooking for smaller gatherings these days. One of my worry was the food won’t be enough for everyone – I am okay if I have left overs that my family can eat next day, but I don’t like if my guests go hungry. I am getting better at judging the amount now.
I cook 3 meals almost everyday, but I like to eat out once a week. Our eating habits have changed after Ishaan was born – I have become more passionate about cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients, take for instance the pasta sauces, the pickles etc. I haven’t started making pastas from scratch yet, may be sometime soon!. After a recent India trip, I realized freezing food is very handy. When I have leftovers, I freeze them instead of having it the next day. This helps on those days when I come home late from Ishaan’s ‘play in the park’ for long hours or after his swimming class.
I have realized that, when a child is at home fulltime, they need full attention, most of the time. When Ishaan went to daycare, I had more time on hand, I didn’t feel so guilty about leaving him to play alone. Now he wants me all the time – to play with him, to be with him. So it becomes a little hard to spend lot of time in kitchen. But I try to have some friends home once in a while, Ishaan LOVES when we have company.
Here are some things that I follow when I have guests, all are simple ones, probably you all are already aware of most.
– Involve child in whatever I am making. I always get a stinky eye from parents when I say this!. I started involving Ishaan in cooking from a very young age. I know involving him means anything that takes 5mins would now take 30mins!. But it is a fun activity for him and he is learning a skill. I let him add chocolate chips if I am making a choc-chip cake, let him measure out sugar and so forth. I mix the chapati dough and have him try and mix it by himself. Two things come out of it, one, he has fun and second, the chapatis come out extra soft with all that mixing and punching. I cut small pieces and give them to him to make small dough balls. If I make making something with boiled eggs, he peels the eggs. The best part of all this is, he gets very excited about eating what he has helped me make, a win-win situation. If he is not helping, he sits on the counter and looks at my work. I started this after he turned around 2 and I never leave his side when he is on the counter.
– Take enough breaks. Instead of making everything at a stretch, I stay in kitchen for sometime, then I take a break and play with him for sometime. That way he is engaged in some play when I finish work.
– Take shortcuts wherever possible. I take many shortcuts to get things done faster or get things done without me standing in kitchen. Some of my favorites on the list are:
- I use my KitchenAid stand mixer to make cake batters, make chapati dough (when I am making chapatis in large quantities)
- Use mortar and pestle to make a quick ginger-garlic paste if I am using it for one dish. If I am using it for more than one dish, I make it in mixer/blender
- I use oven wherever I can. I have started making veggie patties for many get togethers, instead of shallow frying, I bake them. I serve them with simple sweet-sour chutney and sev.
- Instead of making two chutneys that go in most of the chaats, I make one combining all the ingredients in one. So I make a simple chutney with dates, chillies, tamarind, coriander leaves, mint leaves, roasted cumin. No one misses two chutneys (unless they are way too specific about them!)
– Plan ahead, it is not fun to do shopping with a child running around!. I am not good at planning ahead, there are days when I don’t know what I will be making till I step into the kitchen. I open the fridge, find out what I have and come up with a menu. This works perfectly for me, but when I have guests, this does not work very well. So I have started planning ahead. Instead of thinking the menu in myahead (which I used to do before), I write down atleast some of the main dishes I am going to make. Then I write down what I need to buy to make those. I still throw in some last minute dishes with what I have on hand, but atleast the main dishes get prepared without extra trips to grocery store!.
– Try to pick easy dishes that don’t require too much time to cook. I try to avoid making things like chapatis that take a long time. I make them if I have 4-5 people, more than that, I avoid making them. I make idlis because they are very easy.
– Multitask. Like when potatoes or daal is cooking on the stove, start chopping. I do these in right order so that I am not standing near the stove waiting when something is getting done.
– Cook as much as possible when child is sleeping. Ishaan used to sleep by 8 when he was younger. So after he slept, I would cook some dishes. I do not like staying up late cooking, so I am out of kitchen by 9-9:30. I wake up atleast one hour before he wakes up. I get so much done. I use this time very effectively.
– Make the preparations ahead. Although I chop the veggies when I cook every day, I like to chop veggies ahead when I have company. (I have tried chopping veggies and saving them on weekends for weekday dinners, but it never works for me, because I do not want to spend whole weekend standing in kitchen).
– Use dishwasher. I can load a dishwasher with a sink full of utensils in less than 5 mins, but if I am washing them by hand, it takes min 20mins. So even if I have to start the dishwasher multiple times a day, I like to use it. For me, it saves time. Only thing I have to be careful is to remove all the food particles from utensils. I have one nonstick tava that I use for dosas and 2 cast iron pans – one grill pan and another pan that I use for everything else, that needs hand washing. Everything else goes in dishwasher. The best part is, the little one loves to unload all the dishes after it is done!.
The biggest lesson I have learnt is – No matter how much you like to entertain people, it is good to take it cool and relax when you have a child below 2 years of age. After that age, it gets a bit easier. If you still want to have friends over at home, go for potluck. Personally, I would like to prepare everything on my own, but potluck makes it easier on you. You can make a few dishes and others can get a few, that way you don’t have to stand in kitchen for a long time.
Two menus from recent get-togethers I had at home –
1) Had 4 adults and 1 child for dinner plus 3 of us
Veggie patties with sweet-sour-spicy chutney and Sev
How I prepared these – On the previous day
– The previous day morning, marinated the chicken. Chicken gravies always taste better theÂ Â next day. So I prepared the gravy the previous day evening.
– Prepared peas kurma
– Roasted vermicelli and rava(sooji) well in advance while I was making dinner few days before. Soaked them in yogurt the previous day and added all other ingredients (except soda).
– Chopped capsicum and all other veggies needed for sambar
– Prepared sweet-sour-spicy chutney
On the day of get-together
– In a pressure cooker, kept the potatoes and veggies needed for pattis in one cooker insert and dal in the other.
– While they are cooking in pressure cooker, got everything else ready for sambar. I like to cook the vegetables on stove top with tamarind, salt and asafoetida (I used to cook them in pressure cooker before, but now I like stove top better).
– Chopped onion first, while they were cooking, chopped potatoes. Added potatoes and capsicum to onions and prepared the potato-capsicum dish.
– Prepared chapati dough.
– Once cooker is cooled, prepared the sambar, while it was cooking, prepared the patties mix, shaped into pattis and kept them aside.
– Started off the jeera rice on stove top and then moved it to rice cooker. I use a steel vessel in my rice cooker – i.e, I use it just like a pressure cooker. This helps in easy cleaning up, the steel vessel goes into dish washer after rice is done.
– While idlis were steaming, prepared chapatis.
– Just abut 20mins before my guests arrived, kept the patties in oven for baking. So they came our hot and crispy when they arrived.
2) 4 families were visiting us. 8 adults + 8 kids and 3 of us
Hummus(homemade) with multigrain crackers(from costco)
Grilled pineapple – corn salad
Veggie pattis with sweet-sour-spicy chutney and sev
How I prepared these – On the previous day
– Cooked potatoes and other veggies needed for pav bhaji and patties
– Shaped the patties and refrigerated them. Since I had to make lot of patties, I didn’t want to keep that work for day of get together.
– Prepared hummus (will post recipe soon)
– Prepared sweet-sour-spicy chutney
– Just like the previous party, I roasted the vermicelli and sooji well in advance. Then mixed all other ingredients on previous day.
– Cut the buns for pav bhaji
On the day of get-together
– Prepared pav bhaji. I used tomato paste here instead of using fresh tomatoes to save time.
– While pav bhaji was cooking, kept the dal in pressure cooker. (I could have done this the previous day, but my cooker can fit only two inserts and I had to cook a lot of veggies, so there was no space).
– Prepared paneer biryani on stove top and white rice in rice cooker.
– Prepared sambar, while it was cooking, grilled pineapple.
– Cooked corn in microwave while grilling the pineapple. Prepared the salad and refrigerated.
– Steamed idlis and in the oven kept the patties for baking.
PS: I don’t have enough serving bowls/plates/cutlery to serve food to so many people. So I use plastic/aluminum foil use and throw trays/spoons/forks and paper plates. I absolutely hate the wastage, so I am hoping to find a better solution in future.