Cooking healthfully and from scratch can fill up as many hours in a day as you choose to let it, and so it is important to not let it rule your family. What is the point of providing your family what is best for their bodies if every other area of their lives suffer as a result?
For example, I began to notice little (and sometimes big) discipline problems pop up among my children as I spent more time in the kitchen. With so many things going on in this room, I wasn’t able to just walk away to spend time disciplining or playing.
So, I began to rack my brain for a better way. I realized what a disservice I was actually doing. I took a break for a few days with a combination of super-easy, never-fail recipes and crockpot cooking to reevaluate my priorities. I spent more time reading to, playing, and just being with my kids. I began to notice that when I gave them my complete, undivided attention for even just 20 minutes at a time, everything ran more smoothly. I was able to deal with discipline problems immediately as they popped up. (As an added bonus, this dramatically cut down on overall discipline issues because the kids began to realize that reprimands would be swift and sure, and acting up just became not worth the effort anymore.)
The kids were actually happy to have time to play on their own after a healthy dose of mama-time. I realized for every minute we spent together, they were content on their own for another minute. I could go do something for at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted time. Slowly, ever so slowly, I began to experiment with these “stolen moments” of time. I could stealthily sneak away for 15 minutes without being missed.
The toddlers would happily continue their play, the 8 year old would peacefully continue her homeschool work on her own, and the baby would bounce joyfully in her excersaucer. There is a surprising amount that can be accomplished in 15 minutes. Don’t believe me? Start doing something, anything, and then set a timer for 15 minutes and see how much you’ve done in that time. In 15 minutes you can boil a pot of noodles and dice some veggies. You can brown and drain a pound of ground beef. You can peel and chop a few pounds of potatoes. The list goes on and on.
Now, you are beginning to see how taking advantage of small, stolen moments in my kitchen throughout the day has dramatically changed my life as the family COO. Add in an uninterrupted 60-90 minutes of nap time, and you can see that scratch cooking is entirely doable. I don’t even need (or want) to spend naptime in the kitchen everyday. Sometimes I take a nap myself (although usually only when I’m pregnant), or spend some one-on-one time with Isabelle, or any of 100 other things.
Usually, two days a week of well planned and prepared for kitchen prep-work time gives me a huge jump on all the other days. I like to bake cookies and breads during this time also. It is very cost and time-efficient if I have managed to use a stolen moment or two during the morning to mix together some bread dough that has been rising and is now ready to be baked along with a fresh batch of cookies. (Combining oven jobs is always a good idea when possible. I’m still struggling with this because there are some days when it seems as if my oven is turned on and off at least 4 separate times throughout the day.)
Similarly, I also like to make at least 2 different batches of cookie dough at a time and divide each batch into halves or thirds. I will bake one portion at that time and freeze the remaining 3 – 5 portions. This allows us to have fresh-baked cookies as soon as the last batch is gone, and it can be different than the last without any more effort.
This system has worked so well in our home and I have found it to be very adaptable and versatile. When I first wrote this, the youngest 3 of our 4 kids had a daily nap time. Now, at 3and 4, Alex and Olivia no longer nap. Surprisingly, I still do not struggle to find 60-90 minute chunks of time on an almost daily basis to be working in the kitchen while Gracie naps. Sometimes this means that they sit in front of the TV and watch Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go. Other times it means that they play at their little table with play-doh or crayons and coloring books. And still other times it means they are in the kitchen with me, sitting on the counter or the floor happily playing with their own kitchen tools, some water, and a clump or two of bread dough.
Because it is my system, I control how it works for me and not the other way around.