Written by Cheryl of Backseat Gourmet
Whether your single status is essentially permanent or only for the weekend, it is hard to be parenting solo. I’ve been on my own, more or less for the last two months. I know that I’m not alone in my situation. Plenty of us have partners that travel for work or work out of town entirely, are single by choice or circumstances, or are what my sister-in-law refers to as a Mingle (a married single parent).
Aside from the need for a break every now and then, I find the most difficult part of being alone with my girls is the food. From grocery shopping with a 2 and 4 year old to finding the motivation to cook a nice meal. All of it can be enough to make me want to throw some grilled cheese and ketchup on the table and call it a day. But I ran out of bread.
As parents we pick our battles. While I always insist on manners and certain dinnertime rules, I find myself reaching for that bag of bread more than normal when I’m on my own. Some days I can’t face the battle over whether we are having stew again. I’m learning, however, that its okay to do that.
Tips for the Single Parent as Cook
Here are some tips, gathered from my own experience as well as from family and friends in a variety of single parenting situations, to help you manage feeding and cooking your kids solo.
All moms agree this is one of the most important things. Knowing ahead of time what you want to cook and when helps with both grocery shopping and the daily effort to get dinner on the table. Check out our great tips on meal planning here and here.
Set the Table
We always sit down at the dinner table, even on rough days. We maintain all the normal dinnertime rituals, light candles, and bring out the napkins. The conversations are different, but parenting solo doesn’t mean you sacrifice the lessons and comfort of family dinner.
On the days when you get a chance to hunker down in the kitchen, always make more than you and your kids can eat. Double recipes, pick ones that serve 6-8, or just make a giant pot of chili. Freeze the extras to have meals on hand for days when cooking isn’t a desirable option.
Embrace the Slow Cooker
Put dinner in the slow cooker in the morning before you leave for work and return to dinner. That leaves time for homework, sports, music, and stories. Better yet, make more than you need and freeze the extras.
Know your kids’ favorite foods and use them to your advantage. Serve them on days when everyone is struggling. It will perk up your kids and ensure a smoother dinnertime ritual for all.
Permission Not to Cook
It’s okay to not want to cook a perfect little dinner with a roast chicken, side of potatoes, veggies, and a salad every single night. Single or not, that is a challenge not always met. Remember that it is okay not to cook, but before you run to the restaurant, check-out these no-cook options.
I know I am incredibly lucky to have kids that still nap and nap well. I’ve mastered the art of time management in that nap too. Work, laundry, dishes, and dinner are often all taken care of in the same nap. I may not get dinner done, but I try to get all the prep work and take stock to avoid realizing at 5:30 that I’m missing something halfway through cooking.
If your kids are school-aged and you are home, start thinking about dinner before they get home. Work outside the home? As exhausted as you probably are at the end of the day, take 5 minutes after kids’ bedtime to do the same thing.
Do not underestimate the value of those cute little bowls of premeasured and prepped ingredients referred to as mise en place. It makes getting dinner together a lot easier, especially when you have a small window of time. Try chopping a whole bunch of onions or garlic one day and keep in the fridge for cooking, wash your vegetables and store them wrapped in paper towels, make sure you defrost your meat the night before, and read any new recipes a few times before you start. And remember, take advantage of naps.
Bring Them in With You
The best thing you can do to help your child embrace food is to bring them into the kitchen with you. Beyond that, it is also an activity you and your kids can do together instead of the kitchen being a bastion reserved only for the parents. We are all looking for more ways to spend time together as a family.
The Electric Company Play
Confession: I let my kids watch TV. With a PVR, however, I keep some of their favorite shows on tap to pull out when I need 20 minutes to put dinner on the table without a 2 year old climbing the counters. Not a TV house? Try setting aside a certain game or activity that your kids love and can happily engage in independently. Hint: It’s probably not homework.
Tap the Community
In our little preschool alone there is one permanent single mom and a few whose partners travel. We are having dinnertime playdates to share the dinner rush. The kids are excited and we moms are happy to have adult company, as well as an extra hand to make and share dinner.
More Than Take-Out
Then there are the days when even making a grilled cheese sandwich is too much to face. I take advantage of the local folks who can cook for me. Check out your farmers’ market for take-home freezer options like pies, pastas, whole meals, soups, and sauces. An arsenal of these in your freezer is much better than what you get in the freezer aisle of the grocery store.
Know Your Pantry
Have a few recipes up your sleeve with ingredients you know you will always have in your pantry or fridge. An almost effortless meal from your own pantry reduces the calls for pizza delivery.
All photos by Cheryl
This crustless quiche one of our family’s favourite pantry staples. The flavor additions vary depending on what’s in the house. Some combinations in steady rotation are broccoli and cheese, chicken and mushroom, or the one pictured above, slow roasted tomatoes with feta and oregano.
This crustless quiche whips together in less than 10 minutes, leaving you the baking time to tackle homework. It will be puffy when you take it out of the oven, but will settle into a rich, savory baked custard.
Recipe: Crustless Quiche
Serves 6-8 as a main course
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 8 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- Salt and Pepper
- Flavor combination of choice
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Butter a deep dish pie plate. Toss the bread crumbs in the plate and roll around to cover the sides. Pat in any errant crumbs.
3. Crack the eggs into a large bowl. Whisk well. Add the milk. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir in any flavorings you are adding. Carefully pour into the prepared pan.
4. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is puffy and golden. Let cool 5 minutes before you serve.
What are your favorite meals from the pantry?