Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cooking When You Have Young Kids

What do you cook and how do you cook it when you have little kids? Especially when you have to cook when your husband isn't available to help watch the kids?

My husband has night school in the evenings for his MBA and he is also serving in the Young Men's in our ward (which means that he has to go to youth activities once a week). On the nights my husband is gone in the evening, I have to have dinner ready early--which means I need to cook it before he even gets home from work. I'm sure my sister faces the same issue since her husband is completing his medical residency right now.

Cooking dinner without someone to watch the kids poses some challenges because I have a very active two-year-old and a 2 1/2 month old--both of whom require a lot of time and attention. That doesn't leave me with very much "free" time to prepare dinner.

So, I have to get creative. I have to do as much dinner preparation as possible while my kids are asleep. That means that some of my dinner preparations take place in the evening after everyone goes to bed or in the morning before everyone wakes up (ex. slow cooker meals), or during their afternoon naps (ex. casseroles). And as for preparing dinner in the evening, I have to keep it around 20-30 minutes. If my husband is home to watch the kids, I can take a little more time than that. But if I'm on my own, 30 minutes is the limit.

So, I thought I'd share some recipes that are very quick and easy to prepare and that allow you to still get a great meal on the table in a short amount of time. We've already got a lot of slow cooker and casserole recipes on our blog, so I thought I'd share some recipes with different types of preparation. This should help you get creative on how you can prepare different kinds of meals without taking time away from your kids.

Because even though I love cooking, it's much more important for me to spend time with my boys. I adore cooking but I love being with my boys more. These kinds of recipes allow me to provide for my family's physical needs, but still be available for them in other ways.

First, the microwave is sometimes an underutilized tool in cooking. So, I'm sharing a recipe for microwaved fish.

Second, marinating meat and then broiling it is a great way to get flavor but save time. So, I'm sharing a great recipe for steak.

Third, it's so easy to get dinner prepared during the day (afternoon nap time) and then just throw it in the oven 30-45 minutes before dinner time. So, I'm sharing a great pork recipe that follows that method of preparation.

Finally, you know me and pasta. I can't get enough of it. There are a great deal of pasta recipes that you can prepare in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. So, I'm sharing an easy pasta recipe.

I hope these dinners help to make your evenings less hectic yet still provide for nutritious and satisfying meals!

Lemon-Horseradish Sole

Serves 4


3 tbsp butter, softened
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (preferably Italian parsley)
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp prepared white horseradish
3/4 tsp Dijon mustard
4 sole fillets (6 ounces each)
Coarse salt
Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)


In a small bowl, stir together butter, parsley, lemon zest and juice, horseradish, and mustard.

Season both sides of fillets with salt; lay, flat side up, on a clean work surface. Reserve 2 tsp butter mixture; dividing evenly, spread remaining butter mixture on top of fillets. Fold fillets in half crosswise, enclosing butter mixture.

Place folded fillets in a 9 inch microwave-safe dish with a tight-fitting lid. Top with reserved butter mixture, dividing evenly. Cover; microwave on high until fish is just cooked through, about 5 minutes.

To serve, place fillets on plates, and spoon juices from dish over fillets; garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.

Nutrition information: 235 calories, 10.7 g fat, 32.3 g protein; 1 g carbohydrates; 0.3 g fiber.

Source: Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe.

Notes: This recipe works for all types of white fish. I frequently make it with tilapia. Fresh or frozen fish works well (as long as it is a high quality brand of frozen fish).

Cooking the fish in a microwave in a covered container allows the fish to be steamed by the butter mixture. It creates a flaky, yet tender and moist fish.

Side Dish: Make this into a rounded meal by pairing it with rice (quick and easy Rice-a-Roni works well and it is very inexpensive) or instant mashed potatoes (I like the Idahoan brand because all you do is add boiling water--so quick and easy). You can also add some frozen or canned veggies and some easy rolls or biscuits. I made some Bisquick drop biscuits.

With all of those side dishes, it took less than 30 minutes to make everything for dinner.

London Broil


1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
4 lbs London Broil or Flank Steak


In a small bowl, mix together garlic, salt, soy sauce, ketchup, vegetable oil, black pepper, and oregano.

Score both sides of the meat, diamond cut, about 1/8 inch deep. Rub garlic mixture into both sides of the meat. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil, and refrigerate for 5-6 hours, or overnight. Flip meat every few hours.

Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil grate.

Place meat on the prepared grill (or broil as shown in the notes below). Cook for 3-7 minutes per side, or to desired doneness.

Source:, submitted by Jill.

Notes: I made this recipe because my husband has been doing the grocery shopping for me since I had my baby. Bless his heart because he does a great job, but he often comes back with items that are either slightly or completely different than what I asked for. Then, I have to get creative to use the unexpected ingredients. I asked him to pick up two flank steaks for a beef and broccoli stir fry recipe (already featured on this site in the blog post about broccoli). He accidentally got a London Broil cut of beef instead. I was pretty sure that it wouldn't work for the stir fry, so I found this recipe to use. I wasn't a huge fan of the London Broil cut because it was pretty chewy (even though I cooked it medium-rare). Flank steak would be much more tender. But the marinade was AWESOME. It was so flavorful. In fact, I really didn't have high hopes for this recipe, so I didn't take any pictures. But I would definitely make it again and again. It was easy and yummy.

Side Dish: I paired the steak with some red potatoes that I diced about 1/2 inch thick. I heated about 1/4 cup oil to a pan and browned the potatoes until they were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside (about 20 minutes). I then added a yellow bell pepper cut into bite-size pieces. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and garlic salt to taste. Finally, I added a splash of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. It turned out really yummy. I cut the potatoes and marinated the steak during my sons' nap time. When it came time to fix dinner, I popped the steak in the oven (see next paragraph) and cooked the potatoes.

One of the things I've discovered is that any recipe that calls to be grilled can be broiled on high if a grill isn't handy. So, I broiled the steak. The London broil was pretty thick, so it took about 10 minutes per side. If I had used flank steak, it would have only taken about 7 minutes per side. Just cook it less per side if you like it more pink and more per side if you prefer a more well-done steak. Mine turned out to be medium to medium-rare (the ends of the steak aren't as thick, so they got cooked more. The ends were medium and the middle was medium-rare).

The whole dinner took about 30 minutes to make.

Apricot-Glazed Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4


2 pork tenderloins (about 12 ounces each), trimmed of excess fat
1 tbsp olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 jar (10-12 ounces) apricot jam, (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard


Heat broiler; set rack 4 inches from heat. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Rub pork with oil; season with salt and pepper. broil 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, whisk together jam and mustard. Cook over medium heat until jam melts, 3-4 minutes; remove from heat. Transfer half to a small bowl for brushing. Cover pan to keep remaining sauce warm.

Remove pork from broiler; brush with reserved sauce. Continue broiling until pork is blackened in spots and registers 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 5-10 minutes more.

Cover pork loosely with foil; let rest 5 minutes before slicing. Serve drizzled with warm sauce.

Source: Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe. You can find it here.

Notes: I served this with the roasted asparagus that can be found in the post about asparagus. I prepared the asparagus and made the sauce for the pork during my sons' nap. I then broiled the pork. I have always found that (at least to my tastes), it takes longer to cook pork tenderloin than most of the recipes call for--at least when it is cooked in the oven. We have two ovens, so I roasted the asparagus in one and broiled the pork in another. I broiled the pork for 15 minutes and then sliced it. At that point, the inside of the pork was still very, very pink (almost raw). So, I placed the pork slices on the pan and broiled it for a few more minutes per side.

You could even slice the pork and marinate it in the sauce beforehand and then broil the sliced pork rather than the whole tenderloin. Pork tenderloin is such a moist and tender cut of meat that this preparation wouldn't compromise the quality of the finished product. It wouldn't be dry--it would still be moist and tender. Besides, it would cut down on the cooking time.

The asparagus cooks quickly too. So, I would say that if you sliced the pork prior to broiling it, the whole dinner would take between 15-25 minutes to prepare.

Linguine Arrabbiata

"Arrabbiata" means "angry." This is a reference to the red-pepper flakes which add a lot of kick to this pasta!

Serves 4


Coarse salt
2 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4 tsp red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving (optional)
1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes in juice, cut into chunks
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
1 pound linguine
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add garlic and red-pepper flakes; cook until garlic is fragrant and beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, and wine/chicken broth. Simmer over medium, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 8-10 minutes.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water 2 minutes less than package instructions for al dente. Drain; add pasta to skillet. Cook, stirring, until pasta is tender, about 2 minutes. Season with salt. Serve, if desired, with Parmesan and red-pepper flakes.

Source: Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe (I sure like these! Can you tell?)

Notes: I didn't use the white wine/chicken broth. I felt that there was enough liquid already. I also added a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes because I like my sauce chunky with a lot of tomatoes. Add red-pepper flakes to your taste. If you like things spicy (which I do), I would add the full 3/4 tsp that the recipe calls for. If not, reduce the amount or add the red-pepper flakes gradually and check the sauce until it is to your taste.

This is such a fast meal. It literally only takes as long as it takes to boil water and cook pasta. So, this dinner can be done in 15-20 minutes.

I served mine with some easy foccacia bread made from frozen Rhodes Dough rolls. I thawed the rolls and let them rise in a plastic ziploc bag throughout the day. By dinner time, I simply stretched out the dough, seasoned it and cooked it while I made the pasta. The bread and pasta were done at the same time.


  1. I need to pull out more of my easy ones. Getting home from work means 30 minute max dinner preparation or the whole evening is shot waiting for dinner.

    These look good.

  2. Yum! Your pictures look good too! Its crazy how much having a little one impacts your life. Dinner prep is a lot more challenging now.

    I'm going to do a sequel blog if Thomas ever lets me have 20 free minutes!