Mom Talk: Why I Won’t Quit Cooking, Despite the Chaos In My House

Written by

Meredith Stettner

9:00 am
08/09/19

PHOTOGRAPHED BY MARIA DEL RIO

With all of the demands of new motherhood, eating a proper meal can end up shuffled down to the bottom of the priority list. But as Meredith Stettner points out in today’s Mom Talk, new mamas need food! And Meredith realized, not only did she need it, but as a passionate home cook, she really wanted to cook it, too. She walks us through the challenges and rewards of getting back into the kitchen after baby, and provides a pep talk for new mamas who may have forgotten the importance of feeding themselves during this wild time.

The midday routine with my 19-month-old follows a common flow: We race into our apartment from the park around lunchtime, always having stayed too long, to soak in every last minute of sun. My son announces, MAMA! MAHAMAAAH. 

We nurse and he conks out for a nap. 

I feel the burn of brain and body, the work of caregiving to a tiny human.

As soon as he nods off in the crib, I dash over to the fridge and pantry. Finally in possession of a few uninterrupted moments, I assemble a plate composed of things: cheese, leftover meat, avocado, crackers or toast, quick crunchy vegetables tossed in lemony olive oil, olives or nuts, a boiled egg, and any kind of spread I have hanging around. Everything gets doused with pepper flakes and crunchy salt. The “ploughman’s lunch:” a ritual I look forward to each day, a small guarantee in a role that can go in so many directions, and a stabilization of energy. 

In the parenting space, much is devoted to feeding littles. Feeding new parents, not so much. Oftentimes, the idea of preparing a meal meant for your own mouth can seem comically out of reach.

There’s the newborn stage, when your hands are mixing up meatballs and you think your infant is just fine in their cradle gazing at their mobile, when they suddenly start screaming, and you think, WHY did I start this? (I know, I should have meatballs in the freezer from all that meal prep and/or gracious grandmas, but We Ate Both Already, and while meal prep is a wonderful idea, it’s an unlikelihood most of the time for many people). Or when you’re silly enough to have put something in the oven and find yourself trapped under a sleeping baby, a breastfeeding baby, or calming a baby who wants to be held, just when the kitchen timer rings.

Then there’s the toddler stage: How do you hack cooking when your tot is running beneath your feet opening all of your cabinets, throwing your sheet pans, or taking out your blender and announcing, “duthieee” (you already made a smoothie 2 hours ago), while you’re in the middle of a very important step in flipping chicken cutlets. 

And once you’ve managed to have cooked, there’s the eating part. Like me, you might find yourself breastfeeding your child each time you are eating a meal (you’re doing what you have to do). Or you’ve taken a couple cherished bites and they wake up from a supposed deep slumber. Or, once you’re all seated around the table like a civilized family unit, they throw their food on the floor instead of eating it. 

It’s hard, so why even bother to cook, or to eat? 

For me, I know that as parents that we’ve gotta eat, that food is delicious and essential. But I’ve also come to realize that despite the challenges, the pleasantry of cooking my own meals outweighs the stress most of the time. 

I always turn to cooking to ground me. When I was a brand-new mother, it helped me find my bearings during the onset of a radically new phase of life. Still, at a moment when we are currently riding high on all the streamlining trends sweeping the mom Internet space (hi, #KonMari and #DoLess), I look back at the first 20 months of motherhood and am prompted to ask if I really needed to cook that much. 

But I like to cook because cooking feeds me. And the work I did in the kitchen before having a baby—pouring over blogs, memoirs, and cookbooks, the avoidance of convenience (I’m one of those people other folks roll their eyes at because I’d rather make something than buy it, despite living near countless take-out places)—paved the groundwork for the work I am doing in the kitchen now, with a family of my own that has to be fed. I’ve learned shortcuts. Learned what to make at home and what to buy out. Learned to stretch and use everything. Learned that the farmer’s market brings me joy, as does turning out a really good baked good, and cooking something for my family that they like. 

I learned that cooking is one of my “vital few,” one of the things, according to the streamliners, that I do, which results in more bang for my buck. 

There is a photo of me making stuffed shells last spring, my 6-month old tucked into his wrap on my chest, and another one of us eating Thanksgiving dinner, newly trio-ed, in our just-moved-into apartment, when my son was just two weeks old. He is nursing, I’m eating with one hand, and drinking a coveted glass of wine.

We weren’t leaving home, so I insisted upon cooking: turkey breast, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, a green salad, and a pumpkin tart. I was attending to the minimalist spread all afternoon during those newborn naps. My husband stared me down when he saw me handling a large piece of meat when I was supposed to be napping, too. But perhaps I wanted a distraction from the new task of caring for my son. Or a reason to think about something else besides every little thing going on with him—a healthy infant. We had nice leftovers. It was better than going anywhere.

One thing they don’t tell you before becoming a parent, but I think maybe they should (so I will): practice cooking. It will offer you some peace in the future, some ownership over your family life, so you’re not too scared to tackle it when your kid is finally napping and you’ve perhaps managed to wash your hair. 

Unless, of course, you’d rather wash your hair, sit on the couch, and order sushi. All of which I have fully embraced doing more, along with local bakery outings, chicken fingers and pizza lunches procured in a pinch, and stocking cereal—because homemade muffins don’t have to happen all the time. 

How I feed my littles says a lot about my decisions as a mom, how I spend my time and optimize my resources. Which in the end, directly affects what winds up on everyone’s plate. 

So, I’ll keep taking that real moment to sit down and enjoy my own smashed avocado crackers in peace. 

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