Some of us just can’t cook - so here’s my workaround

Tori Bowman Johnson
Tori Bowman Johnson
Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on May 21, 2024 · 5 mins read

‘What’s for dinner mum!?' My boys (4 years and almost 2) are on the cusp of this daily chant. I feel petrified. Don’t get me wrong, I love keeping them both fuelled with nutrient-rich meals but the kitchen and I do not fare well together.

I openly admit, I just don’t enjoy cooking. And I certainly do not thrive. Even the new age AirFryer, the slow cooker, the Thermomix, the Gozney, or Heston’s Everdure… none of these new age gadgets warm to me, regardless of how hard my friends try and upsell their position on the scale of ‘Just Turn It On’ to ‘A Child Could Do It.’

The toaster and the fridge on the other hand? Now these old-school gadgets warm to me very kindly. And without judgment or culinary expectations.

Some people see cooking as a creative outlet. An explorative activity. A place to blend culture! Gorgeous, collaborative family fun!

I see cooking as sheer intimation. An opportunity to create even more mess. A situation where I feel fraught with confusion. I see cooking as a sweaty forehead and a panicked disposition.

Motherhood minus the homemade meals

When it comes to the domestic aspects of motherhood, I’m fairly unfazed by most of the chores as many of them seemed to exist long before my children came along. The washing, the vacuuming, the dishes, blah blah blah … I can deal with all of that.

But the cooking? Now this is a chore I didn’t do a lot of pre-children. I mainly ‘prepared’, ‘put’ or ‘praised.’

I would prepare a salad. I would put the bread into the toaster. Or I would praise my wonderful husband who cooked (still does) most of our meals. In doing so, he seemed to make sure toast was reserved for the hours between 6am and 9am. What a guy.

Cooking sends shudders down my spine. And every time I feed my children (for anyone worrying by this point, please rest assured that I do feed my children between 3 and 25 times per day, just like every other parent), I feel as though I deserve a medal. A bunch of flowers or a facial! A crowd yelling, ‘Good on Tori, YOU DID IT!’

I know, I know – it’s pathetic. I remind myself daily.

Be your own kind of chef

Over the years I’ve been soaking up as many do-able suggestions from friends and family as possible – to ease the angst and build my confidence in the kitchen. First of all, I’ve learned that there is beauty and value in the art of breaking things down.

I’m never going to be the mum who whips up meals that mirror Ottolenghi, however, I can always ensure my children have access to quality nutrients and various flavours, textures, and cultural cuisines.

The infamous ‘picky’ plates are such a gift to parents like myself! And we should never feel inadequate if this level of meal preparation is the extent of our capabilities – as there is always room to learn, try, and diversify. Regardless of whether the presentation is boujie or basic, your children will be okay. 

We all have our own skills and talents. Cooking is not something we all excel in. Following birth, our child’s birth certificate doesn’t come with a matching Culinary Diploma. I hoped that it would, but it just doesn’t.

Why ‘picky’ plates are something to get behind

In all seriousness, ‘picky’ plates are fabulous for young children for many reasons. If you need some extra reassurance, here you are:

  • You can cater to different palate preferences (does anyone actually have children who like the same foods?!)
  • You can offer a wide variation of food options and therefore introduce your children to different types of fruits, vegetables, proteins, whole grains, legumes, pastas, and dairy options.
  • They’re reasonably quick and simple to construct and serve.
  • Anything that goes uneaten on the plate may be able to be saved (if the child doesn’t bite, suck, or chew and spit).

As long as your children are getting the essential food groups each week, don’t fret about the presentation during the younger years.

The ‘nutrient checklist’ you need

If anyone feels as though their child has only eaten plain pasta and yoghurt pouches for the last two weeks, here’s a little tip that might help. I now pop a ‘Nutrient Checklist’ on the fridge to help steer me through meal preparation from Monday to Sunday. This includes all meals, snacks, and lunchboxes.

  • Wholemeal pasta or wholemeal bread (wholegrains)
  • Red meat or chicken (protein)
  • Fish, nuts, eggs, avocado, dark leafy greens, chia or hemp seeds (omegas!)
  • Cheese, milk or yogurt (dairy)
  • An array of fruit and vegetables (fibre and general nutrients)
  • Something NEW
  • Something they have previously turned their nose up to (i.e. mince, broccoli, pumpkin, leafy greens)
  • At least one meal we all cook together (a pizza and fried rice cooked in the pan are my go-to choices on this front)

Wrapping it up

 If you relate to my cooking fears (or disdain), please allow any sense of guilt or failure to wash away! You don’t have to love ‘it all’.

I totally appreciate that many of us have an unrelenting need to ‘get it right’ or to ‘be like that mum’ or to ‘strive for perfectionism’ … but we also owe it to ourselves to: 

A) Survive
B) Enjoy the survival process
C) Prioritise the need to keep perspective and focus on what is actually important; the health and happiness of our children and household.

If tonight’s dinner doesn’t resemble a deconstructed pasta dish with a Master Chef style smear of vegetable purée and a shaved, yet sharp parmesan – as said earlier, your children will be okay. 

Pasta spirals, some raw vegetable sticks, and good ol’ cubed cheddar are fabulous. The kids will take care of the smearing anyway – we know this much.

To end this article, I do want to wholeheartedly acknowledge how lucky I am to have the opportunity to cook each day and feed my family. Given so many people in the world do not share in this true privilege, I am beyond grateful. 

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