How do I food?
August 14, 2014 3:48 PM   Subscribe

For the food challenged: How do I learn to plan for and cook deadly simple nutritious meals for 1 adult + 1 baby child? Recipes, advice, pointers all welcome.

I hate cooking and everything associated it, including shopping. I make toast, fried eggs, grilled cheese all of my other meals, I get pre-cooked food, either from a restaurant or the whole foods food bar. Seriously my fridge usually only has eggs, cheddar cheese and condiments.

That worked fine until now, but then I went and had a very unexpected surprise (but wanted!) baby late in life at the ripe old age of 45 and I've been eating this way for so long I don't even know where to begin.

Now baby is getting to the food stage and I'm anxious, stressed, terrified to do it wrong and I'm just retarded around food. I went through the grocery store today and just have no idea how turn all this STUFF into something to eat and I ended up feeling overwhelmed and had to leave to have a good cry in the parking lot.

Right now 8 month old baby eating breast milk, store bought veggie/fruit/meat purees, buttered toast, cheerios and baby teething biscuits, but real food is right around the corner. I don't have a mom to ask and none of my friends have children.

Help me! Is there a book(s) should I buy? How do you plan a week of meals and side dishes feed and baby snacks for 1 adult+baby without having to buy a million different ingredients and chop 50 things? I'd also love deadly simple entree recipes and vegetable recipes (I've honestly never even cooked veggies by myself, I just buy salads), any pointers, advice, anecdotes, tips and tricks would be really helpful. Is there a baby eating manual/book? We have no dietary restrictions whatsoever. ANY advice around this is so appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You want something from Rachel Ray or Sandra Lee. Start with the slips online and the recipies on the web.

more to follow:
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:59 PM on August 14, 2014

I've been doing a variation of Once a Month Meals since my daughter was about your daughter's age to cook for the two of us. That might be a bit like jumping into the deep end in your situation, but you could try their Survive Before 5 for recipes and meal plans that might work for you. I've bought the ebook and have made several of the recipes. Good luck!
posted by kittydelsol at 4:00 PM on August 14, 2014

Your eight month old's tastes are really simple. You don't suddenly have to figure out how to make a curry. Our kid ate almost nothing but formula for a distressingly long time. She would eat a fry or two here or there, maybe an apple slice, but not much else. We never fed her baby food. It just seemed gross and she was and is healthy so we just figured....she was fine. And she's fine.

If you're getting pre-cooked foods, you can get pre-cooked foods for baby. She'll only eat a little of it. You probably want to encourage her a little more (well, I guess I'm projecting) but maybe you'd like to not be attached at the breast for three years. Simple steamed vegetables. Rice. Couscous. Toast is *fine*. Maybe try whole wheat. If you buy salads, get some soft veggies for baby to try out a little. Try not to try too many things at once (IME but keep in mind I'm a mom whose kid eats a lot of chicken nuggets. That said, she has never, in six years, gone to the doctor for any reason other than a physical except in the first couple of months where I was hypervigilant. So she's not one of those kids who eats sushi, but she's also extraordinarily healthy so I'm not going to sweat her budding beigetarianism. My kid will still not try rice. Too effing exotic.)

The freezer is a good friend to have. Maybe frozen green beans, peas..try to branch out a little.

But mainly try not to put such terrible pressure on yourself. I don't think you have to totally reinvent yourself out of nowhere. Their stomachs are the size of ping pong balls for ages. If baby's a good weight and developing properly and engaging with you and isn't sick constantly, I would not invest in a great deal of worry about it and just look for one or two little changes at a time.

Feel free to MeMail me. I had a kid at 38. I am now 45. I know exactly one other person my age with a small child, so I can relate.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:06 PM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is truly a daunting task, and if you're gonna do it right it will take some real time and commitment on your part. That said, many folks (myself included) get a lot of gratification out of cooking.

There are a bunch of "cooking from the ground up" cookbooks. Buy one or two, and read as much of them as you can stand, trying whatever recipes seem the least daunting. Learn the vocabulary of cooking; what sauteeing means vs browning vs stir-frying vs braising. Try one at a time. Repeat recipes as needed. I like Joy of Cooking, especially this older version. Other folks swear by Fannie Farmer or How to Cook Everything. Joy at least walks you through both the basics of how to cook most of the basics, how to plan some meals, and, crucially, how to shop for a bunch of ingredients. Some of it is a bit dated, but still solid advice.

You'll also probably benefit from a knife skills book - I have this one:
and it's fine. Cutting things up is a skill, and learning to do it right will make your life much easier.

If you don't have a really really good, comfortable 8-10 inch knife, buy this one.

If you don't have a good 12x18 cutting board, buy one. I like this one but people get very strident about boards. Plastic and wood are both fine, stay away from glass.

If you don't have a few high-quality pans, get some. Basically all I use (and I cook a lot) are a couple cast-iron pans (8 and 12 inch), a wok, a really good dutch oven, and a couple 2-3 quart saucepans. Again, this will make your life easier, because good stuff is easier to cook with and to clean.

Most recipes have a few perishable ingredients and a bunch more spices and imperishable stuff. As you buy the ingredients for recipes you're going to make this week, gradually you'll accumulate a full pantry of imperishables, and you'll get a feel for what you like. Note that grocery shopping is ALSO a skill, and you'll get better and faster at it with practice.

Cooking means failing sometimes. Don't get upset, don't panic, but have a backup plan, even if it's ordering pizza or microwaving chicken nuggets.

Good luck! Don't panic! Remember to breathe!
posted by contrarian at 4:07 PM on August 14, 2014

Well first, there's nothing wrong with continuing to buy pre-cooked food from a restaurant or the WF prepared food section - both for you and for your baby. If you are trying to watch your budget, Trader Joe's has a lot of pre-prepared foods as well. In addition to prepared foods, I'd buy some fruit, yogurt, crackers, veggies than can be eaten raw, and anything else that requires no cooking at all for baby to snack on.

You don't HAVE to cook. You can certainly learn to if you'd like to, but if you can afford to buy prepared healthy food, that's fine too. And, there's tons of food that you can eat that doesn't really require cooking - just assembly. For example, a lunch could be a yogurt, crackers with with cheese, and an apple. Dinner could be a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, some kind of prepared vegetable dish from Whole Foods, and toast. Your kid doesn't care if it's not a coherent, plated meal. You just need a couple different kinds of food.

If you do decide to start cooking, I'd start small - maybe 1-3 nights a week you make one simple recipe. Definitely don't try to shop for a week's worth of home-cooked meals at once - that's crazy overwhelming for someone who isn't used to shopping/meal-planning/cooking.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:09 PM on August 14, 2014 [11 favorites]

When your kid gets old enough to really chew things safely and not choke (this might be a while out from where you are now), a lot of fruits and vegetables can just be cut into wedges or spears or chunks and eaten plain as a snack or side dish as finger foods. Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers cut into spears, carrot sticks, slices of cantaloupe or pineapple, peaches or pears cut into wedges, steamed cauliflower or broccoli florets, that kind of thing. Most fruits taste best when they're in season, so either learn about what's in season or go to a farmer's market where you're likely to only see stuff in season and can taste samples.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:13 PM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

so it'll look like you need a lot of equipment, but you only really need, like six things.

Knife 1: called something like a "chef's knife" or "utility knife" This is the bigger one, with a wider blade. Fits in your hand easily like so, get use to cut, chop, slice - really anything.

Knife 2: the "paring knife." Much smaller, maybe 2.5 to 3 inch blade. Used to make very small cuts and trim things.

All the other knives? Range from "useful" to "nice to have" to "why would you get this? From Ronco?"

Cutting board: a board to cut things on. I like wood and polypropylene, some people like bamboo. It's up to you.

Pan: a pan. shallow, with sloped sides. Maybe 9" across? The straight-sided version is a "saucepan" which is good, but you are just starting.

Pot: a pot. 2 to 4 quarts.

Roasting pan or baking sheet, with a lip.

Seriously, that is 90% of what you'll use. Ever.

Just a little bit of planning goes a long way. I like to make my meals in triplets: protein, vegetable, carb. My mother made meals in quads: meat, vegetable, vegetable, starch. I make two main courses in a week: a chicken and a flank steak, or a salmon and a tri-tip roast. Then, pick a few vegetables: seasonal stuff, greens, some roots. Then carbs: rice, noodles, potatoes. From there I mix and match:

Chicken, greens, noodles one night.
Cold chicken, snap peas, potato salad the next.
Tri-tip, snap pea puree, rice the third night. You get the idea.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:16 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's one easy thing to work off what you already know: quesadillas. Maybe for when Baby is a bit older, but they are so easy, and you can sneak veggies and protein in. Just butter a tortilla, fill inside with cheese, and maybe some tomato slices and chicken and grill.

You can't go wrong with fresh veggies for a snack. Baby carrots and celery with peanut butter. Maybe hummus to dip carrots. Cheese cubes. Grapes and raisins. Cheerios.

Oven roasted potatoes are super easy and tasty. Get fingerlings or full size potatoes. Cube and toss with olive oil, the. The spices you like. I like tossing with Sazon Goya, or some basil and garlic. Fist at 425 until crispy, maybe 30-40 minutes, and finish with a sprinkle or Parmesan. Make a meal with a side of broccoli or other veggie (maybe with cheese sauce) and a chicken breast. Or buy prepared tenders or nuggets.

Learn to make lasagna. Very simple, many variations. Pasta is always an easy choice and kid friendly.

Sandwiches are simple. PB&J or ham and cheese. Fresh fruit or veggies on the side instead of chips.

Homemade pizza, or tortilla pizzas with the squeeze bottle of pizza sauce.
posted by catatethebird at 4:17 PM on August 14, 2014

I went through huge quantities of "baby pizza," which was a thing only a mother would call "pizza," which was whole wheat mini pitas topped with pesto, lots of chopped veg, and enough cheese to glue the veg on. You can make them in giant batches, freeze them, and toaster-oven them as needed.

Google "baby-led weaning" for good finger food advice.

One less horrid convenience food option is boil-in-bag Indian. "Tastybite" is a good brand for this. Most of the boil-in-bag stuff is nowhere near spicy enough to fuss a baby.

Try to relax overall -- It turns out most advice parents get about weaning infants onto solid foods — even from pediatricians — is more myth than science.
posted by kmennie at 4:17 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Depending on where you are, look into food delivery options to alleviate shopping. I learned how to cook by signing up for a vegetable delivery service that was similar to a CSA, but didn't require a waiting list. It came every other week, and then I did a google search with the ingredients in the box. You can add "simple" and/or "baby" into your search to make it more relevant. This significantly cut down the shopping time and the sense of being overwhelmed by so many options. I still don't like walking into a grocery story without a solid list and plan, but find that creating that plan from a book or blog can be a daunting task. The constraint of the delivery really simplified things in my mind.

After a while, I got some cookbooks. I shied away from big books like Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything in the beginning because they were just too much information. My sister gifted me a copy of the Moosewood cookbook, which has about 100 recipes, and it was much easier to manage. You can probably find a similar book geared toward kids meals. I figured out which recipes I liked in that book and made them over and over again until I didn't need the book anymore, then I tried a few new ones.

I also liked a book called Fresh Food Fast, because it had shopping lists and recipes broken up by season, but some of the dishes might be fussy for a kid. The best part was that it outlined how to stock a pantry so that you would have a lot of the odds and ends on hand and don't need to run to the store all the time. If you can find a list like that somewhere, it's super helpful.

Good luck!
posted by ohisee at 4:33 PM on August 14, 2014

Start with the baby's food seriously, and eat from his plate. Get a small blender and a chopping board and some bowls, and just learn how to puree fruit and veggie first for him.

Do you have a microwave? They're less intimidating than a stovetop or oven to start with and you can cook plenty of food in them to start.

I just google recipes and I recommend you do that to start because you'll be able to answer more questions. Like, sweet potato puree which is so yummy and good for babies (and with a little salt and pepper and maybe some some sour cream, also nice for mom):

Google "sweet potato baby microwave". First link says to wash it, prick it and microwave for 8-10 minutes, then scoop out the insides and puree it with a bit of water/milk.

Start with the purees you're already buying - look at the ingredients on the little jars and buy just those veggies and fruits to start with. Try one puree thing a week. And once you feel comfortable with those, you can look at a bunch of toddler recipe books and pick one that has recipes you think look tasty, and try them.

There's no rush at all. Baby has at least six months where he will be both happy and very nutritionally safe on supermarket purees and baby porridge stuff.

We homecook almost every meal, and seriously, 90% of our meals are the same dozen recipes again and again, just with slightly different veggies. Kids looooove repetition and if you aim to get 12 recipes under your belt, you will be a Proper Home Cook.

I really like the Mark Bittman's Cooking Basics app on the ipad - he has videos and breaks things down to steps for simpler recipes. You start with frying an egg.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:40 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, if you hate chopping and have the cash, get a really good food processor. The high-end ones are much easier to clean and it is such a godsend.
posted by ohisee at 4:42 PM on August 14, 2014

People tend to think everyone else is eating traditional "proper" meals and they themselves are the only ones not, but in fact many people today cobble together meals that would make their grandmothers cringe, and that's perfectly OK. I sometimes just feed my daughter some cheese, nuts, milk, and fruit for a meal. She doesn't feel she's been deprived, and in fact that's a pretty healthy meal, especially if it's all organic. Other people here will give you good ideas and tips, but what I'd like to say is don't put too much pressure on yourself. This ain't the 1950s.
posted by Dansaman at 4:56 PM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Side dishes:

1. Sweet potatoes: Microwave them. You can even buy the pre washed wrapped ones that are meant to be microwaved. My babies loved sweet potatoes.

2. Canned and frozen vegetables. Green beans and peas are good for baby. You can buy frozen butternut squash and mash it. My kids loved this as well.

3. Pasta

Keep it simple and come up with five easy to make meals that you make in a rotation. Examples of easy meals that do not require a lot of ingredients:

1. Chicken (it can be store-bought rotisserie), frozen peas, potatoes. Bagged Caesar salad for you.
2. Easy Beefaroni, green beans, bread and butter
3. Tuna noodle casserole
4. Spaghetti with marinara, broccoli
5. Roasted salmon (Salmon is so easy. Dot with butter, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and fresh lemon, roast at 400-425 for 15 minutes depending on thickness), broccoli, red potatoes

Even easier meals:

1. Frozen fish sticks and french fries with a green vegetable.
2. Boxed organic macaroni and cheese with peas
3. Hamburger Helper with broccoli
4. Chicken and rice made with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup
5. Omelets with toast
posted by Fairchild at 5:01 PM on August 14, 2014

I'm here to nth the "eat from the baby's plate" advice. I can actually cook, but when my son was getting into solids we pretty much designed and ate meals so that we could eat together as a family.

I love the British food writer Annabel Karmel, who designs meals for kids that the whole family will enjoy. We used First Meals from the time my son started solids until he was about two, and we continue to cook from Favorite Family Meals and Cook It Together. The recipes are basically easy (the books for older kids are designed so the kids can do a lot of the cooking), are tasty, and are fun.

Oh, and the veggies thing? Buy frozen. Seriously. Our staple is big bags of frozen peas, corn, green beans, broccoli, and sometimes mixed veggies, and that makes it easy to scoop out a small amount, toss them in the microwave in a bowl, and -- voila! -- cooked veggies with dinner. They're cheap, frozen is just as nutritious as fresh, and I don't have to worry about anything going bad while we have tiny serving after tiny serving. I do also buy fresh carrots and snap peas.
posted by anastasiav at 5:04 PM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would like to add that I agree with Dansaman wholeheartedly. I have been known to serve peaches and bagels with a protein at dinnertime. Do what works for you and make it simple.

I recommend the book: Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. I used this book a lot when my kids were little. She explains how to grocery shop, how to plan, how to cook, and the book includes many simple recipes that are kid-friendly.
posted by Fairchild at 5:08 PM on August 14, 2014

I'm not a parent.

But having said that sometimes people who like to cook think all a non-cooker needs is time and then they will love it. My mother hated cooking. She did it but she hated it. Nearly 30 years later, she still hates it.

So make life easier on yourself. Buy prechopped vegetables and fruit you can eat as is. Buy rotisserie chicken. Buy a slow cooker so you can just throw some random meat and veggies in.

My secret weapon is frozen vegetables. I thaw them a little then toss them with a little oil and roast them. Learn freezer recipes. It's a bit more effort at the time but then you don't have to cook for a couple days.

You may you find cooking, or you may not. But if you let go of the idea of being perfect, you can get this done. There's no shame in going and just buying something because you're tired.
posted by Aranquis at 5:10 PM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think most of the how-babies-eat advice so far is spot on. My biggest advice based on experience is don't get too hung up on what baby is eating. A no-drama, let him eat what he wants, keep offering but never push or force approach certainly worked out for me. So he went through half a year where it was hard to get much besides baby-porridge-mix and veggie and fruit puffs into him - he turned out fine and eats pretty much whatever now.

Don't try to figure it all out as some kind of comprehensive system - learning to cook is a big project! But cooking can be great, it has some very straightforward benefits (the best way to push away from processed foods, and you can save a great deal of money particularly if you take leftovers for work lunches). Pick one recipe that seems pretty simple, make it on the weekend.

If you decide to get into cooking (and I'd reiterate the sentiment to not stress this too much given you have plenty to deal with, take it slow and be gentle and forgiving to yourself along the way - I had two parents and a sister who all cooked and it still took me 5 years to really feel like I knew how to do more than follow a recipe exactly) - one thing I recommend is to pick up a basic book - I like the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It has plenty of fine recipes but I really value it as a basic compendium - conversions, substitutions, the real basic recipes - how to bake a potato, how to make corn on the cob, how to cook rice. Yes you can get all that online now but one book is more convenient (and less of an issue when you spill vinegar on it). I've had mine for nearly twenty years and I still consult it regularly.

For fancier but very straightforward fare I really like Mark Bittman's "Minimalist" series - particularly The Minimalist Cooks at Home and The Minimalist Cooks Dinner. He's got a ton of stuff online as well (I love his chicken and rice for a forgiving dish that I can happily eat leftovers of throughout the week).
posted by nanojath at 5:46 PM on August 14, 2014

plain raw vegetables (carrots, celery, cucumber, bell pepper strips, lettuces)...that's what we evolved eating for the most part...pasta and whole wheat (cheerios!) are good sources of energy too (despite what current food fads are saying...pretty much all food fads and 'only eat this' diets you can pretty much ignore) keep it simple and easy for baby to handle.

Fried eggs and grilled cheese and restaurant/prepared foods? yeeeah...maybe you want to dial it back a bit on those, especially for you...the cholesterol, fat, and salt they contain aren't doing you any favors. Oddly though, a certain amount of them (eggs, cheese, nuts, dairy, etc), and the protein they contain, are good for growing children and not as much for adults, because growing. cholesterol is what cell walls are made of, protein is what most of the rest of them are made of, and fats help store energy, regulate hormones and an adult you pretty much have all of these things in place and you really only need a bit of them for maintenance. Most of what you need is carbs (like whole wheat) for energy and vegetables for fiber and minerals and vitamins. Salt you want to try to avoid as much as possible, but it's so loaded into damn everything (yes, even at whole foods) you can pretty much get the little bit that you need from f***ing osmosis from the air. Bam, nutrition in a nutshell.

2nding the Joy of Cooking (do NOT get the current edition (the one where the (crunchygranolatreehugginghippie) grandson redid the whole thing...if the authors are ladies, that's the one you want...though do keep in mind that it was written before it was known how bad saturated fats are...there are actually instructions on how to add more lard into meat) It's super-informative and even a fascinating read (it actually has instructions on how to bury food in the backyard for winter, among other things) will take you from 'food? what's that?' to 'opening your own restaurant'. It's a really neat book.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:50 PM on August 14, 2014

Oh, this sounds so stressful for you! I would do this for homework, it involves buying only three new items from the grocery store, and about 10 extra prep minutes on four days in the first week, and could be reduced even further if that seems like too much.

1) buy one bag of a frozen veggie that looks tasty--corn, peas, broccoli, whatever. One night in the following week, microwave a small handful in a few tablespoons of water. Mash it with a fork and see what baby thinks.

2) Buy a single raw vegetable--sweet pepper, tomato, avocado, something you'd get uncooked at a salad bar. On a different night, cut it in a giant piece that baby can gnaw on, or weeny little pieces baby won't choke on. See what baby thinks.

3) On a different night than the other two, mash or cut a little of *your* dinner for baby to experiment with. At 10 months, pretty much everything but honey or choking hazards (nuts, grapes) is okay. Spicy is okay, lumpy is okay. See what baby likes.

4) same as 2, with one piece of fruit. Watch choking hazards like grapes.

Over a month or two you'll probably find some likes and dislikes. I'd expect that by that time you'd be able to buy a few pieces of fruit, veggie, maybe a bag of frozen stuff per week without it seeming like a burden. But mostly I think that you'll be fine eating as you are (unless expense is an issue.) And I say that as part of a homemade meal almost every night family.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:09 PM on August 14, 2014

n'thing what most people here are saying - relax! Lots of healthy, intelligent and happy children grow up with mothers who don't cook, and it sounds like you live in a place with lots of options.
I don't want to repeat the advice others have given so well, but I have a friend in a similar situation to yours, and I notice one big problem they have with food: they have difficulty imagining the needs of small children.
For one, they serve far too large portions. A small child needs a very small serving. You can always add on, but serving an adult-size portion of corn-flakes will put most children completely off eating. For the first 6-7 years, you can order in one serving for each adult, and just give the child a little portion of that. Those cornflakes: a child-size serving is a woman's handful, and half a cup of milk.
As stated above, children need a lot more fat than adults, but should only be served very small helpings of sugary foods or drinks.
My friend also offers far too much sugar and far too many snacks - they imagine that what the children ask for is what they need. Not so. A good rule of thumb is five small meals a day: three main meals and two snacks. I sometimes have added a cup of milk and a couple of pieces of fruit at bed-time.
Salads are good for children - keep them coming, and do it early on. At a certain age, all children become picky, but if they have already been eating olives and shrimps in those salads for a while, they keep it on, and when they are over the picky age, they have good habits. My eldest ate sushi when she was one. Indian kids eat curries. Serve a variety of foods and don't discuss what baby eats. Right now, everything is interesting. Never ever enter food fights. My no. two was very picky for a long period, and I just let her eat what she wanted from the table without comment (no snacks or candy and only at meal-times). Then one day, she snapped out of it. I suppose she wanted to be part of the family.
If you are curious about cooking and want to try it during weekends and holidays, I'd suggest Three Good Things It's not really fine cuisine but it is simple and very varied and interesting food
posted by mumimor at 4:39 AM on August 15, 2014

I have a 12 month old and I would recommend you look through the Baby Led Weaning Cookbook. Mostly simple recipes that are appropriate for baby who is learning how to eat that are also adult eatable.

We use our food steamer a lot, too. Plunk in 8 eggs, start it up for 17 minutes, and voila! Steamed eggs that my kid loves to eat (now that he is 1 and is verified not allergic). Or put carrot sticks in there for 15 minutes so they are still sticks but extra pliable for baby to eat. Slightly oversteam broccoli and cauliflower in there. Cook up brown rice! We use ours a LOT.

Stir fries are my go-to, also. Get a bottle of good high-temperature oil like safflower. Heat up the pan, put enough oil in there so it coats the bottom of the pan, throw in chopped meat, onions, cabbage, garlic, green beans, asparagus, yellow squash, whatever vegetable strikes your fancy at the grocery store, stir it around with a spatula until it's all cooked nice, maybe splash with a bit of basalmic or white wine vinegar, salt to taste. Maybe splash a little sesame oil on top at the end for extra flavor. Done! The hardest part is chopping the ingredients while entertaining a baby. It's pretty fast, too, which is good when you have an inpatient hungry kid like I do every evening.

Stir fry is what I do. Sometimes I come across a bad tasting flavor combination, but I still eat it. The kid is still getting most of his nutrition from breastmilk, so no worries if he doesn't like it either. I just won't make that combination again!

The best part is it is just you and your kid. You don't have another adult who will look askance at your recent trial-by-fire experiment. If it really fails, you can eat toast for dinner and the kid won't care.

Also, the tastiest thing that is really so simple to make is roasting a whole chicken in the oven. Turn oven to 425. Put chicken in roasting pan. If you feel fancy, rub herbs and salt and whatnot under the skin, but you don't have to! Take chicken out in about 90 minutes or so. You do need a food thermometer, but they are cheap at Target. Take chicken out of the oven, cover with foil, and let it sit for about 20 minutes. So delicious.

Edited to add: I never remember the temp or time for roasting a chicken. I just google it pretty much every time. Again, baby don't care if you don't remember the details. That's what a searchable internet is for!
posted by jillithd at 7:21 AM on August 15, 2014

I'm a competent cook, and yet there are many, many nights when all I can bring myself to do is get a rotisserie chicken and a tub of salad greens (found by the bagged salads) and a bottle of salad dressing and poof, dinner. Cheap, easy, healthy, no cooking required.

When I cook, I try to make meals that require just a little actual time putting ingredients together but mostly just sit cooking unattended for a while, so I have time to be with my family or to get other things done. Here are a few easy dinner ideas:

ROASTED CHICKEN AND VEGGIES: Buy a whole raw chicken and some carrots, potatoes, broccoli, and onions and turn the oven on at 400 as soon as you get home from work. In a big pyrex pan, rub the chicken with olive oil and put salt, pepper, garlic powder, and some kind of herb/spice/seasoning mix all over it. Cut up the veggies into large chunks, toss with more olive oil and some salt, put the veggies arond the chicken in the pan and stick the pan in the oven for an hour or so (yeah you'll need a food thermometer to make sure the chicken's done, just stick it into the breast and make sure it's at 160ish). It's about 10 minutes of cutting veggies and putting salt and oil on things, and an hour later you have a complete meal, and only one pan to wash. Usually you'll also have enough leftovers for another few meals that way, too. Really cheap, easy, and healthy.

SIMPLE HUEVOS RANCHEROS: Fried eggs can be dressed up with black beans, pico de gallo or salsa, and guacamole for a more complete meal. All that stuff can be bought premade so it's just a matter of putting things together.

CHILI! Chili is so easy. Put a big pot on a burner on medium heat (4.5 or so) and stick a pound of ground beef in there. Break it up and stir it around for a few minutes until it's brown. Dice an onion and stick it in the pot. Add a can of black beans, a can of kidney beans, and a can of diced tomatoes. If you have any pico de gallo or salsa hanging around, put a half cup or so in there, but if you don't don't worry about it. Add 2 tablespoons of chili powder, and a tablespoon each of oregano, italian seasoning, and thyme. Stir, stick a lid on the pot, and reduce the heat to med-low (about 3 or so). Just let it sit and simmer for an hour. Poof, done! This also gives you plenty of leftovers so you don't have to cook again for a couple days.

CROCK POT MEALS: If you can get your hands on a crockpot, you can just throw some meat and veggies in there in the morning, turn it on, and come home to a meal. Stew meat, carrots, potatoes, a can of stewed tomatoes, and some salt and pepper make a simple beef stew. Get a pork shoulder or pork butt and stick it in there with a bottle of barbecue sauce, and get a coleslaw kit to go with it. Chicken stock, onions, carrots, celery, and a package of chicken breasts and poof, homemade chicken soup for dinner.

Like someone else recommended above, just try one thing maybe once a week or so, and keep with your normal routine the rest of the time, so you don't get overwhelmed. There's plenty of time to learn. Add another recipe to your repertoire when you feel ready.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:49 AM on August 15, 2014

My super picky eater loved roasted vegetables and anything coated in Parmesan, especially pasta (I make him whole wheat pasta because he doesn't know the difference). Also, Greek yogurt.
posted by cestmoi15 at 11:12 AM on August 15, 2014

I'm a 43 yr old single mama, and it's definitely a big switch to go from convenience eating for one to regular healthy meals for two. I generally try to cook one night of chicken, one night of fish, and one night of beef each week (& make enough for leftovers for lunches), then fill in the rest of the nights with beans, pasta & veg combinations. When I can't deal, we eat chicken sausage. Every few weeks I add one new recipe into the usual rotation (this was the latest - super easy: and then we go from there. Lunches are usually leftovers. Breakfasts are usually plain yogurt & fresh fruit, sometimes with a frozen waffle for him, sometimes oatmeal. Feel free to MeMail for questions - I totally get where you're coming from.
posted by judith at 5:13 PM on August 16, 2014

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