How to Live with Kids: Food & Cooking

Sometimes really late at night or early in the morning, when your subconscious is creeping into the periphery, you find yourself thinking, “Who the hell are these people I’m living with? They could be anyone. They’ll be old one day, with pants they paid for themselves. Jesus what is happening. How did I get here.” And you’ll think those things because honestly, living with kids is weird.

There are workarounds to these potential frustrations and jarring moments of clarity. We’ll go over a few of them and hopefully you’ll share some of your own and everyone will feel much better about the smears all over the glass doors.

Previously: How to Live With Kids: Toys & Entertainment

Food & Cooking

Much like you and me, kids need food to survive. The smallest of all kids — babies — need food every hour. As they age, thankfully, the time between feedings grows and so you’re more able to find something to read or possibly leave your house for an extended period of time.


You’ll be expected to provide these kids who live in your house with food. This can be a daunting task, given that you’ll likely be able to think of no less than 30 things you could / should be doing that don’t involve pots, pans or plates. The trick is to anticipate when the kids will be hungry and plan ahead. While no two kids are exactly alike, it’s been my experience that kids typically need food at these specific times:

+ upon waking
+ immediately upon arrival from school
+ the exact moment you sit down for the first time all day
+ when you’re in the shower
+ 15 minutes after they said they weren’t hungry
+ at 3:00 a.m. (relevant only during sleepovers)

Don’t Underestimate:


Limited Rations

This is like the opposite of the Play-Doh Rule, which states that some age-appropriate things must be made off-limits in order to increase their value. Implementing a snack box (that’s just what we call it — you should probably come up with something more creative, like The Hexahedron of Vital Nourishment) ensures that only pre-approved foods are readily available at any given time.

Fill the container with dull healthy things, like fruit leather and homemade trail mix, maybe the occasional bag of pistachios if you’re feeling generous. Your bag of PMS Doritos should be kept well out of reach, along with the Milano cookies, strawberry Twizzlers, rosemary bread and anything else their tender palates couldn’t possibly appreciate.

Having an Accomplice

Not every food experience has to look pretty, and I’m guessing you reached this conclusion about two weeks after your child came through the front door. Personally, my number one feeling is appetizers, and I’m fairly certain it’s because I was exposed to Mermaids in my formative years.

Make appetizers an ‘acceptable’ meal the same way you make peanut butter & jellies and cheese plates (or the vegan equivalent) acceptable: adding fresh fruits and vegetables. The way I see it, you can feed these short people almost anything, as long as you serve it next to some grapes, a spinach salad, carrot sticks, or whatever whathaveyou etc.

Knowing When to Retreat

Set aside at least two days a week when you won’t be the one cooking dinner. Maybe this means you go to a restaurant or a friend’s house (if they truly are your friends, they will periodically feed your children).

If you have some extra time on Saturday or whatever, you could strategically cook way more food than you need, in anticipation of reheating / revisioning it later in the week. This can be super low-key, like making a huge lasagna and having leftovers a couple of days later. Or you can get ambitious and prepare all the meals for the week in one day. Also Rachael Ray and about a million other people have some feelings about this.

Breakfast For Dinner

You just won. The end.

Things Kids Can Do in the Kitchen


The thing to remember about kids is that, while at first they seem totally useless in the kitchen, they’re actually perfect for a small variety of things. Not only that, but they’re usually wildly idealistic when it comes to household duties. It’s your job to exploit their enthusiasm and naivety for your benefit.

School Lunches

Does your short person know how to make their own sandwiches and put items into small containers? Teaching self-sufficiency is literally your job. Literally.


If you have a lettuce knife and a salad spinner, you’ve basically turned salad prep into Romper Room and now you can finish reading that article on how to organize your inbox to its fullest potential. Or you know, whatever.

Weekend coffee

My dad taught me how to make coffee using an electric percolator when I was 9. Nine, you guys. What a fucking genius.


I don’t know, kids love to stir things. Don’t squander this passion on bath water.

What are your feelings about keeping kids fed? Are your kids on special diets? Do you sometimes just throw jellybeans at their heads and pretend like it’s lunch?

Next week we’ll discuss how kids need to do chores and what you can do about that.

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lnj has written 310 articles for us.


  1. Its interesting the things that parents feed their kids verses what those of us who don’t have to pay their dental bills will feed them. I think the love our niece and nephew have for us is based largely on the fact that they can have ice cream for dinner whenever they are with us.

    Speaking of my nephew, he takes the “easy” out of Easy Mac. After the initial heating in which it will, of course, be too hot it goes into the refrigerator for a period of time only he can determine, during which it becomes too cold. So back to the microwave. This process is repeated about 22 times until he is certain it had reached the appropriate temperature.

    I think this is my punishment for being such a picky eater as a child.

    • OK, first facts first: The tomboy literally just threw a piece of candy corn at the puppy. I mean, puppy had a proper dinner and is NOT a child, but still.

      1. Breakfast for dinner. YES.
      2. Make your own lunch, kiddo. YES.
      3. Mine knows how to operate a French press. YES. (I only learned (thanks, Marns) like two years ago. A year ago? Whatever. When I was 30 years old, basically.)

      I completely blame my “texture” issues on my mother, who was a hippie when I was born in the early 80s and insisted on making me all of my own baby food pureed to smithereens when I was wee; by the time I got around to the REAL texture of things, it was too late. I was ruined.

      In a blatantly tyrannical hypocrisy, I insist that my kid eat and try and try again with new foods, strange foods – and it helps that my wife is a lot more adventurous than I am when it comes to food.

  2. My aunt who works for the NIH and is therefore Very Concerned WIth Health And Safety has successfully implemented a system where all gross, healthy foods are “kid foods” and all food that actually tastes good is “only for grownups.” Ex. her daughter gets a tofu hot dog for dinner (even I can’t choke those down) and my aunt gets a cheeseburger. Because she’s a grownup. I am simultaneously horrified and admiring of this idea.

    • I feel certain that this strategy would result in my adopting a diet of only nachos, cake, and Orange Crush once I came of age.

    • I can’t quite predict exactly how this is going to backfire, but it certainly gives me a very ominous feeling. Kids have an amazing innate sense of injustice. I think that’s a lot of what drives the popularity of super-heroes.

      Kids are also pretty smart and crafty when they want to change something. I’d watch out for smooshed ants in the cheeseburger one of these days. And, really, unfair cheeseburger mama sorta deserves it. I guess I’m really over-reacting but I hate it when parents are hypocritical and unfair to their kids. It’s an abuse of power.

      Plus, owls is on point with the prediction. I knew a guy in college whose mom gave him a napa cabbage for lunch once or twice a week. I am not making this up. Just a brown paper bag lunch of shredded napa cabbage.

      She was really into eating vegan but she didn’t cook and was spacy and irresponsible. After he left home (it was a commune actually), he ended up eating only fast food: meat and cheese, sugar and alcohol. He couldn’t stand to even smell vegetables by the time he was 20.

  3. these posts make child-raising seem like a thing people like me can do
    probs because we think alike
    my mom was a nutritionist/cook when i was growing up but i think after ~15 years of feeding her metabolically accelerated children every few hours she decided to quit that and go into social work

  4. i learned how to make coffee before i learned how to use any other kitchen appliance. probably even before the microwave. and i make a mean cup of coffee now because of that.

  5. My mom trained my sibs and I to make her coffee in the morning. I think I was probably ten and the sibs were 9 and 7. She also trained us to do our own laundry “once our little finger could reach the buttons.” She is a smart lady.

  6. I LOVE BAKING WITH KIDS. its my favorite thing and they make me feel less bad about licking the spoon. not that theres much guilt there anyways.

  7. Very funny! Loved this post. I make sure I give my 5 year old son vitamins. Gummy Vitamins makes me feel all better about his picky and not too healthy eating habits.

  8. I don’t plan on adopting for a good while to come. However I have taken care of many children, my close friends’, and my own niece and nephew. I have to say there are few things, that are as amazing as when they are under 3 and they eat something you have prepared for them (bonus if it’s from scratch.) It’s like “I made this and have helped this tiny thing survive. And they like it and want more. I have won in life.”

    Also, food marketing folks really know what’s up because my niece will eat anything that looks “cute” or “squishy.” String cheese ftw. I have ended so many public tantrums with a simple offering of string cheese. nomnom.

    Also YES to them helping out in the kitchen.

    Also also, Laneia, your child related humor is hilarious and I give you a gold star and A+ for its silly yet endearing (and v. true) quality.

  9. Laneia, I love how you write articles about child-rearing in the same vein that Riese recaps terrible TV (and by that I mean the very best kind of awesome). Ohhh how I love this site…

  10. I have a very vivid memory of being 5 years old and loving to stir things.

    While I do not have children (if you don’t count the dog), and I do not live with any (if you don’t count the roommates), I spent the majority of my adolescence babysitting. I learned a few things:

    1. You should feed the children things that you like. If they see you eating it, they’ll want to be cool like you.

    2. Mac and cheese. It falls under category 1, and all children seem to love it. Kids generally love pasta in general.

    3. Give them choices. Not big ones, but ones that make them feel OHSOCOOL. When serving pasta, let them choose between tomato sauce and butter.

    4. Kids want what they can’t have. Just like adults. Let them think that they are. If they want chicken nuggets, but you don’t want them eating fried food, bake chicken cutlets. Serve it with ketchup. They won’t care.

    I used to babysit this family with a 4 year-old and a 2 year-old, and the kids were obsessed with Chinese food, specifically chicken with baby corn. It still baffles me. It was pretty cool, though, because the parents ordered Chinese (I got my own dish), and I watched a 2 year-old eat baby corn.

  11. this is so far away from my life right now but i really enjoyed reading it anyway, laneia! also though i could probably use this to help feed myself

  12. Ways To Make Kids Eat Healthy Shit Instead Of Shit Shit:
    My mum told me raisins were sweets.
    She was happy – raisins were the best sweets!
    I was happy – I got to have sweets aaaall the time look how awesome I am fellow kids in the playground.

    And nowadays? At the grand old age of 21, I’ve moved onto dried figs and apricots.
    Her magic worked!

  13. My dad kinda did that “teach the kid to make my coffee” thing, except I was six and he taught me to make screwdrivers. So…not really the same thing, come to think of it. But it sure made his life easier!

  14. My favorite thing about feeding kids is that when they’re very young they have no pre-conceived notions about anything. My daughter thinks grape tomatoes are the best snack ever. We leave the carton on the counter where she can reach it and she thinks its so cool to grab them herself and eat them. She also loves vegetarian stroganoff, and thinks coconut water is juice.

  15. I’ve been cooking and cleaning since before I could remember. My momma raised me self sufficient. Which means that at approximately seven years old I put a bag of granola bites in the microwave inside of their aluminum bag, and subsequently set the microwave on fire.

  16. my (single) mother’s strategy = microwaveable meals.
    probably not the healthiest but everyone’s happy (especially when those meals happen to be kid cuisines and come with cute penguin games and a desert of fudge and pretty sprinkles. looking back i had a spectacular childhood).

  17. This reminds me of my little 2 yr old cousin. Being a Mississippi baby, he is fed a steady diet of biscuits, diet coke and french fries. One day when me and his sisters took him to a parade and his hyper ass kept running into the road, I found this food bar in my purse and thought “holy shit great, it’s sweet he’ll love it my life just got so much easier” thinking he wouldn’t give a crap that it had pineapple and raisins and shit in it because it was sweet and he was only 2, so I broke off a piece, gave it to him, he took a bite… promptly spat it out in the grass, and started wiping his tongue off with his grubby little hands that had been all over the road mere seconds ago.
    Thus resigning my phone to its fate in his destructive little sticky hands.

  18. I never realized how hard it was to cook without eggs, but having a three year old with nut/egg allergies is teaching me some interesting lessons. Also, I just discovered Biscoff spread. It’s a peanut butter alternative that’s MADE FROM COOKIES! No, it’s not healthy, but it’s so amazingly good.

  19. I’m not a parent, but I’ve been a nanny and worked with children in all sorts of other capacities. My biggest tip is, don’t assume a kid won’t like something because you don’t think of it as kid food! Just offer them all sorts of things and you might be surprised. I’ve known two-year olds who were obsessed with quinoa, four-year olds who loved eating raw kale, etc. Also if you don’t keep mac and cheese in the house in the first place it’s less likely that you’ll be talked into having it for dinner every night.

    • My mother used to exploit my child labor all the time. She even trusted me with a paring knife when I was five to cut the mushrooms. (I loved mushrooms, dude.) I still have all my fingers, too!

  20. There are special knives just for cutting lettuce? Well geez…I just tear it into pieces using my bare hands.

  21. My mother taught me to make a rum and Diet Coke early as a kid and bring it to her on the couch with vanilla swiss almond ice cream wrapped in a towel so it didn’t hurt her hand from the cold. This was after we did the dishes. Having a servant to do this for me is why I’d have kids.

  22. when i was a child my mom served dinners such as: giant bowls of whipped cream, a giant bag of gummy bears, ice cream cones, whole lobsters, and a lot of pancakes shaped like letters of the alphabet.

    now im 21 and i ate jolly ranchers and tic tacs for lunch today.

  23. For real… I mean, people who take salad seriously usually prefer to tear the lettuce (except for mediterranean chopped salad or something). And also, doesn’t tearing the lettuce for salad already count as a perfect kid cooking activity?

  24. Breakfast for dinner is always a winner. I do that when my parenting ratings are down.

    We are in the process of teaching our kids to make coffee. This hasn’t gone well so far. First attempt – 1 tablespoon of coffee for 10 cups of water. Most recent attempt – 20 cups of water in 12 cup machine (water water everywhere). However, my kids do know how to make me a cup of coffee to my liking once the pot is ready. That was a very important developmental milestone.

  25. Laneia, I really really love you for writing this series. I’m 24 and I have a 3 year old. We live in a pretty cool but really small city, and it’s hard enough to meet other queers, much less queers with kids. Even rarer are queers with kids that are under 40 (the parents, not the kids). Autostraddle has pretty much become my social life, but even here, among a very diverse bunch, it doesn’t seem like there are many parents. It totally makes sense, but it makes me really happy to see content that relates to my life with a small person as well as my life as a girl who loves girls. Big hug. Thank you thank you thank you.

    • Me too! I’m 22 with a 2 year old, and I don’t have any queer friends with kids. This post made me really happy.

    • YOU GUYS thank you!! i thought i was the only young queer single mom in the world — like i really thought that — so sometimes it’s still kinda weird to talk about my life here, because i’m worried it’ll be boring for everyone who doesn’t have kids, you know? but then i remember that i’m not the only one! so i write these for you. thank you for reading!!

      • It’s definitely not boring. I’m 18 years old and I love reading about kids. This may be because I’m planning to be an au pair in a year or so, which is enough like parenting to need to know how to feed kids three meals every day. So. Not boring at all. Thank you, Laneia. We love you.

      • You’re totally not alone, but i feel like that a lot too. I guess we are kind of a rare breed. Its harder for me to tell people I’m a parent than it is to tell people I’m queer sometimes. When I come out as being queer they’re all like “oh thats cool”, but when I come out as being a queer parent… so many questions! “Oh… I wouldn’t have guessed. You’re gay, how did that work”? I have a girlfriend, and when all three of us are out we get to answer super-fun questions about whose uterus the kid came from and where we got the sperm. Totally cool. Not awkward at all.

        • And since my relationship with said girlfriend did not exactly produce the offspring, I never know exactly what to say without getting into the past 7 years of my life. I avoid these conversations when I can.

  26. frozen veggies!
    specifically, frozen corn bits and frozen peas. they’ve gotta eat it slowly, it’s cold and fun, delicious, and nothing but healthy.
    my mom’s go-to snack suggestion when we were little and got the 30-minutes-to-dinner munchies, and the majority of the little people in my life now think it’s the greatest thing ever, too.

  27. Oh my gosh…I am SOOO underutilizing my 17 month old’s fine motor abilities. Salad prep and coffee making are his jobs starting NOW!

  28. “I don’t know, kids love to stir things. Don’t squander this passion on bath water.”

    The fact that I totally get the bath water reference here makes me feel like I’ve leveled up from “simple babysitter” to “legit parent” status re: my 2-year-old cousin.

  29. Like, no, seriously, my mom used to cook broccoli and melt a little bit of cheese on them so my brother and I would as for GREEN TREES WITH CHEESE, PLEASE.

    It wasn’t until just last year that I learned my mom didn’t actually like broccoli. Or nearly any vegetable. This shook my world, because she’d never made a fuss about eating them in front of us. She always had big helpings of salad and veggies at dinner. So this is probably your best bet to get kids to eat real food.

  30. My parents tricked me into believing the only drinks that existed were water, milk and orange juice. Until i was about seven years old i had never had encountered soft drinks and then only by accident when some friends bought me a sprite, then i kept asking my parents about the sweet water… they told me they didn’t know what i was talking about…
    In the end its good cause i stick with water most of the time :)

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