I started Patacake to give other families a modern recipe resource to help them cook for their kids. I was getting bored with my usual cookbooks, so I collated delicious recipe finds from multiple blogs, edited them for tiny tastebuds and shared them with other busy parents.
All the recipes champion home meals that are unprocessed, nutritious and energy-packed –but not over-reliant on expensive ingredients or complicated methods. Patacake is an emergency destination for when you get stuck in a rut.
Hand-in-hand with the recipe collection, are the interviews I have with real, busy families from diverse cultures and communities. This is my chance to ask other common folks about how they keep cool in the kitchen, juggling a myriad of mealtime requests, and clinging on to their joy for cooking.
These family interviews have taught me new ways to get things done quickly – especially during after-school or kinder pick-up hanger attacks. This article is a compilation of tips and tricks for maintaining back-to-school sanity.
Thankfully, many parents I interviewed have had the foresight to adjust their expectations to match the reality of running a busy household or accommodating allergies/ fussy eating. Sometimes you’ll be incredibly organised, other times you’ll need to wing it.
Letting yourself have relaxed rules when it comes to making things from scratch is especially important. Short-cuts are ok! Adapt your routines around food depending on what else is going on in your world and stick to a few hits to keep dinners stress free.
“As a parent, I’ve always tried to make as much as possible from scratch. When Lili was a toddler, and I was at home with her, I was making my own bread, cheese and butter. Now that I’m working, that’s not happening. I still make sure we’re eating whole food but the meals during the week are quick and simple. I leave more complicated things to the weekend – and now I just buy the bread.” Angel Munro, Nutritionist
“I used to think that everything should be made from scratch and I now realise how ridiculous that is. When I’m home alone with the kids, I feel like all I do is prepare food. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, sandwich. It’s doubly exhausting when you need to make a separate meal for an extremely fussy eater, so these days I try to make things that can be served deconstructed for the fussy one but are still delicious for the rest of the fam.” Jess Prescott, Cookbook Author
Although staring into the pantry void can spark simple creations that often become the most requested by the kids, many a last-minute meal can be made from repeat-buy ingredients.
“My go-to meal is a rice cup, canned tuna, avocado, goats cheese. Prep time is two minutes, and the kids eat it. Add chilli flakes for grown-ups.” Ashe Davenport, Author
“We always like to have rice, pasta, eggs, soy sauce, bread, tinned tomatoes, vegetable stock and a jar of pasta sauce. Generally, I’ll bring home a protein to cook with, but we always have staples for a simple pasta, minestrone soup or fried rice, and a bag of frozen peas, corn and carrot in the freezer as well.” Rudin Rashid, Tattoo Artist
“We always have things in the pantry that will elevate a meal. Anchovies, tahini, fresh herbs. I wish we grew the herbs but we’re both pretty hopeless when it comes to this, plus we have possums that come down in the night and devour them. I’m also obsessed with always having a large block of Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino Romano in the fridge. We love carbonara so these are essential items.” Pat O’Neill, Designer
Time and again, families have proclaimed the rice cooker as their dinner-time saviour: less mess, more success. The rice will always be fluffy and the kids will always be pleased.
But the one device savvy families rely on most, is the freezer. Those in the know make big batches of pasta sauce, soup or ragu and keep a few serves stowed away in the freezer. You’ll thank yourself on the evenings when you can’t be bothered cooking, and before long you’ll have an eclectic mix of meals just fingertips away.
Notable mentions go to the stick blender, microwave pasta cooker and air fryer. All nifty kitchen equipment that can fast-forward your prep time.
It’s 4.30pm and the kids are hungry. As you navigate your way through the chaos of pre-dinner moods, take some advice from these parents:
“In order to get us fed before everyone has a melt-down, I usually cook part of the meal early. This could be something like rice, so Claude gets to eat that straight away with some quick cooked or raw vegetables and a bit of fish. I’ll then get the rest of the “adult meal” cooked and Claude will hopefully eat again with us mums a bit later.” Sarah Lanarch, Illustrator
“I make the boys chopped up raw or lightly cooked veggies as an after-school snack. When they are really hungry they eat these all up. From there they can have fish and chips for dinner and I can feel good that they’ve had their daily fix.” Angaline Atkins , Admin Assistant
Six time-saving tips
Lastly, here are some quick-fire techniques to help you speed through back to school routines.