I’m a freelancer and a parent. My partner is a freelancer and a parent. What a great setup, you might think — as we did, a year or so ago. And it is great a lot of the time, but it’s also totally mental.
We have the flexibility to choose when our ‘weekend days’ are. We have the flexibility to swap roles for an hour, or a day or a week — depending on who has more work. We have the flexibility that both parents can be on hand for the Mega Tantrums (urgh). We have the flexibility that one of us can look after the baby while the other takes the three-year-old to nursery, the doctor, the toilet etc. We have so much flexibility in fact, that time can just disappear in the gaps between parental tasks and baby swap overs. What was once a 30-hour working week when we had one child and some sanity, has now dwindled to a 15-hour week now that there is a baby and a house move in the mix.
In an attempt to claw back time I’ve started to examine every part of our day — Can we make the morning mayhem a bit swifter without making it more hectic? Shall we get up earlier? At one point, in my sleep-deprived wisdom, I decided that we were spending way too much time cooking. Surely we could compromise on that? Maybe we should just buy ready meals to carve off a sliver of time from parental duties? Maybe that would work. I’ve always liked cooking and found a bit of kitchen pottering to be very calming at the end of a long day (assuming everyone left me alone) but we should just do fish fingers, right? Until shit calms down a bit.
We should just do fish fingers, right? Until shit calms down a bit.
It turns out even cooking ready meals and fish fingers requires entering the kitchen and a bit of forethought — and food shopping of course. Then they turn out to be a bit rubbish, or a bit small, or a bit expensive, or a bit lacking in any vegetables. So, I was determined to conquer the problem. I decided to figure out some super-quick recipes and meals that require very little preparation that you can just bung in the oven. And with that the Freelancer’s Cookbook was born! Or at least a bit of the cookbook, and not as a book, but as a website. But you get the picture.
Nowadays I find it a bit easier to stick to cooking healthy and varied food. Things are still pretty chaotic — not sure anything will fix that — but food doesn’t feel like one of the stresses.
So based on my experience of setting up the Freelancer’s Cookbook, my main tips would be a bit of planning ahead — no meticulous meal planning for exactly what you’ll eat each day or chopping in advance — but having three or four super-easy meals in your head or written down on a post-it on the fridge. If you do this planning ahead of time, then when shopping seems easier (online shopping that is, you’re crazy if you go to an actual shop with children) and each evening there may be slightly less time spent staring into an empty fridge.
For quick meals during the day on your own or with a little one, go for leftovers — definitely the key to an easy life. Making too much pasta or rice will help you whip up something exciting, or at least sturdy, the next day. Of course fresh pasta or ready cooked rice is just as quick but just a bit less economical. Why not whizz up an avocado (or bash it with a masher if you don’t have a whizzer) and stir it in with your pasta, along with some smoked salmon, or ham hock? Or fry up your leftover rice with frozen peas, chuck in an egg and some cashews for super-quick fried rice? Or if you have leftover spaghetti, why not make a spaghetti di frittata (or spaghetti omelette to you and me)? Some essentials to have in stock for this kind of meal are things that are easy to cook and that keep for a good while — frozen peas, frozen soya beans, frozen spinach, olives, cashews… that sort of thing. Plus some good cheese.
For quick meals during the day on your own or with a little one, go for leftovers — definitely the key to an easy life.
For evening meals you could make the most of being near the kitchen and go for a low prep, long cook recipe — make the oven do the work. The easiest is just a traybake, which may not sound sexy but can be a thing of beauty. Pop your meat in to cook (chicken, sausages, lamb chops or pork chops) along with potatoes, then the veg. Mix it up with different meat or no meat at all. Make couscous or rice instead of the potatoes or even just pop the traybake stuff into wraps. And play around with flavours. You could add chorizo, balsamic vinegar, paprika and honey, feta and pesto, apricots, mozzarella — or anything really. You could even go crazy and marinate the meat beforehand, although surely no one finds time for that!
Although I have to admit that one thing I do like to find time for is a spot of batch cooking. Maybe it makes me seem horribly organised but it is a great excuse to hide in the kitchen for an hour or two with a podcast. Then I can feel all smug, with several meals done ahead of time. This year I’m also hoping to conquer the slow cooker, once I have a house to put one in. Then I’ll be super smug. Just popping the food in during one of those plentiful quiet times between the toddler’s demands and the baby’s screaming, to be greeted with a splendid, nutritious dinner that evening. Will it work out? Who knows? Probably not. I’ll just dream for now.
Photograph by Rose Parkin.