The Unexpected Game-Changer for Parents Who Cook

published Jun 25, 2021
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Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewcyzk

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As a food writer with shiny object syndrome, I’d always wanted a sous vide machine. But when my husband bought me one for Christmas when I was pregnant with our daughter, I was too nauseated to consider playing with it for months. But when the worst of the morning sickness passed, it became a part of my kitchen nesting strategy. 

Essentially, a sous vide machine circulates water in a vessel, keeping it at a consistent temperature. You vacuum seal or displace water in a zip top bag (or at certain temperatures, a glass jar) with the food you want to cook, walk away, and arrive hours later to perfectly cooked meat, veggies, or eggs, just to name a few. You can sear it at the end if you want to get fancy. (If you’re concerned about using plastic bags, you’ll be thrilled to learn that there are silicone bags created for just this purpose. If you’re cooking with plastic bags, you may want to look for BPA free versions.) 

My bold declaration: a sous vide machine is everything an Instant Pot wishes it could be. 

Once I got started, I did what I’d always wanted to — cook perfect chicken without stressing about sticking a thermometer into it, and make steak to my exact specifications. I was impatient not to be pregnant anymore so I could try hollandaise and poached eggs (spoiler alert: I still haven’t gotten that intricate). I even made my own yogurt, which made me feel like a domestic goddess. 

But it wasn’t until after my daughter was born that I realized that my sous vide wasn’t just a high-tech, cheffy tool — it was also a lifesaver for us as new parents who wanted to continue to eat well (or at all). 

Here are my top tips for using a sous vide machine with a baby, and far beyond. 

Batch cook nearly everything

One of the most amazing things about sous vide cooking is that the amount of food you can cook at a time is only limited by the vessel you’re cooking in. You could cook an entire freezer full of chicken at once if you have a heat-safe place to put all the water. This makes it a no brainer for batch cooking. Sometimes I’ll cook a bunch of chicken thighs or breasts in just a little olive oil and then either keep them whole or chop them up to quickly add to salads or recipes during the week. If you want to be even further ahead, add different sauces to your protein bags of choice for dinners that need only to be warmed up in a pan before serving. 

I can make hard boiled eggs for quick snacks on the go, and once I got the hang of yogurt, it became a ritual, and it’s so much more delicious than the store bought stuff. 

Most sous vide recipes have a grace period of anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, meaning you can leave your food in the water without it getting overcooked, a lifesaver for me as a parent. 

Batch cooking like this not only saves you precious time, it’s also a great energy saver, because you’re only turning on your machine once.

Ditch the bottle warmer

When your kids are very small, you might be desperate for a way to heat up breast milk or formula for a quick bottle at the right temperature. Your sous vide machine offers an easy way to keep it at a constant temperature, and you’ll sure use it a lot more than a traditional bottle warmer. 

(Disclaimer: I’ve known people who have done this with both formula and breastmilk, but please consider your situation and defer to a medical professional if you’re concerned, and don’t use this to sterilize bottles or pump parts). 

Make grab-and-go baby food

When your baby gets a little older, sous vide is the perfect companion for starting solids. I played around with temperatures, but landed on about 185 F. I chopped whatever fruits or veggies I wanted to make into baby food and put them in bags and then left them in the water, checking every so often. I wasn’t worried about leaving them too long, since the goal was to break down all the fiber into a puree. Usually, I’d take them out somewhere around the hour mark. 

If you’re particularly concerned about lumps, you can puree your concoction, but I found that squishing it in the bag was usually enough, especially with softer veggies. 

When my daughter got a bit older, this worked well for quickly cooking veggie sides so that they were more solid, but still easy to chew for little teeth. 

Credit: Williams Sonoma

No need to thaw; just add and forget about it 

One of the best features of the sous vide is the fact that you can add items straight from the freezer into the water bath. This means that if you, like me, constantly forget to take things out of the freezer to thaw, no one will ever know. You’ll just need to add a bit of cook time (my sous vide machine has an app that walks me through the basics on most recipes, which I highly recommend, especially if you’re a beginner). 

If you’re more of a forward thinker, you can also freeze bags of protein and sauce ahead of time, so that it’s all ready to go when you take it out of the water. 

During an average week, I pull out my sous vide about three times, rivaling my blender, which is always on duty for smoothies. No longer do I think of this as a specialized tool, and it’s long since paid for itself in yogurt alone. Now, when I make fish or chicken for my daughter, I don’t worry that it’s undercooked. When I leave it a little longer in the water because of one of the many minor emergencies that come up in parenting, I know it will still taste good. When I finally have the opportunity to have friends for dinner, I’m confident that I can make something delicious that will fit into the fast-paced life I have. 

Move over, Instant Pot, there’s a new gadget in town.