Food  |  Parenting

This Chef’s Make-Ahead-of-Time Dinner Tips and Recipes Will Make New Parenthood Less Stressful

Ocean Prime chef Jason Shelley will help you concentrate on what really matters during your baby's first weeks.

Image via iStock.

There’s an old saying that everything changes when you have your first child. It’s an understatement. Unfamiliar responsibilities and pure physical exertion push new parents to their limits.

One way to prepare for this tumultuous transition is by prepping food in advance to eat during the first few weeks of parenthood. So we asked for some advice from Jason Shelley, executive chef of Ocean Prime, who is about to become a father. He offered up six easy tips and three straightforward recipes guaranteed to make life easier for newly minted mommas and poppas.

Start cooking a month before the due date

“Because the baby could come at any minute in that timeframe. Items like stews, chilies, eggplant parmesan, and lasagna last a few months, so you can make them well in advance.”

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

“Make something that’s good, delicious, and practical. Don’t go crazy. Anything you can do to limit stress is good for everybody involved.”

Choose wisely

“More robust dishes with hearty proteins work best, because they can withstand the freezing process. On the other hand, leafy greens don’t freeze well. They break down and fall apart.”

Cool food before freezing

“That way you don’t get a lot of condensation in the container, which creates ice and causes frostbite. So cool food down in the fridge and wait until the morning after cooking it before you transfer it to the freezer.”

Invest in a vacuum sealer

“To prevent frostbite, less oxygen is better. This machine will help remove the air. You can always store food in quality airtight containers. Remember food expands when it freezes, so your container might break or split if you overfill it.”

Freeze in batches

“I will freeze one batch that’s enough for four or five people in case we have people over, but I’ll also freeze batches that are just one or two servings, which are enough for me and my wife. That way, you’re not forced to thaw the entire batch when you want to eat it.”

Classic Chili

1/4 cup smoked paprika

1/4 cup chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

2 tablespoons onion powder

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 tablespoon salt, plus more for seasoning

1 tablespoon ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning

3 pounds ground beef

1 bulb garlic, peeled and chopped

1 yellow onion, peeled and diced into medium-sized pieces

1 green bell pepper, deseeded and diced into medium-sized pieces

1 red bell pepper, deseeded and diced into medium-sized pieces

3 Roma tomatoes, diced into medium-sized pieces

2 14.5-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 bunch parsley, stems removed and chopped

1 can red kidney beans

1 can canelli beans


Make chili seasoning: Mix smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, and ground black pepper.

In a large, heavy-bottom stockpot, brown the ground beef. Season with salt, pepper, and 1-2 tablespoons of chili seasoning. Do not cook the meat all the way through.

Remove beef from pot and place in a bowl lined with paper towels to soak up some of the excess fat.

Place garlic and onions in the pot and cook them in the remaining beef fat (add olive oil if needed) until slightly browned. Add green bell peppers, red bell peppers, and Roma tomatoes. Season again with salt, pepper, and chili seasoning to taste. Add canned tomatoes and cook until softened. Add tomato paste and cook until the mixture is nearly dry.

Add in red kidney and canelli beans, along with half the liquid in each can (discard the remainder of the liquid). Add parsley and ground beef. Season again with chili seasoning. Add 2 cups of water and simmer until chili achieves desired consistency. Season to taste one more time before serving.

Grandma’s Eggplant Parmesan

3 medium-sized eggplants


4 large eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 cups breadcrumbs

Vegetable oil

1 pound sweet Italian sausage

1 pound spicy Italian sausage

8 cups marinara sauce

2 pounds shredded mozzarella

2 cups grated parmesan

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste


To prepare the eggplants, cut off the top and bottom ends, then cut them lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place the eggplant on them a paper-towel-lined sheet and lightly sprinkle with salt. Place another layer of paper towels on top, place more eggplant on this level, and salt them, too. Repeat until all the eggplant is salted and the final layer is covered with a top sheet of paper towels. To help remove the moisture, place books or other heavy objects over the entire surface for 10 minutes or more, making sure all the eggplants are equally pressured.

While the eggplant is resting, whisk eggs and 1/2 cup water together and place in a large flat container. Place flour, egg mixture, and breadcrumbs in separate containers big enough to accommodate the eggplant slices. Arrange the containers left to right: flour, egg mixture, breadcrumbs.

Make the sauce by sautéing the sausage in olive oil until just cooked through, and then add in the marinara.

While the sauce is simmering, remove all of your sliced eggplant and start breading them by first dredging them in the flour, then thoroughly dunking them in egg wash, and finally coating them with breadcrumbs (pat the breadcrumbs on firmly to make sure they stay put). Place breaded eggplant on a sheet tray with wax or parchment paper.

Get a high-sided large sauté pan hot with enough oil to cover the bottom. Begin frying eggplant in batches for 1-2 minutes until golden brown on each side. Place fried eggplant on a tray with paper towels and save until all pieces have been fried.

Place 1 cup of the marinara in a large baking pan and spread it all over the bottom. Then place a layer of fried eggplant, trying to minimize the gaps. Add 1-2 cups of marinara and spread evenly over the eggplant. Next spread some mozzarella over the sauce and sprinkle with parmesan. Repeat until you get to the last layer of eggplant. For the top layer, put a little more sauce than the other layers and cover generously with both cheeses. Wrap in plastic and then foil, and freeze for later use.

When ready to serve, simply thaw to almost room temp. Then bake at 350° F covered with foil (don’t forget to remove the plastic wrap) for 35-40 minutes. Unwrap and continue to bake until cheese is golden brown.

Beef Stew

2 cups low-sodium beef stock

2 medium carrots, diced into medium-sized pieces

1 butternut squash, diced into medium-sized pieces

1 bunch parsley, stems removed and chopped

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

2 pounds short rib, diced into 1-inch cubes

Olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced into medium-sized pieces

1 garlic bulb, sliced

3 celery ribs, diced into small pieces

2 Roma tomatoes, grated

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 12-ounce bottle brown ale or other dark beer

1 small bunch of thyme

4 sprigs of rosemary

2 bay leaves

Place stock, carrots, squash, and half of the parsley in an 8-ounce or larger slow cooker, and turn it on the high setting for 2 hours. Season lightly with salt and pepper and stir to mix.

Meanwhile, season cubed short ribs with salt and pepper. Pour a little oil into a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sear the beef in batches, browning on all sides. After all the meat is seared and removed from the pan, add onion, garlic, and celery and sauté until they start to brown. Add the grated tomatoes and parsley, and sauté for 1 minute. Next add in tomato paste and cook to almost dry. Season as you go with salt and pepper. Add the beer and cook until the liquid is reduced by half

After the contents of the slow cooker have cooked for 2 hours, add beef mixture to crockpot. Fill the beer bottle almost full with water and add to the cooker. Stir thoroughly.

Using string, tie the thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves together. Add the bouquet into the mixture, pushing down until just covered by the liquid. Cook on low setting four 4 hours. Remove bouquet and season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.

Parenting writer

Nevin Martell is a parenting, food, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, and many other publications. He is author of eight books, including It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. When he isn’t working, he loves spending time with his wife and their six-year-old son, who already runs faster than he does.