Kelsey Nixon talks about her new cooking show, supermarket shortcuts, and cooking with her son Ollie.
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Kelsey Nixon and family
Credit: Courtesy of the Cooking Channel

It's nice to know that even the host of a cooking show has problems pulling together dinner sometimes, isn't it? That's one of the reasons I love Kelsey Nixon. Mother of Ollie, age four, host of Kelsey's Homemade on Cooking Channel, and author of Kitchen Confidence, Kelsey is down-to-earth, friendly, and totally cool with the fact that we're going to buy rotisserie chicken and refrigerated pizza dough on a regular basis. She recently shared her thoughts on supermarket shortcuts, cooking for friends, and how food can help foster strong family ties.

Q: What advice would you give moms of babies or toddlers who feel overwhelmed by making a homemade dinner?

First of all, give yourself a break. I cook for a living and trust me, there are plenty of nights that a homemade dinner doesn't make it to our dinner table! It's tough to handle it all, and sometimes it's ok to throw your hands in the air and make quesadillas on a Tuesday night. There are a few things that I rely on for a quick homemade meal when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I've become familiar with a few "cheater" ingredients at the grocery that can literally make a meal happen in minutes--and they don't all come from the freezer section!. I buy a rotisserie chicken at least once a week. Whether I shred it for chicken noodle soup served in bread bowls, slice it to serve with pan roasted potatoes and a mustard vinaigrette over greens, or toss the shredded chicken with my favorite salsa verde for tacos, it's like my insurance policy on dinner.

Q: What can people do to get a head-start on dinner so they don't feel overwhelmed?

Meal planning is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot, but unless you're ultra-organized it can be difficult to pull off regularly. My modified approach to meal planning is to think about dinner the morning of. This usually happens when I'm in the shower! At that point I'm usually in the headspace where I know who's going to be home for dinner and if we have any extracurricular commitments. I'll make a quick pass through my refrigerator to remind myself if we've got any leftovers to work with or veggies that need to be used up. From there, I'll make a plan for that night and make a mental note to pick up any necessary ingredients.

Q: What "shortcut" foods do you feel comfortable buying at the grocery store?

Well, I've already proclaimed my love for the rotisserie chicken. I'm also a fan of refrigerated pizza dough, frozen petite peas, filled pastas like ravioli and tortellini, canned beans, tomatoes, broth, spice blends, a few pre-made condiments like salsa verde and curry paste, and even a few boxed mixes like corn muffin mix. And if I'm in a real pinch pre-cut veggies!

Q: Have you started bring Ollie to the kitchen to "help" you cook yet?

Yes! The help is somewhat limited and often creates more of a mess than anything else, but it's important to me that he feels comfortable being in the kitchen with me while I cook and that he feels welcome. I've set up a little area in our kitchen with some of his play food and lots of times he'll be making his own version of dinner with his ingredients! The best part is that when I do involve him in dinner, I find that he tends to be more interested in eating it.

Q: What are a few easy things people can do or dishes they can prepare that can make having friends over less stressful?

I love making frittatas when we have people over last minute. I know that I've always got eggs on hand and that if I have some sort of protein (sausage, bacon, chicken, etc.), good cheese (such as Gruyere, cheddar, or Parmesan), and veggies or greens (peppers, spinach, onion, etc.) then I can have a meal made in minutes. It's easy to pair with a good baguette and a quick salad. I've also been know to throw together a big pot of soup, stew, or chili before having friends over last minute.

Q: How does Kelsey's Homemade differ from your last show Kelsey's Essentials?

Kelsey's Essentials was really all about setting up your first kitchen and learning those classic recipes that every home cook should know how to make like pot roast, mashed potatoes, and chocolate chip cookies. Kelsey's Homemade is more learning to balance the craziness of work, family, and food...and finding a way to enjoy it. There are a few lifestyle elements peppered throughout the show and it includes a lot more of my family. Most importantly it's an opportunity for me to share those recipes, tips, and tricks that work in my own home with my viewers. The recipes that I make on this series are those that I make over and over again on a busy weeknight after a long day as a working mom. They're easy, approachable, and make home cooking more accessible.

Q: What role does cooking/food play in creating strong family bonds?

For me, growing up it seems that all of my best family memories revolved around food in some capacity. The traditions that I look forward to most always seem to involve recipes and food that represent the best of family. On an everyday basis, the fact that we have the opportunity to sit down as a family at meal time and break bread together gives us a chance to focus on each other and get in the habit of doing something together every day. I think there's a huge connection between food and family – one that has both immediate and long term benefits.

Kelsey's Homemade airs on Saturday mornings on Cooking Channel.

Jenna Helwig is the food editor at Parents and the author of Real Baby Food and Smoothie-licious.