Before we had kids, my husband and I loved to cook together. Glass of wine in hand, we would spend hours preparing one meal. Braised short ribs one night. Homemade Bolognese sauce over fresh pasta another. But once we had kids, our leisurely meals went the way of a good night's sleep.

Now, dinner time at our house is complete chaos. My kids want to eat between five and six o’clock and the hardworking Daddy is usually not home by then, leaving me to fend for myself. This is consistently the time of day when my toddler son and preschool-age daughter are most crabby and needy. My toddler usually wants to be held. My preschooler clamors for equal attention while continuously reminding me, "Mommy, I'm hungry." Amidst the chaos, I usually end up abandoning my plan to chop and dice up something healthy and homemade in favor of microwavable macaroni and cheese.

In an effort to diversify the dinner menu at our house, I have developed a new strategy. In addition to trying to get any prep work out of the way BEFORE the cranky dinner hour strikes, I am focusing on recipes that only require the use of one hand (leaving the other hand free to hold my toddler, help color a picture, or build a block tower).

I have discovered that it definitely is possible to make a quick and tasty meal using just a few ingredients and simple techniques. My go-to recipe is based on Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter from the Essentials of Italian Cooking. Here is how it to make it using only one hand:

You'll need:

  • 2 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes (I like San Marzano tomatoes but any good brand works)
  • ½ stick of unsalted butter (when I am feeling glutenous I use more)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • Salt and pepper (to your own taste)
  • Box of dried pasta
  • Shaved parmigiano-reggiano

Begin by holding your cranky and hungry toddler on your hip. Attempt to get older child involved in some independent activity for at least a minute (I like to get out some pots and pans and let her do some pretend cooking on the floor next to me). Grab a large pot and put it on the stove. Toss butter in pot and turn heat on to medium. Open two cans of tomatoes and add to pot (it is a little tricky to use the can opener while holding your toddler, but it can be done). Peel onion, cut in half (carefully) and throw the whole thing in the pot. Salt generously. Let the sauce come together on the stove for 30 minutes over medium heat. I periodically come by with a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes and stir the sauce around. Use time while sauce is cooking to engage in various activities to keep children happy until dinner is served. Meanwhile, boil water and cook pasta. Use tongs to pluck the onion out of the sauce. Combine pasta with the sauce. I use a vegetable peeler to shave pieces of parmigiano-reggiano onto the pasta because grating cheese is definitely a two-handed activity.

And just like that you have single-handedly prepared a delicious dinner for your family. Plus, the odds are good that your kids will actually eat it. Bravo, Mom.