How do I cook meals while caring for the children? Well, it's something of a balancing act, but simple little things can make such a huge difference. Here are some "tips". It's truthfully nothing groundbreaking, but they help.
Plan meals! Planning meals will help keep things in order. Write a menu and shop according to the menu so you have everything you need for each meal.
Decide what the meal will be early. In the morning or even the day before decide what meal you'll be making that day.
Prepare ingredients ahead of time! THIS is a huge help! Preparing ingredients ahead of time is probably the most useful thing you can do to help with time management while you're trying to juggle the cranky baby, cleaning up the mess the toddler made, letting the dogs out and cooking the meal. When you have a few free moments during nap time or while they are content, cutting up the veggies, preparing a side dish or marinating the meat will help a whole lot when all hell starts breaking loose while you're cooking.
Don't be ashamed to use distractions for short periods of time. When you need your hands free of the baby while cooking, don't feel guilty about letting them play in the jumparoo with the TV on or letting the toddler play a game. If toys are an effective distraction for your child, put them in a safe place (playpen, childproof, gated room etc.) with some toys! I absolutely do not believe in the TV being a babysitter all day, but if it helps for short periods of time, I'm not ashamed to do it. (but honestly, it doesn't work well for my kids lol)
I also often keep the baby in her highchair while I am cooking so she can see me. She's fairly clingy and likes to be in the middle of everything. The highchair and a couple of small toys helps keep her occupied most of the time.
The older boys are usually asked to go to the playroom to play a game or read etc. or play in the backyard (where I can watch them from the kitchen) while I cook to keep them from getting under my feet and getting hurt in the kitchen. I do however incorporate them in food preparation when it's something they can help with (keep in mind, my oldest is only going on 8... the other two are 5 and 4). The toddler is usually somewhere in the middle of the things I do. He often naps until dinner, but that is slowly becoming less common. He is either sent to the playroom with his brothers or is in his highchair to watch me cook. But none of this goes smoothly all of the time, if you couldn't have guessed that!
There are plenty of times the baby is screaming at me to hold her while the boys are fighting upstairs and one of the dogs just threw up in her crate. This is where your multi-tasking (and stress management) skills REALLY come on handy! I told you that you need to learn those if you haven't already right? I can't say I've never threatened the children with not cooking their food until they stop fighting and behave nicely... you know, I'm still human and all.
There we have it, my not so groundbreaking advice and tips. Simple, useful and not all that original.