I may attempt a food blog, but don’t let me mislead you. The 4 food groups in our house are pasta, mac n’ cheese, tortellini, and yogurt. And though I love love love to relax and cook and try new recipes, I hate a) cooking while breaking up fights and b) lots of dishes. With a 5, 4, and 2 year old, cooking involves plenty of a) and b).
When I chat with my friends with kids about cooking, a common theme emerges. Nothing is more frustrating then investing our precious energy in planning, shopping for, and cooking a healthy meal, which they then refuse to eat. And after the struggle, a messy kitchen awaits you. Ugg. What good is reading all the magazines and emails about about nutrition when the meal is thrown away? It is one of the minefields of parenting that are about as much fun to walk through as getting out the door and getting the kids to bed on time.
Here are a few things I do to avoid said minefield, as well as a few successful meals in our house. I would love to hear what other people do since I think this topic is all about sharing.
Tips that (sometimes) work:
1) Let each kid throw out a food item or meal they would like you to get when you are writing out your grocery list. I try to do this as often as I can, and the answers always surprise me (last time it was hamburgers, broccoli with butter and lemon(!), and Scooby Doo snacks – the two year old is only sort of helpful). When that item is served, I remind the child who requested it that this was their pick of the week, which generates interest and enthusiasm most of the time.
2) Take them to a farmer’s market or farm or grow a garden, like all the experts and uber-conscious eaters say. Knowing where food comes from and talking about it is part of the magic, obviously. Don’t attempt this if you are having a bad day or junior is in melt down city though; also obvious.
3) I took a page out of my son’s kindergarten teacher who always calls the kids a reader or artist when they are learning about letters or being creative. When my kids add a pinch of salt, squeeze a wedge of lemon, or stir granola into their yogurt, I tell them they are being a chef. Now whenever they are creative or independent when handling food, they say, “Hey, I’m being a chef!”
4) Go easy on yourself. Save the big meals for Saturday or Sunday. Have a rotation of 6 or so meals that your kids, your husband, and you enjoy (your cooking it after all, you deserve to enjoy it!).
5) I try hard to only do one shop a week, and I have several go-to ingredients that allow me to be flexible and inventive with our meals, such as herbs, cheeses, and veggies like peppers or spinach that can be used a number of ways. For example, tacos are such a go-to meal I always have the fixings for those, but you can used cheddar and sour cream in so many ways. A very helpful tool here is the delivery service from Stop & Shop, www.peapod.com. They keep a master list of all the items you have purchased, which allows me to do meal prep/shopping in 10 minutes flat in my PJ’s.
The only way a nutritionist could improve on this would be to suggest eating tree bark and seaweed.
This idea is very flexible in the summer time, when there is alot of squash, zucchini, and eggplant around. Get creative, mix any ground protein, any grain like rice or quinoa, with herbs, cheese and veggies, and you have dinner. Mast optional. (My son insisted on the mast. I am no Martha Stewart, but I went along with that one).
1 c. quick cooking Barley
2 T. EVOO
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 lb. organic ground turkey
1 t. S+ 1/2 t. P
1 t. onion powder
1 t. garlic powder
1 c. barley
1 can diced tomato
1 bunch of chopped Basil (about 2 T.)
1/3 c. grated Parmesan
4 zucchini, sliced in half
1/2 c. mozzarella
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cook 1 cup of barley in small pan with 2 cups of water and a sprinkle of salt, according to package directions (mine said add barely to 2 c. boiling water with 1/4 t. salt, bring to boil, simmer for 10 min. but I had to simmer them for 15. Check it after 10!).
Warm 2 T. oil in large pan on medium heat, and cook onions for 5 min, then add garlic for 1-2 min. more, until fragrant. Cook ground turkey until brown, then add salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders, and can of diced tomatoes. Simmer for 5 min. Take off heat, add Basil and Parmesan, stir to combine.
Slice zucchini in half and using a spoon, scoop out the seeds making a hallow boat.
Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with a little EVOO. Fill boats with turkey mixture, then sprinkle mozzarella over each.
Cook for 10-12 min., until cheese is melted and zucchini is soft when felt with a fork.
Chicken Stir Fry:
It is hard to believe my kids love this dinner, since it is protein and veggies, but they do. The secret is how I marinate the chicken, so my salty-loving daughters m-m-mm their way through it. And my sweet loving son can dip his into orange marmalade. I also love this meal because I can clean the whole kitchen while it is stir frying away.
1/3 c. Soy Sauce
1/3 c. Teriyaki Sauce
1/3 c. Vegetable Oil (olive oil is fine too)
Cube 3 organic chicken breasts, then cover with marinade. Refrigerate for 30 min. (or more).
Cook on medium high heat, with marinade, until fully cooked, then add vegetables of your choice.
Serve with rice.
This is about the amount of veggies I used, since they get smaller as they cook. Take that, Good Morning America nutritionist who says ‘eat a rainbow’!
I can have mine hot, they can have theirs sweet. Everyone is happy! If you have not tried Serracha’s Garlic Chile Sauce (on the left) you haven’t lived. Mix it with cream cheese and ANYTHING for a killer dip.
Finally, I would like to pay homage to a recently acquired kitchen tool, one that I was reluctant to purchase since I have packed up my kitchen 3 times in 4 years and thus try not to add unnecessary objects to it.
But I have to say the rice cooker is a busy mom’s best friend. 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice goes in, I push one button, and 30 min. later I have perfect rice.
With 10 minutes left, the stir fry was simmering away and..
……I cleaned the kitchen.
With 5 min. left, I read a magazine! Ok, not really, like 5 pages.
When the rice was done, dinner was served, with very little clean up on my part.
Hope these make for happy eaters and happy mothers at your house!