Mealtime, it’s never been my jam. Most days I would rather give my kids the birds and the bees talk on repeat than figure out how to feed these people. This is one area of parenting where I have had to suck it up and make it happen. I like to bake, but turns out a family can’t live on banana bread and Pioneer Woman sheet cakes alone. Who knew?.
So I had to learn to like to cook. And to make breakfasts. And lunches. And to shop for all the things that will keep these people both fed and healthy. Hell hath no fury like the child who is hungry and whose mom hasn't started to make dinner...or even think about what to make for dinner.
Over the years this is a topic Erin and I have covered extensively. And finally, I have figured a few things out. With the help of my friends at Pinterest and my friends in the carpool lane I have a few tips that work for our family. My goal here is to get the healthy stuff in the kids and not lose my mind, while putting in minimal effort. Enjoy!
1. Make your own Lunchables. I don’t know about you, but Lunchables are one of the most begged for items in the grocery store. The kids love the bite size food, the little containers and of course the little treat that comes along with it. When I saw these do it yourself Starbucks Bistro Boxes from the inspirational Clean Food Crush I decided to change it up into a do it yourself Lunchable (although my high school girls totally were in on the Starbucks Bistro box idea, it’s all the same but there is so much in a name isn’t there?).
On Sunday I buy everything we need for that week’s boxes. I cut up a turkey breast or some ham, cube boat loads of cheese, hard boil eggs, wash and dry grapes or slice some apples (then soak them briefly in lemon juice with a bit of sugar because what self respecting kid would eat a brown apple slice...the horror) and I prep a bunch of veggies. I buy little condiment cups on Amazon for dips, peanut butter for the apples or dill dip for the veggies, I add individual baggies of crackers or pretzels and then of course a bit sized candy bar for each kid. Different combos of the above are stored in individual Tupperware
Makin' it happen!
containers and stored in the spare fridge so each kid just has to grab and go. If you don’t have to make 25 of these to get your family through the week they may just fit in your actual fridge!
Each week we change up a few things so it doesn’t get old. Tortilla chips and taco dip was a huge hit as was Spinach dip and bread or a ham wrapped pickle. Whatever your kids will eat will work. My husband and I grab these for our lunch as well, they are delish. This one is super easy for kids to help with and a few of mine make their entire week of boxes on their own to be sure they get their favorites inside.
2. Salads of Love This is another lunchtime hit, that could easily morph into dinner. Because I gave birth to 5 soggy sandwich haters, I decided to try salads at lunch time and it was a huge hit, maybe because of the name. I let them know only a loving mom would pack these insane healthy conglomerations for them and they were hooked.
We pull out all the salad fixings at night and the kids build their own salad mix. The biggest prep here again is done Sunday afternoon. Spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded carrots, cucumber, turkey, ham, cheese, olives...anything that is on a salad bar is fair game. Of course the stars of the show are the croutons, candied nuts and craisans which we pack ON THE SIDE, because these are my children and we are nothing if not high maintenance.
3. Theme nights This strategy is a lazy mom’s dream because it is predictable and you can fill it with easy to make things that are not frozen pizza. Or add in the frozen pizza if you want, it’s the perfect Friday meal in our house. Or let your kids jump in and help you plan the themes, that is how breakfast for dinner night was born at our house. Love.
The idea here is that dinner follows a predictable flow, here’s our latest:
Monday: Chef’s special (I am off that day so I do something complicated like pot pie here)
Tuesday: Sandwiches (I drive all the people to all the places on this night so we can take these to go)
Wednesday: Gratitude bowls (we do these like Qdoba burrito bowls with lots of fun toppings but the idea started during lent for us as a way to remind ourselves about the diets of the rest of the world, many who may not get to pick what they eat for dinner each night)
Thursday: Breakfast for dinner (Always a hit)
Friday: Pizza night (frozen if we are out of cash, order in if we are feeling flush)
Weekend: Up for grabs...sometimes leftovers, sometimes grilling out, the weekend is a wildcard.
This schedule takes the guesswork and constant scrolling through recipes out of the whole situation for me. We have a Pinterest board with some of our favs so it gets even easier. Can I get an Amen?
4. Smoothies in a bag This breakfast idea is all over Pinterest and is winning breakfast at my house. We either do one pitcher of smoothies for everyone, or one pitcher and mom and dad take one for breakfast and have another for lunch.
We prep these all in advance and it takes roughly 10 minutes to do. Throw a bag of frozen fruit in a giant baggie, a few handfuls of spinach or other greens, a shake of chia and flax and you are set to go. If you want to be more scientific here is a great recipe to start with. But really once you get going you will find favorite combos. For the grown ups we just add water and some plain greek yogurt, the kids prefer vanilla greek yogurt and coconut milk. Yum. Whatever floats your boat.
Put the smoothies in one of these great to go Mason Jars and your will feel like the cool and hip mom that you are. Although when I carry these to work and it’s a heavy on the spinach day my students do look at me like I’m slightly insane. Pay no attention to these people. They know not what they do.
5. Freezer Meal Friends. My writing partner, Erin, and I get together with some friends to trade meals and recipes. This one is based on the idea that it’s easier to make a ton of one thing rather than a little of a lot of things. Our drill is we bring one meal and make one meal together.
At home we prep enough of one recipe for everyone and bring it all freezer ready. Then we bring the ingredients to prep our second meal to someone’s home along with wine and a can-do spirit. (Our Pinterest board has some of our favorite freezer meals too!)
We work side by side, making enough of this second recipe for everyone. If four people show up, we leave with 8 meals for the freezer, 6 we didn’t have to make or come up with an idea for. It keeps things spicy in the kitchen, our tried and true recipes are enjoyed by more people, and we get a girls night out. Triple win.
The bottom line is we need to do whatever it takes to make mealtime less of a drag and more of a joy. Each of these strategies has gotten my family through and kept me from losing my mind. Try one today and let me know how it works for you!