Preparing a healthy meal for your family at the end of a long day might seem daunting. Factor in fickle taste buds, extreme opinions, and the ice cream fixations of a three-year old eater like my son’s, and I often just want to pour a glass of wine and order take-out around five o’clock.But I’ve learned a few key strategies to survive that dinnertime panic without calling up the pizza delivery guy or serving yet another box of mac and cheese.
It never fails: At 5pm when I start to heat the oil, boil the water, or chop last-minute items, my son says he’s ready for dinner. Yikes.
- Serve edamame pods. The frozen unshelled pods cook in five minutes, and my son loves them plain. I buy myself some time by serving them whole for my son to pop out of the pods, but if you have a younger eater, opt for the preshelled edamame.
- Have a homemade veggie tray at the ready. At the beginning of the week, cut up carrots, celery, radishes, cucumbers, cabbage, sweet red bell pepper and broccoli; store them in an air-tight container in the fridge. I pull this box of veggies out when I hear the first whisper of “Is dinner ready yet?”
- Plain popcorn is amazing: A tiny cup won’t fill up little bellies but will provide a whole grain treat.
Take it from me — the person who wants to make my own arugula-basil pesto to coat my fresh, homemade whole wheat pasta — it’s okay to buy pre-prepped ingredients to save time. And it makes for a saner cook.
- Try frozen brown rice to save time at the stove top with a stir-fry.
- Pick up a rotisserie chicken to make a quick chicken salad. We love Curried Coconut Chicken Salad, and my son helps shred chicken or stirs together the spices for the chicken seasoning.
- Canned beans are perfect time-savers. This Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salad comes together in a snap with 2 or 3 cans of rinsed and drained black beans. Serve it as a taco filling with shredded rotisserie chicken, cheese and guacamole for an easy dinner.
- During the week, we take a shortcut and use frozen pizza dough instead of making our own. Little hands can help shape the pizza dough. Load it up with veggies. Broccoli and zucchini on pizza? Yes, please! Try the combo in this Grilled Vegetable Pizza or put your family’s favorite toppings on a Cast Iron Skillet Pizza.
Quick CookersMy son loves rice. We’ve been trying to broaden his grain horizons, and it helps to find pastas and whole grains that cook more quickly than rice. I try to always have at least one or two in the pantry to round out a meal in a pinch. Some of our favorites include:
- Quinoa — Ready in 20 minutes; up the flavor by toasting the grains a minute or two in a dry pan.
- Couscous — Done in 10 minutes if you’re taking your time.
- Whole wheat orzo — Acts like rice, but cooks in half the time. We love to sub whole wheat orzo for the wild rice in our versions of this dish with avocado, basil, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes.
Pizza, Pasta and Potatoes These are my son’s three food groups. I use this to my advantage, though, and serve new foods (read: vegetables) by using his favorites as the vehicle.
- For a pizza twist, slather hummus on pizza dough and top with sliced squash and cheese.
- Toss roasted cauliflower or green beans, canned chickpeas, or sugar snap peas into your pasta to up the nutrition ante and give little eaters something new.
- Make vegetable “pasta” by slicing long, thin ribbons of zucchini and carrot.
- Make a potato hash and add broccolini, kale, butternut squash, asparagus, or whatever vegetable you want your kids to try. Sweet potatoes or frozen shredded potatoes can be great starting points here.
What are some of your strategies for feeding your little ones? I love hearing from other parents about how they encourage their children to try new foods and eat healthfully.