My life B.C. (before children) seemed much simpler, more predictable, and I could actually plan on spending a solid 30 minutes in a kitchen preparing a meal. Now 30 minute meals feels more like 3 hours as I dash out of the kitchen to stop a baby from eating inedibles, or take a break to give my toddler a cup of water. It may seem easier to go through the drive-thru, but sometimes all it takes is 5 minutes of prep the night before and 10 minutes of work that evening to have a tasty, healthy meal. Studies also show that children who eat home-made dinners tend to be healthier, and kids who sit around the table as a family are even less likely to use drugs and alcohol. Life with children is so much richer that I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I have found a few tricks to make mealtime more enjoyable and relaxed.
1) Make meals that kids can eat too. Limit the times you cook spicy, complex, or hard to chew meals if you have little ones.
2) Cook one meal for the whole family. We don’t do much short order cooking around here, and our kids eat everything from chicken liver to salmon to salad and they love polenta. Train your kids that what is on the table is what’s for dinner…and if you limit pre-dinner snacking to vegetables (we sometimes do carrot sticks for the older one or peas for the baby) they won’t ruin their appetites on junk snacks and then reject your gourmet meal while whining for ice cream and french fries.
3) Choose lean proteins, whole grains, and vegetables for dinner. A balanced plate for your child is a smaller version of a plate for you. And your teen may have the same balance, but larger.
4) Time management is key with kids. Choose meals that are quick and easy to make and clean-up. If you see a dish that has 5 or fewer ingredients, takes 2-3 pans or pots to make, and doesn’t require you to be constantly stirring or chopping, you probably have a winner. I’m always a fan of soups that allow me to dump everything, in a pot and cook while I’m doing something else. I especially love it when that soup or dish calls for no or low-prep items like pre-cut frozen veggies, rice or pasta or other grains that can just cook in the pot, and canned beans or leftover meat from a previous meal. Five minutes of prep, one pot to clean, and a cheap, healthy meal served with some whole-grain bread or crackers. Those frozen stirfries and pasta combos in a bag? Lifesavers for the busy mom – just choose the ones that have less than 10 grams of fat per serving.
5) Prep ahead. Can you chop those veggies during naptime or the night before? Thaw out the meat the night before? Crockpots are wonderful for this – if you prep everything the night before and put it in the crockpot in the fridge, you can just start it up in the morning.