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“Would you like some help packing something for martial arts?”
As many couples do, my husband and I have certain code phrases that carry nuances no one else will get and the one delivered this morning, above, is really code for “If you feed our kids junk food from one of the plaza eateries again this month I am going to lose my mind.”
I used to think that we would never be one of those families that throws pizza slices at their kids in the car, but in fact, sometimes we end up rolling that way.
Commuting time, daycare and scheduled class time, plus a 5-year spread in our kids’ ages all combine to make evening meals a challenge several times a week. Since one of my kids gets a hot lunch but the other packs his, we need to apply some creativity if we want our kids to eat. (Are mine the only kids who get really picky after 5:30 p.m.?)
Here are three of our go-to nut-free meals, and four other strategies we have tried.
These take a little bit of prep time (cutting off the crusts; I don’t do the pinwheels, I’ll admit) but there’s something about their size and novelty that makes my kids eat them up, particularly my two-year-old. As a bonus, there’s not a whole lot for them to drop. Pro tip: You really have to wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or have them packed close in a container so they don’t dry out.
Dinner dippers (pictured above)
This takes a stable location, like the lobby of a martial arts academy, but serving dip and crackers also seems to tempt my kids into eating a closer-to-proper meal. The egg-based dip in particular packs some protein with kid-friendly flavour. Hummus also works really well, and sesame seeds are not nuts.
Quick breads, empanadas and other savoury little bites
If something looks like a treat or an appetizer, my kids are favourably disposed. By making my own muffins, quick breads and meat-pie-like-things I can control the ingredients. Warning: Your kids have to be willing to eat room temperature or cold-from-the-fridge empanadas, which my kids are. Our favourite savoury treats include Apple Cheddar Quick Bread and Cheddar Bacon Muffins. Don’t tell the Test Kitchen but I use 3/4 whole wheat flour, 1/4 all-purpose flour in both those recipes.
Four other strategies for eating on the go
1. Keep dinner in the work fridge: I was driving myself crazy trying to figure out which meals I could leave in my car, or whether I had time to swing by our house, until I realized I have access to modern refrigeration at work.
2. Keep napkins, wipes and cutlery in the car.
3. Pack drinks along. If you end up buying, it’s too easy to get talked into an unhealthy snack.
4. Fruit, cheese and (healthier) crackers are still better than junk food. Add in some raw veggies and you are rocking it.
What’s your power kids’ meal on the go? Also, check out our kid-friendly picnic food.
I have to admit that usually my family relies on leftovers and I am worried my kids are going to be spoiled with all these new dinners.
September 4: Grilled Steak and Asparagus Salad
We never seem to have any trouble getting our kids to eat steak. Or duck. If only we did not have to pay for daycare, we would be set! But in all seriousness, this meal was a hit. I did serve the kids plain asparagus, which my toddler chewed on for a while, but spit out. (If you are a non-parent who happens to be reading, sadly, this happens.)
Family rating: Excellent, will make again
September 5: Sausage and Pesto Orecchiette
This pasta was a great fit for our family and close to some pastas we serve regularly. But I will say this one was better; I think it was tossing the pasta in where the sausage had cooked. Well, and of course it comes from our fabulous Test Kitchen.
Here’s my basil story to go with the pesto: When my elder son was 11 months or so old (okay, I actually don’t remember his age, but he was not yet walking but could pull up), I found him chewing on a house plant. I ran to call poison control, and actually was dialing the number before I realized I almost called the emergency line to report that my son had eaten…basil.
He still loves it in all its forms.
My kids also loved hearing that orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian. It did scare me that they then enjoyed biting into the pasta so enthusiastically.
Family rating: Excellent, will make again.
What’s your family’s surefire pasta hit?
It is indeed September! I always feel like the start of the school year is the real start to a set of resolutions.
That’s one reason I was really pleased when we were planning our 30 meals for 30 days of September special calendar. I decided to take the challenge for my family, because we’ve been in a rut lately. With an eight-year-old and a two-year-old at the table I thought it would be neat to see how it works out. (Hopefully not to the horror of our Test Kitchen.) If you’re doing the same please feel free to comment and let me know how it’s going!
Here’s how the first two meals went:
September 1: Tomato and Cheddar Baked Chicken
I wasn’t sure how the tomato-rich sauce would go down with my kids, because it is actually my elder who inspired the idea for our collection of pasta recipes for kids who won’t eat tomato sauce. (Happily, at least.) But he finished his plate, so the jig’s up. My two-year-old did not like the cheese on the chicken, which was an easy fix but took me by surprise. We were on vacation last week in an area with a great farm produce stand, so my kids picked out the baseball zucchini (see below), which I think helped with the buy-in.
Family rating: Excellent, will make again
September 2: Spicy Green Bean and Tofu Stir-Fry
I made two versions of this dish, which is one of my strategies to walk the line between being a short-order cook, and having a meal on the table my kids will eat. Weirdly, they both like curry but neither one is a fan of heat in any other dish. So one version was spicy, and the other was green beans and tofu with a bit of soy sauce. It may have been the back-to-school blues but the kids did not love their version, although my oldest muddled through. I loved it for how easy and healthy it is, though, and the spicy version was really flavourful for something so fast to make. Plus, served with rice, they had something on their plates they would eat.
Family rating: Yummy for the grownups, but not likely to be a regular favourite.
What are you making for dinner this fall?
The appeal of a slow cooker for a busy mom is undeniable. Merely set the slow cooker before you head out to the office or before you jump in the car to chauffeur the kids to sports practice and the thousand other places they need to be driven to and come home to a nice homemade meal, all steamy and ready to eat.
I asked for a slow cooker for my birthday (and a bread maker. Last year I asked for measuring spoons. Really.) and I love it. I throw in some ribs, knock in a few ingredients and come home to a restaurant-style rack of ribs after work. At the dinner table everyone is happy and covered in rib sauce. Success, right?
Herewith, some Canadian Living kid-friendly slow cooker recipes to try with your family. Let us know if you like them!
Slow Cooker Potato, Cheddar and Chive Soup recipe (pictured above)
Just omit the chives if your kids don’t eat “green stuff” (because I know that’s not just my house!)
Slow Cooker Maple Barbecue Pork Ribs
Not too sweet, perfectly tender ribs. We serve it on steamed rice chez moi with a side salad.
Slow Cooker Paprika Chicken Stew
So good! Especially if your kids are getting bored of roast chicken.
Slow Cooker Braised Chicken and Potatoes
And if they’re not getting bored of roast chicken, this is a nice change-up.
Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili
Great for tweens and teens who have decided they are vegetarians.
Don’t like any of my slow cooker picks? Here’s a roundup from our archive where you’re sure to find something:
Happy Slow Cooking, and let us know if you like these!
Looking for more dinner ideas? Here’s 4 alternatives to chicken nuggets.