I’ve taken to the blog many times about my kids and their eating habits. Up until recently, James and I were short order cooks, catering to their finicky taste buds and justifying what we knew was indulgent parenting by reasoning that at least they were eating a somewhat healthy meal and we weren’t wasting food. But then we noticed a shift. They became more interested in what we were having for our “adult” dinner. The range of acceptable proteins to serve evolved from hot dogs and chicken nuggets to salmon and steak. And not just any steak. Fillet mignon is their cut of choice; New York strip comes in a close second. A few of them even mooch off our sushi take-in and last time Cynthia pinched all the tuna. If you would like to contribute to our Go Fund Me fund, message me and I’ll send the link (kidding).
So we did a thing. (I hate that expression and I don’t know why I just used it except that it’s fitting.) We decided to do what normal people do and cook one meal for the entire family each night. (Except Kaleb. He still eats a box of Annie’s mac ‘n cheese EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT). While it’s generally less work in the kitchen preparing dinner, meal planning is FAR more work. There are so many factors to consider – what’s the schedule like that night and do we have time to roast potatoes or is it more of a throw sauce and cheese on pizza dough kind of night? Do we have the patience to risk a dinner fail (like the shepherd’s pie I can’t comprehend no one liking)? Or should we play it safe with tried and true spaghetti and meatball night? Plus, there’s the sales to consider. When I’m paying $6 for a pound of butter these days, it’s become habit to consult the weekly coupons before committing to the menu.
And the sides! We’re in a vegetable rut with a constant rotation of peas, carrots, and edamame. And a starch rut of Rice-a-Roni, egg noodles and potatoes. Because even though their tastes have evolved, they’re still not feeling things like polenta or asparagus (even if we wrap it in bacon). But despite the challenges that come with our new system, it just feels more like the right way to handle mealtime. Plus, the kids get excited to hear what’s on the menu for the week and especially like when we take a risk and try something new.
So, for all you parents out there who are in a meal-planning rut and are sick of scouring the internet trying to find new recipes that will please everyone, here are a few ideas we’ve come up with over the last few months, most of which don’t require a recipe.
Taco Night – I know this is on every single family’s rotation, but there are so many variations you can do, not only with different fillings (we’re partial to ground turkey with taco seasoning and Abigail likes cut up chicken tenders with bacon, cheese and maple syrup), but also with serving “structure”. Deconstructed tacos, for example, seemed different and new, but was essentially the same ingredients just piled together on a plate with cut up tortillas to scoop it all up. There’s also quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas – all the same, but “different.”
Chicken and Waffles – Since it’s trending so much at restaurants, we figured why not try it at home? Waffle batter from the mix, frozen chicken strips, and a side of corn make this meal a snap.
Surf and Turf – When salmon goes on sale, it goes in my cart. But not all the kids like it, so we throw in a burger option (or steak if they’re lucky). Everything still gets grilled so it’s not much more work and everyone wins. Sometimes, we add pigs in a blanket to the mix if we decide not to care about healthy eating – cut up hot dogs or mini cocktail wieners wrapped in crescent roll dough and baked.
Crispy Chicken – this one actually uses a recipe but is a kid favorite. The Rice Krispies give the chicken a nice crunch without having to fry it. We usually serve with James’s famous roasted potatoes and one of our rotating vegetable sides.
Spaghetti and Meatballs – We’re still on the prowl for a meatball recipe everyone likes, but have experimented with chicken parmesan meatballs (meh on the texture according to the critics), and turkey meatballs (too dry). But even if the meatballs are a flop, everyone likes spaghetti and as far as I’m concerned, the pasta sauce can stand in as a vegetable. Throw a loaf of French bread in the oven (half garlic, half plain), and bam, it’s Italian night.
Grilled Cheese and Soup – We upped our game on Wonder bread and Kraft singles. Instead, we got fancy with a bakery sourdough and a three cheese medley. For the soup, we stuck with the boxed stuff – tomato and butternut squash, both of which were a bust. But who doesn’t love a good grilled cheese on a chilly winter night?
Bakies – This is something I made up out of desperation one night. It’s a mini naan bread topped with shredded mozzarella and a choice of bacon, ham, or salami (the three meats I had in the cold cut drawer). Bake it and serve with guac dipping sauce. Kind of like pizza meets taco meats grilled cheese. What’s not to like?
Pizza Night – if you can plan in advance and happen to have a bread maker, making pizza dough is super easy and inexpensive and comes out really good. Roll it out, throw on your toppings, and bake. Or, if you want to try something different, throw it on the grill. For a big family like ours, we bake and grill simultaneously since at least four pizzas are usually consumed. Even Kaleb likes pizza night!
We’ve also had our share of flops – shepherd’s pie, as I mentioned probably because everything was “touching”, fettucine alfredo (too rich), chicken cheese steaks, fish ‘n chips (just not the same as restaurants), and any baked Italian pasta dish we’ve ever tried which I really don’t get. I thought that was like a sure thing for kids.
It’s a constant, never-ending process of planning, shopping preparing, and adjusting. But it feels better to expose them to a more varied diet and for the most part has worked well. Kaleb, on the other hand, may survive on Annie's mac 'n cheese, ice cream, and Polly-o cheese sticks for the rest of his life, but that’s a battle I decided to lose. He’s healthy and one day, I’m sure his palette will evolve and he’ll be demanding Wagyu beef and tuna sashimi just like his sisters.