In case you haven’t noticed, it’s back to school time, and that has really thrown me a curveball. Nevermind that I don’t have any kids who really qualify for the back to school drill (mine are just three and one), I am still absorbing all you other moms’ stress, excitement, and all around frenetic energy via osmosis. As I sit and observe this annual rite of passage from the comfy chaise lounge-esque perspective of someone who has a couple of years before she must endure this ritual, I reflect on what it must be like to have to usher potentially unruly or sluggish children out the door before the sun rises only to have them return home right as you are finally finding your groove, fully expecting snacks and dinner and all that life-sustaining stuff.
I can’t say for sure how I will deal with all the earth-shattering changes that a back to school schedule elicits, but I do know that when I have a busy day at this point in my life, the last thing I want to think about is preparing a meal that requires lots of chopping, stirring, and – well – time. So in the spirit of admitting – only amongst us moms, of course – that it’s ok to cheat every now and then, I thought I would share with you some of my go-to meals that are not only ridiculously easy to prepare, but also pack hidden fruit or veggie bonuses that alleviate the guilt that serving less nutritious options (say – I don’t know – anything that has the prefix Mc) might induce.
As a disclaimer, I am definitely not a nutritionist and as such have not fully analyzed the overall nutritional profile of any of the foods I mention here. Also, as you read, it will be abundantly clear to you that these ideas are not original, revolutionary, or uber-healthy. But here’s what they do have going for them: they are simple, fast, nutritionally acceptable, and generally kid-approved. Just so we’re clear, I’m not the kind of mom who enjoys using unnecessary kitchen appliances. The microwave, the can opener, the toaster…those guys don’t bother me. The blender, the food processor, the mixer, on the other hand…these are the big guns reserved for very special or carefully planned occasions (read: not my typical weeknight dinners).
So if you are the type of mom who makes smoothies for your family on a regular basis or who considers whipping up homemade pesto nothing short of second nature, this post is not for you. Please don’t read a word further as you will laugh, scoff, and very likely be unable to control your impulse to leave some defamatory remarks on my parenting abilities (or complete lack thereof) in the comments section below. If, on the other hand, you are the type of mom who has been known to heat up an Eggo waffle or two for breakfast or throw in a DiGiorno pizza or frozen skillet meal for dinner and happily call it a day, read on. You are my people.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and pancakes are a big part of the reason why. I freakin’ love pancakes. Everyone knows you can make blueberry pancakes or chocolate chip pancakes, but did you know you can add a mashed banana to instant pancake mix in order to make light and fluffy pancakes that are out of this world? I discovered this recently as a means to an end. I always have plenty of bananas on hand which means one or two usually get pretty ripe. Since I am not one to whip up banana bread (see above comments regarding appliances), I thought I’d try adding one to the pancake mix. I also have a son who won’t eat bananas. I know, weird dude, right? I wondered if I could sneak them past him if I hid them in an inconspicuous pancake. The pancakes turned out beautifully – just as good as they look, and my son scarfed them down. Score! To prepare, simply mash a banana with a fork until creamy and stir into prepared instant pancake batter. Couldn’t be easier.
Perhaps you have seen Bruce’s Sweet Potato Pancake mix in the store and succumbed to the urge to see what a sweet potato pancake tastes like – perhaps you haven’t. If the latter, I suggest you run – don’t walk – to your closest HEB and grab a box right now. Y’all – these are the best pancakes ever. The fact that they have sweet potatoes, a super-food, in the mix is just a bonus. I actually don’t even like sweet potatoes unless they are in french fry form, but I cannot get enough of these pancakes. They are especially delicious with chopped pecans added to the batter. Holy moly. Heaven on a griddle.
Ever have one of those mornings when you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off thinking things couldn’t possibly get any crazier when it suddenly dawns on you that you were so exhausted the night before you foolishly convinced yourself that packing lunches in the morning would be a good idea? You frantically scan the fridge and realize you are overdue – long overdue – for a grocery run and have nothing fresh to pack. Don’t reach for the Lunchable just yet. Here are my go-to panic day lunch items:
- Smuckers Uncrustables – whole wheat, reduced sugar variety (I mention the variety because hey – at least you’re not using the full sugar version)
- Happy Tots pouch – fruit and veggie variety – yes, my kids are still young, but I’ve been known to eat these too from time to time, so I bet I’ll be including these in lunch boxes for years to come
- Food Should Taste Good Sweet Potato Chips (there’s that super-food again) with Guacamole single serve packet (I like the Good Foods brand from Costco)
- String Cheese or Cheddar Cheese Sticks
- World Peas – a delicious and surprisingly filling green pea snack (I’m partial to the Tomato and Garlic flavor)
- Kirkland’s Dehydrated Fruit Snacks – another Costco goody
- Annie’s Bunny Snacks (individually packaged and found at *surprise* Costco)
Pasta has been my dinnertime staple for as long as I can remember, so it’s no surprise that I reach for a big ole bowl of filling, comforting carbs when I’m feeling stressed or out of ideas for something more grand. If you’re into pasta like I am, you may have noticed that the pasta aisle has been taken over by veggie-infused blends. I have no idea how much nutritional benefit one actually derives from the vegetable puree blended into the noodles, but I love the idea of the added nutrients, and since the label looks pretty darn good to me, I have permanently replaced my regular pasta with the veggie fortified variety. I’ve noticed that several of the brands tout a corn and carrot puree which just seems a little pedestrian to me. I think my kids eat enough corn and carrots. So I opt for the Barilla brand which touts zucchini and spinach. My kids definitely don’t eat enough zucchini or spinach Just heat your pasta of choice in boiling water and add some marinara sauce on top and bam! You’ve got a pretty solid meal on the table in under 20 minutes.
And because you and your kids probably want at least a little bit of variety in your weekly pasta offering, we should definitely add some mac and cheese in there for good measure. I have been adding squash puree to my kids’ mac and cheese for several years now. I can usually find the Cascadian Farms variety in the freezer section along with the organic veggies. Simply microwave the squash while you’re boiling the noodles and then add the entire portion to the prepared mac and cheese mix. Voila – suddenly your kids are eating butternut squash and loving it! If you can’t even bring yourself to boil the noodles on most nights and tend towards the easy mac, fret not. You too can have squash, mac, and cheese! Just be sure you add baby food squash puree to your grocery shopping list, and stir in a serving the next time you prepare the easy mac. Again, because I am not a total health nut (obviously), I do tend to add a little salt to the finished squash, mac, and cheese mixture. I just think it needs it, but you be the judge.
If you are on Pinterest (or even if you aren’t), you have probably seen millions of recipes for healthy veggie-laden cookies, muffins and baked goods. That’s all fine and well, but preparing most of those beauties requires those aforementioned extraneous appliances, and even if they don’t, they definitely require time. I have a dessert crutch that requires neither appliance nor (much) time that I use on the not-so-rare occasion that my picky-eater daughter declares she is forgoing dinner in favor of dessert. When this situation rears its ugly head, I mash-up an avocado until it’s as smooth as possible and add most of it (between ½ to ¾ depending on size of avocado) to the pudding from a chocolate Jell-O pudding cup. My daughter loves it and never suspects that any “real” food has contaminated her bowl of sugar and God only knows what else. The pudding will likely have a lumpy texture that seasoned pudding eaters will recognize as foreign. This can be somewhat masked by coconut flakes, but not entirely. My daughter doesn’t know any better, so my advice on this one is start ’em young. And lest you be too scared to try this one yourself, let me assure you that it is actually a delicious combo.
So whether your struggle today is getting your children to eat something other than crackers, cheese and cake or it has more to do with finding the time to make them a nutritionally acceptable meal, I hope you file these super simple ideas away as potential solutions. And in the spirit of sisterly sharing, I hope you’ll help me expand my repertoire.
What are your go-to crisis mode meals?