Is it just me or do kids go from playing nicely to unbearably hungry in a matter of minutes? Every day 4pm seems to sneak up on me and all of a sudden the kids need to eat RIGHT NOW. They don’t want to wait for me to cook anything exciting and when I try I have a chorus of ‘I’m hungry’, ‘he hurt me,’ ‘when’s dinner’, ‘I’m still hungry’ to contend with. Sound familiar?
I believe in taking the path of least resistance wherever possible and focusing my parenting energies on the things that really matter (such as teaching kindness and respect). I generally chose not to spend time fighting battles that I don’t stand a chance of winning. Therefore, at tea time I just want to be able to serve up a quick and stress free meal with minimum fuss.
That said, I also want my children to be healthy and understand the value of nutritious food. Does healthy food have to involve hours in the kitchen? Here are three tips that I have picked up over the years that keep meal time as fuss free as possible (well, from the cooking point of view anyway!).
1. Be prepared
This one is one that I confess I am not very good at. However, it is a no brainer stress saver to have planned meals ahead of time and done necessary food prep before the hunger demands start. I have always admired those parents who have a meal plan, shop accordingly and are super organised with their food cupboards. My level is that I manage to cook double portions of my kid’s favourite bolognese and freeze a portion ready for when I just can’t face chopping onions. I know many swear by a slow cooker as they can chuck a meal together in the morning and have it ready by tea time. My kids are still at the ‘turn their nose up to unidentifiable food’ stage, so things cooked in the slow cooker tend to go down like a lead balloon.
2. Quick cook
Let’s be honest, even bolognese can seem like a big ol’ waste of time when the kids refuse to eat everything but the pasta anyway. As such, I tend to focus my energy on foods that can be cooked in less than 15 minutes. Plain pasta with grated cheese, peas, and sweetcorn, always go down well here. Home made pizzas made on bagels, Warburton thins, or pitta bread are another fun way to turn out a homemade meal quickly. My kids love my Hidden Veg Sauce. I make this up in batches in advance (see tip one) and freeze in individual portions to use as pizza base, pasta sauce or even dipping sauce with vegetable sticks. Check out my ‘recipe’ below. Beans on toast is another nutritious crowd pleaser, as is good old boiled eggs and soldiers.
3. Cut out the cooking
An important time saver for me is to cut out the cooking altogether and serve up raw food. We often get caught up in the virtues of a home cooked meal but the nutritional benefit of raw food is well founded. Raw carrots for the bigger kids (or at least those with teeth), cucumber sticks, celery, sugar snap peas, mini sweetcorn, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, are all top contenders for me when I just haven’t got time to make a ‘proper’ meal or addition to a less nutritious beige freezer meal (let’s be honest, nothing beats fish fingers and chips sometimes!)
What are your top tips for making meal preparation less stressful and time consuming? How do you add more rainbow colours to your kids diet without having to be Gordon Ramsay? Let’s hear your top tips in the comments below.
Hidden Rainbow Veg Sauce
Vegetables: Onion, Pepper, Mushroom, Courgette, Any other veg you think you can get away with, or have in the fridge needing using (my kids don’t like half of these veg but love the sauce! Parenting win!)
1 clove Garlic
1 tablespoon Sunflower/Vegetable oil
1 Tin of chopped tomatoes
1 Large jar or 2 cartons of passata
Italian herbs; dried or fresh (optional)
1 tablespoon balsamic glaze, or 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoon of brown sugar
1. Cook off the vegetables along with the garlic and oil in a large frying-pan/wok/saucepan on the hob.
2. When all the vegetables have softened, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and the passata as well as herbs as you wish (I am too lazy to have fresh herbs around and forget to add dried!)
3. Season to taste. I tend to leave out salt and pepper to keep it kiddo friendly.
4. Add 1 tablespoon of balsamic glaze, or vinegar and sugar, and bring to a light simmer.
5. Cook for around 10 minutes on a low heat.
6. Allow to cool and then blend with a stick blender, or in a food blender.