Thanks, fellow Calm Moms, for all the interesting feedback on yesterday’s post about Family Meals (please make sure to post feedback on the Calm Mom Facebook page or on the blog so that everyone can see!). As a follow up, I wanted to share some ideas for Family Meals. A few months back, one of my friends surveyed a whole bunch of fellow moms about what we can cook for dinner that everyone will eat without parental cajoling or child complaining. I wanted to share this helpful list with you (and add a few tips and favorite recipes of my own). Please post your suggestions of what has worked for your family:
-Taco night – some families use the usual ground beef, some prefer ground chicken. One mom suggested using just half the seasoning pack included in taco kits so that the meat is not too spicy for kids. In general, kids love “making their own” and tacos fit the bill. Lay out all the possible fillings — cheese, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, beans and let the kids go to town! I have found that my kids aren’t wild about crunchy taco shells and they are also really messy for three-year-old boys, so we do a quesadilla or fajiita night using flour tortillas. In my house, I make each child a cheese quesadilla and then they can help themselves to the various toppings as they please.
-Chicken soup – again, the appeal here is that you can kind of “make your own”. Buy or make the chicken soup with egg noodles, bits of chicken, thinly sliced carrots and other veggies, and if you are so inclined, matzo balls. You might have one kid that eats clear chicken soup with egg noodles for dinner and another who prefers a bowl with everything in it — but the idea is that everyone can be happy! Serve with some nice crusty bread!
-Meatballs – When my friend collected these useful ideas, many people wrote in about their love for the meatball, especially prepared meatballs (like from Trader Jo’s) that can be whipped up quickly at the end of the day. Of course, meatballs go beautifully with pasta and give kids a little dose of protein. Meatballs can also go into a fun sandwich with sauce and melted cheese. Other parents suggested mashing up the meatballs and putting them into already adored foods like quesadillas and grilled cheese.
-Rotisserie or roasted chicken: Roast chicken can be a super family food. Supermarket ones are generally good, but very salty. For people concerned about sodium, try roasting your own – it is amazing how easy it is even for people who do not consider themselves good cooks (try this Martha Stewart recipe!). When carefully carved, the chicken has very little “ick” factor for little ones. We serve it with some delicious dipping sauce (for all your Canadians out there, I bring home Swiss Chalet chicken sauce after every trip home and my kids love it). As a leftover, roast chicken can be turned into a nice Asian stir-fry or a fun pasta recipe.
-Make Your Own Sandwich Night: Again, we come back to the “make your own” theme. We put out deli meats, fresh rolls, veggies and various toppings and everyone gets something they enjoy. Another mom in my friend’s survey mentioned hummus sandwiches. Her general idea was to take a food her kids already liked and try to grow it into a whole, healthy meal. I like that idea! Another riff on sandwiches in my house is Panini night. I give the kids some choice on filling but don’t feel badly about it because I am basically cooking one thing for everyone.
-From the freezer section: In my friend’s survey, moms suggested pirogues, fish sticks, spinach rolls, various Asian dumplings, and pigs in blankets (hot dogs wrapped in Crescent rolls).
-Homemade Chinese Food Night: Make some plain noodles, make some plain veggies, make some bits of chicken or meat or shrimp with a yummy sauce, make some extra of said sauce (that the raw chicken or meat has not been swimming in) and place everything on table. Let each family member make their own little Chinese food plate, including garnishes like peanuts or lime wedges (Chinese food purists, I know this is not actually Chinese…but it works!).
-Breakfast for Dinner: In my friend’s survey, many people mentioned making breakfast for dinner – pancakes, waffles, bacon or sausage, omelets, hash browns, etc. My kids asked just this morning if we can have bagels and cream cheese for dinner. Why not? Add in some smoked salmon (many kids like it!), some slices of tomato, and a fruit salad and you have a pretty nice and easy meal for the end of a workday.
-The Ubiquitous Chicken Nuggets: Do you know any children who do not like chicken nuggets? I don’t. So, here are my thoughts on the issue. I buy two brands of nuggets, both of which are made only with breast meat, white chicken. I do not buy the kind that are made of mushed up rib and other meats. I do this for two reasons. First, I have read that the texture of those mushy nuggets encourages overeating because they are so easy to chew and swallow. I want the kids to experience the “mouth feel” of real chicken under that appealing breading. Second, I integrate nuggets into our family meal so I buy two brands that are low in fat (relatively) and tasty to adults. On nugget night, I make a huge salad for my husband and me. We eat our salads with a nugget or two sliced on top; the kids eat theirs with their ketchup and preferred veggie. A more gourmet version, and a meal we all love (shocking!), is Chicken Schnitzel. I follow Thomas Keller’s recipe of French Laundry fame and it is so amazing, you could easily serve it at a dinner party.
-Pasta, pasta, pasta: My daughter could eat plain pasta with fancy parmesan cheese every night for dinner. The rest of us, however, might go mad. So, as she nibbles on her favorite meal, the rest of us might have spaghetti and meatballs; pasta with any sort of roast veggie that is in season with a bit of ricotta or goat cheese; pasta with homemade pesto (the kids tried it and loved it last summer after watering the basil all summer, picking it themselves and then helping me whip it up in the Cuisinart); etc. Some families in my friend’s surveyed mentioned lasagna as another successful family meal.
What do you cook that your whole family enjoys? Please post your ideas here!