Quick meals for kids (and tired parents), vol. 1

Kids and babies get hangry fast. With six kids to feed (so far), I have assembled my go-to list of quick, relatively healthy meals. Throw in some fresh fruit or a vegetable and you can have a good, balanced meal on the table with little effort.

This is one of those lists I was talking about that make handling lots of littles a little easier.

1.Mac and cheese

Skip the unnaturally orange Kraft mac and cheese. Just as quickly, you can whip up a pot of it with a bag of pasta, cream cheese, shredded cheddar, and some combination of milk, cream, and butter to fit your taste.

Cook and drain the noodles according to package instructions. Then throw in the rest of the ingredients on low heat. Mix it often enough that the bottom doesn’t burn. When all of the non-noodle ingredients melt together, your mac and cheese is done and ready to serve.

Add tuna, beef crumbles, shredded BBQ pork, or whatever other protein source you have on hand for an extra protein boost.

2. Cheese and crackers

This is the quickest of quick meals for preparation. Plop cottage cheese or sliced block cheese onto a place, dump out some crackers, and add leftover veggies, fresh fruit, or even dried fruit like raisins to make a relatively balanced meal. Bonus: if you use cottage cheese, kids can use it as a dip for the crackers, fruit, or veggies and then eat the rest with a spoon. Throw in some nuts for healthy fats and more crunchy texture. My kids love trying to shell pistachios.

3. Parfait

This is normally seen as a breakfast, but kids love it because it tastes like a treat! I use homemade Greek yogurt for less sugar and some added protein and homemade granola. Then I throw in whatever fresh fruit we have on hand to make it kind of like a parfait. My kids especially like strawberries.

4. Eggs and toast

Yes, another breakfast favorite that is good anytime. Eggs are cheap and easy to scramble. If your kids get tired of scrambled eggs, they may like omelettes. It’s like a completely different food with the same ingredients. Top any form of basic eggs with salsa, avocado, tomato, or whatever other veggies you have on hand–or you can mix the veggies right in.

Toast can be as healthy or as unhealthy as you want. We use homemade bread made from freshly ground whole grains, but slices of Brownberry bread or English muffins from the store work just as well. Spread butter or nut butter on it for some good fats to keep the little ones feeling full longer.

5. Grilled cheese

Again, bread, cheese, and butter. What can I say? I’m from Wisconsin. We do dairy.

My favorite way to make this is with slices of buttered homemade bread and a handful of shredded cheddar on a nonstick skillet or griddle. A fair amount of cheese falls off and gets all bubbly and crispy along the edges of the sandwich. Yum!

Bonus: Member’s Mark shredded cheddar at Sam’s Club was cheaper per pound than American cheese, last time I checked.

6. Breakfast shake

This is the quickest of quick meals, at least for the eating part of the meal. This is their breakfast every Sunday so they can drink it while we hustle them out the door to church

I usually make mine with the same homemade Greek yogurt as the parfait above. Sometimes I use egg whites to add protein to regular milk if I’m out of yogurt. We’ve used many recipes, but the yogurt one is the easiest to do with grocery store supplies.

Put the high-protein base in a shaker bottle or blender, add a teaspoon of sweetener, a tablespoon or two of cocoa (depending on the type and potency), and two tablespoons of peanut butter. Shake or mix it and you have a chocolate-peanut butter shake.

This is my daily go-to. It’s a great on-the-go meal. Heads up that it can be somewhat low in carbs, depending on your dietary goals. When we make breakfast shakes for the kids we give them something like plain cheerios in a snack cup on the side.

7. Pizza

It doesn’t have to go on a pizza crust. You can make pizza toast, pizza tortillas, pizza pasta… you get the idea. Throw some sauce, toppings, and cheese onto a carb and call it pizza. Maybe it looks like a flatbread with spaghetti sauce, pepperonis, and mozzarella cheese. Or it might look like a hamburger bun with a thin layer of ketchup, cheddar cheese, and ground beef and you call it a hamburger pizza. Whatever.

8. Peanut butter and honey (PBH) with cottage cheese on the side

Yeah, I know. This one is probably obvious and doesn’t follow the protein- and veggie-heavy internet-ideal parenting. I give you permission make it anyhow.

Make it whenever your kid need to eat something because they’ve been on a food strike for several meals running. Maybe it’s just my kids, but some of them choose not to eat much for a meal or two (for whatever reason). Then they start having more frequent meltdowns and more trouble listening because they haven’t eaten properly. Part of that is sometimes screaming instead of eating.

PBH is almost a guarantee to get calories into the main culprit in my family. Cottage cheese is usually a slam dunk for protein too.

9. Noodle salad

Any boxed noodles will do. You can even cook them up with the noodles for Mac and Cheese and put it in the fridge for later.

To the cooked noodles, add Italian salad dressing, shredded or ground cheese, and either cottage cheese or meat  for some protein. Chopped up ham works great. You can also throw in canned chickpeas, sliced olives, diced tomatoes, or other small veggies if your kids will eat them.

10. Fritters

This is one of my husbands favorites. He puts whatever grain item we have on hand–rice, crackers, bread, or whatever–cheese, eggs, maybe meat, and seasoning into the food processor. Puree it all together and make sure it is quite thick, kind of like biscuit dough. Then scoop globs of it into a hot skillet coated with oil and/or butter. Fry one side, flip and fry the other side, and you’re done. We usually serve tuna fritters with lemon juice or ketchup or rice and cheese fritters with more cheese on top (yes, Wisconsin again).

Get cooking, but not too much

That gives you ten quick meals to feed your kids. Try them, modify them. Let me know how it goes.

What meals would you add to this list?

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