Family-friendly meals: what are those? Pasta, right?
It’s great for kids to try new foods. We always offer up new items and have a ‘try it’ rule in our house. Our kids are also not allowed to whine that they “not like it“, as the toddler might be prone to protesting, but are very much allowed to say “no, thanks” after a sincere attempt. And, generally speaking, I know what my kids will gobble up, but some times I don’t want to eat that. Some times, I want a big, spicy chicken fajita smothered in guacamole and salsa. My two- and five-year-olds? Notsomuch. But, they will gladly eat a deconstructed version.
Following the deconstructed theme, here are ideas for 5 Flexible Family-Friendly Meals that you can serve to young and old alike and still have a balanced meal.
We will make chicken or scallop fajitas with sauteed bell peppers and onions, rice and beans, yoghurt, guacamole, salsa, grated cheese, chopped cilantro, served in a wrap or on a bed of baby spinach.
My kids will usually eat rice and beans and the littlest loves it mixed with plain yoghurt and cheese but she’s not (usually) a fan of chicken. My eldest loves chicken and guacamole is growing on her, but she’s not a huge plain yoghurt nor cheese fan anymore. Neither like cilantro, so instead of adding it to the salsa or guac, I just leave it on the side for the more mature palates in the crowd. It’s almost always fun to eat food wrapped up, but some times we don’t have any and I don’t feel like making them, so the girls have a few leaves of greens that they munch on like horses eating hay, or whatever animal they’re imagining to be at the time.
It works. Protein and carbs are covered with the rice and beans. I make a veggie snack plate for them before dinner so they’ve had their vegetables and anything else is just gravy. Meanwhile, my husband and I get to nosh down on a delicious fajita bowl or wrap topped with all of the extra guacamole and spicy salsa!
Make your own pizza night is a hit. Like growing your own food, making your own food adds a certain element of desire to eat it. Magical is what it is and I highly recommend capitalizing on it.
I like this dough best. And, I have a stash of homemade marinara in our deep freeze (from Brown Eggs & Jam Jars by Aimée Wimbush-Bourque). The kids like ham and pineapple and since they get to sprinkle on their own topping, they like to add colourful slivers of spinach, minced bell pepper, and sliced olives.
While the kids’ personal pizzas bake for about 12 minutes, with their little brains being numbed in front of a show – since pizza night means movie night, they blindly plow through a veggie plate. Check! Healthy eating accomplished. They eat as much pizza as they can or feel like, with the toddler usually just eating the toppings. And, we have a “dessert” of plain yoghurt, hemp hearts, seasonal fruit, and a drizzle of maple syrup to round things out. A bit of a dairy-heavy meal, I suppose, but there’s protein, carbs, vegetables, and fruit, so I feel like I’ve done my job!
While the kids are ensconced, I make at least one, usually two more pizzas for me and my husband. One of them is always spicy (clearly hot, spicy food is something that I miss in my life now that I’m 5 years into this whole parenting gig). Our toppings are always more adventurous and one is usually vegetarian. We bust out a bottle of cheap red wine and have a mini-date night at the table, enjoying a more robustly flavoured meal and each other’s company. Plus, there are leftovers for the next day. Win win.
3. Breakfast for Dinner
My kids won’t eat omelette, but they will eat deconstructed omelette in the form of scrambled eggs with toppings on the side!
For example, tonight we had sausages, buttered pumpkin toast, and scrambled eggs. For their plates, I chunked up half of an avocado and lightly sprinkled it with sea salt, plus threw a few black olives on the sides of their plates. And, the littlest had some cheese.
Me, I had cheese, avocado, sliced black olives, and chopped fresh cilantro mixed in to my warm scrambled eggs. Practically gourmet, definitely delicious. Almost an omelette!
And, with their pre-dinner snack plate of veggies, my job was done.
4. “Meat & Potatoes”
As much as my generation push back against “meat and potato” kinds of meals, opting for the wonders of fusion food, the simple formula of meat (or protein), potato (or starch), and a vegetable or two, along with some butter, and you have a meal that most kids will at least eat a part of.
My kids are not potato fans. Well, they’re coming around on potatoes since we grew them this summer, but mashed potatoes are still out and roasted potatoes are only a hit some times. What kid doesn’t like potatoes?! I digress… But, the Dutch in my husband loooooooves potatoes, so we still have them. We all like rice, so that’s often our go-to starch in the formula.
Broccoli usually makes an appearance here. Sometimes puréed roasted butternut squash. Corn when its in season. And, these latter two vegetables are quite starchy in my books, so they may well replace a more traditional starch, depending on our pantry.
Salad is often served with this meal in our house. We choose to not dress the salad in the bowl but individually, at the table. This works really well for our family as the kids can then high grade what they do like from the salad before it gets coated in a “pucker-y” vinaigrette.
We keep the meat very simple here: BBQ sockeye served with melted butter and herbs; roast chicken; chicken kebabs; steak; or, some other seafood.
My kids will almost always eat at least some meat, especially my five year old. Rice is always a good filler. And, they both like broccoli. If I do another vegetable, it may get eaten, or it might not – it’s a toss up. But, with a few nibbles of vegetable and pumpkin seeds from the salad, their bellies get full. If not, there’s always our go-to yoghurt dessert again!
5. Baked Tofu
My kids love tofu so I try to work it into our meal plan every few weeks. I pretty much only make a version of the sesame baked tofu from the Rebar Cookbook (essentially: sesame oil, tamari, black pepper, sesame seeds all baked at 425F for about 20 minutes or even longer as I like it to crisp up a bit). I throw the tofu in the oven, turn on a pot of rice, and make some Rebar soy-chili sauce without the chilies, using fresh ginger instead. Kids get a plate of tofu cubes, rice (with butter, of course), and a smattering of veg that I’ve sautéed up for our adult version of dinner. The older one likes a little side dish of the sauce for “dip-dip”.
Bring on the adult version, a giant bowl of rice, heaped with veggies (onion, broccoli, squash, bok choi, etc.), some tofu, and yummy soy-ginger sauce. Easy-peasy.
Bonus: Snack Plate
Well, “snack plate” doesn’t sound very appetizing to a grown up, but it’s a real treat to a kid and all I picture is a picnic in the French countryside, enjoying some baguette, cheese, cured meat, and perhaps some fruit or veg. Complete with my images of my bike lying on its side, a cheap glass of red, and some dappled sunlight as we seek shade under a tree, I am transported to my happy place and forget about what seems to be a total cop-out of a meal (but, really, is a total lifesaver).
For whatever reason, kids like snack plate type meals. We go for the protein + veg + fruit formula. Carbs might make an appearance. There is usually something enticing, like black or kalamata olives.
All of the food groups get covered, the kids nibble and their bellies fill up nicely and we all move on to the next thing. Done. Meanwhile, I’m stuck in France planning my next bike tour…