August 14th, 2017

Simple Recipes You Can Use To Make School Lunches More Interesting

Simple Recipes You Can Use To Make School Lunches More Interesting

I’ve always preferred to have my kids bring their lunches to school, rather than buy there. It’s easier to cope with food preferences, and we’re good at keeping costs under control. The hardest part is figuring out how to keep lunches interesting yet still simple enough to handle on a busy school morning.

One key tip I’ll tell you right now is to encourage your kids to make their own lunches as much as possible. By middle school, each of my kids has to handle their own lunch every day, and my youngest is welcome to make her own any day she chooses. It encourages independence, although I will still call them out if the lunch isn’t good enough, such as the time my son tried to bring two slices of bread for his. Nothing else, just bread.

I keep basic supplies around for my kids. Bread, tortillas, various cheeses, lunch meats, hard boiled eggs, fruit, and vegetables, for example. We have a stack of containers the kids can pick from, and they have reusable bottles for drinks. I prefer stainless steel drink bottles because they can take a lot of abuse.

Sometimes one of my kids will want milk with their lunch, and that’s not difficult. I freeze milk in ice cube trays, then bag them. Put a few cubes in the bottle with regular milk, and it will keep cold until lunch. How many cubes depends on how hot the day is – you don’t need a lot of frozen milk if the day is going to be cold, but you’ll need a fair number on hot days. Make sure the bottle is cleaned out immediately after school – soured milk is nasty!

I’m really fortunate in that it’s easy to keep some costs under control in my area. We have an awesome dollar store in our area called 99 Only. They’re only in CA, AZ, NV, and TX so far. The things I find there range from “what the heck???” to “I can’t believe this is so cheap!!!” but overall I have a lot of luck there with fresh vegetables, although it helps to know which day they’re delivered. Combine them with a local produce shop that is much cheaper than the grocery store, and I do really well price-wise.

Here are some school lunch ideas I’ve collected from other bloggers. Most look pretty easy to make.

Some of these contain nuts, which can be problematic at many schools. Check with your school to see how they handle food allergy issues. You don’t want your child to feel responsible if someone at their school reacts to their lunch. Kids who have food allergies can have a hard enough time avoiding allergens without others adding to the problem.

Lunches

Healthy Make Ahead Lunches for Back To School!
This has some great ideas to make lunches ahead of time for your kids. It’s a great idea for those days when everyone’s running behind and you just want to get those lunches packed. Your mornings might just get easier.

5 Simple Tips for Making School Lunches Creative and Easy
More tips to make it easier to make school lunches more easily.

“Veggie Faces” No-Bake Vegetable Pizzas and Wraps
These are adorable, although possibly a little difficult to get in most containers and survive until lunch at school. Still, they’re great for getting younger kids involved in preparing lunch, even if it’s turned into a wrap after.

Hungry Hippos (Fun Sandwich Recipe for Kids)
These are adorable, and super easy to change to suit any child’s preferences.

Easy Chicken Greek Salad Wrap Sandwich
Here’s a way to use up that leftover chicken while making a good lunch.

No-Bake Fruit “Pizzas”
Surprise your kids with a lunch on the sweet, yet healthy side.

Zucchini Pizza Bites Recipe (Low Carb, Gluten-Free)
These look nicely portable yet fun.

Air Fryer Simple Grilled American Cheese Sandwich
I have to admit, I never would have thought of using an air fryer to make grilled cheese.

Grilled Cheese
This one has a spicy addition. Best for the child who likes some spice.

Greek Tortellini Salad
You can try different salad dressings to figure out which your child likes best.

Ham & Cheese Horns
These look really easy to make and eat. Lots of kids love ham, so it’s likely to be a hit.

Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets
Kids love chicken nuggets. You can make up a batch of these and freeze the extras for future lunches.

Quinoa-Crusted Chicken Nuggets 
When you want to make chicken nuggets a little healthier, try using quinoa for the crusting.

Homemade Lunchables with Ham
It’s easy to make lunchables at home, with less plastic waste and better food choices.

2 Back-to-School Recipes Using Tortillas
A quinoa salad wrap and a rainbow veggie rollup. My kids don’t like quinoa on its own, but love it with rice, an option to consider if your kids aren’t sure about quinoa.

Easy Appetizer Pinwheels Recipe (Great for Lunch Wraps Too!)
Whether you serve these as wraps or pinwheels, these are easy to adapt to your child’s tastes.

Shepherd’s Pie Pockets
Good food that’s easy to eat. These are filled with lamb and mashed potatoes.

Sushi Sandwiches
This is a really cute idea. Sushi, but in a form that’s more like a sandwich.

Snacks & Sides

What’s lunch without something a little special in with it. Kids are far more enthusiastic about their lunches if there’s a treat in there too. While store bought granola bars, fruit snacks and cookies are fun to include, there are lots of things you can make at home in advance that your kids might love too.

Easy Chunky Salsa
This looks good if your kids like tacos, taquitos or chips as a part of their lunch.

Crunchy Granola Snack Bites
Personally, I’d use dark chocolate, but then dark chocolate is pretty much my answer for everything. I think these would be a good addition to a lunch, or packed as a snack for kids who still have snack time at school.

Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies
If your child loves peanut butter and can bring it to school, they’ll probably love these.

3 Ingredient Banana Oatmeal Cookies
Kids love cookies. They’ll appreciate having some choices that you can include in their lunches without feeling bad about what you’re feeding them.

Whole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack Rolls
A bit of chocolate will make most kids a lot more excited about their lunch.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

February 22nd, 2017

9 Time Saving Tips For the Kitchen

Making meals for your family can take a chunk out of your day. That’s often part of being a stay at home parent, but it’s not always convenient. It’s particularly true for work at home parents who also need to deal with their work schedule. There are a lot of ways you can save time in the kitchen to make feeding your family at home take less of your day.

1. Time saving tools

There are a lot of tools you can use in the kitchen that will save a lot of time. Most of them are pretty affordable.

Crock Pot – I’ve loved my crock pot for years. I had one die on me a couple years ago, which was devastating – I didn’t catch on in time to save a rather nice roast I had put in there. I had to throw it out for food safety reasons. But aside from that one bad experience, it has been great.

One of the important things to understand with crock pots is what should and should not cook all day. Meats can of course stay in there for hours, that’s the main use, and so long as you have enough liquid, the meat should turn out tender. Do not leave vegetables or fruits in there too long. They will turn into mush.

You also need to season your meals properly for the crock pot. Too little seasoning, and you’ll have a very bland meal come out. I add some seasoning early in the cooking, but also some later so that the flavor isn’t entirely cooked out.

Instant Pot – My husband gave me an Instant Pot for Christmas, and I’m still learning to use it, but I’m impressed. I love the stainless steel insert that you cook in. So much nicer than a nonstick finish, which always wears off over time. I can cook rice in it, and it still comes out easily, and doesn’t even have the slight crust at the bottom my rice cooker always had.

An Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker can be a versatile device. How versatile depends on which one you get. My Instant Pot can be used to saute the meat before pressure cooking, giving the meat a much nicer look and flavor. It can be used as a slow cooker, although I think my Crock Pot does a better job. It can even be used to make yogurt. I haven’t tried that function so far, and don’t know that I will, but maybe someday.

Food Processor – A good food processor can save a lot of chopping time, slicing time, grating time, and shredding time. They don’t have to cost a lot – Amazon carries some in the $20-30 range, although others can go over $100.

Blender – I love my blender. It’s on the expensive side, being a Vitamix, but it’s well worth it for making smoothies or pureed soups. You can buy less expensive blenders if you prefer or that’s what fits in your budget. If you love smoothies, having a blender and making your own is far cheaper than buying them. Plus, any leftover smoothie make great popsicles for the kids.

Mandoline – If a food processor isn’t your thing or you have only a little slicing to do, a mandoline is a good choice. Make sure it has a good quality blade so that your slicing goes faster.

2. Prep for multiple meals at once

Prepping for multiple meals at once can save you a lot of time on those busy days. If the recipe can be prebagged, frozen and then dumped into a crock pot or Instant Pot, you have a huge time saver for those days when you don’t have the time to cook.

There are two ways to do this. One way is to set aside a few hours and make up a bunch of recipes, bag, label and freeze them. The other is to make an extra meal as you cook a regular one. Prep two sets of the same meal, but one is cooked that day while the other heads into the freezer for a busier day.

The other is to pick a day and make a bunch of meals on that day. Have the ingredients ready to go and plenty of bags. You can make meals for a week or more in a single day.

Either way can save you a lot of money by making it easier to cook at home even when you’ve had a very busy day. Cooking at home then takes about as much time as going out. Move meals from the freezer to the fridge the day before you need them if you can – they’ll cook more quickly and it’s better for food safety.

Within reason, you can pre-chop your vegetables as well. Don’t do this too many days in advance, or they’ll go bad. If anyone in your family likes to snack on vegetables (my kids do), having pre-chopped vegetables makes it easier for them to have healthy snacks, as well as simplifying meals.

3. Make one pot meals

Making a meal that only needs one pot saves a lot of mess and can be a huge time saver. I like how well my Instant Pot handles one pot meals, as it can saute the meat or onions to really bring out the flavors before starting the main cooking.

Don’t add vegetables in too soon. Overcooked vegetables taste bad, look bad and can ruin an otherwise good recipe. Consider how long the vegetables need to cook and add them in when there’s enough time

4. Use frozen vegetables

Frozen vegetables make it much easier to keep vegetables around without worrying about them going bad. Some people even like to snack on them while they’re still frozen. Frozen vegetables are easy to heat as side dishes or add into one pot meals.

5. Organize your recipes

Find a way to organize your recipes that is easy for you to use. I keep most of my in my bookmarks in my browser, organized by type. You could also consider a recipe app such as Paprika, BigOven, Cookpad and others.

On rare occasion, I print out recipes and put them in a binder, sorted by type. I don’t do this much anymore – they’re so easy to bring into the kitchen other ways now, but it does have its advantages. No need for an internet connection being one of them. It also ensures I don’t have to worry about a favorite recipe disappearing if the website goes away. I also worry less about getting it dirty, as the recipes are in plastic sleeves.

6. Be sure you have all your ingredients

Few things slow you down in the kitchen like finding out you don’t have all the ingredients you need on hand. Either you have to find a substitute for the ingredient, switch recipes, or get someone out to the store, fast. Any of those will take more time than you had planned on.

7. Make it a family job

Just because you’re the at home parent doesn’t mean all the cooking and food preparation is your job. Your spouse can take turns when their schedule allows. Your kids can help as much as is appropriate for their age and skill levels. Kid help can make the job take longer at first, but eventually they will get to where they’re a real help, and even make entire meals for themselves or the family on their own.

Once the kids are big enough to make meals, try to have them cook at least once a week for the family, school work and other activities permitting. Have them plan the meal, and help with the grocery shopping when possible. It’s good training for when they’re on their own someday.

8. Don’t skin the veggies

Many vegetables really do not need to be skinned before cooking or serving. Wash them well. The skins can be very nutritious, and while they may have a slightly different flavor from the rest of the vegetable, that’s often not a bad thing. Many people like their vegetables better with the skins on.

9. Hone your knives regularly

A good quality, sharp knife is one of the best kitchen tools, but it won’t stay good if you don’t hone it regularly. Many people mix up honing and sharpening, but what you do most often is hone your knife. Honing before every use of the knife is not a bad idea at all.

A well honed and sharpened knife will cut through meats and vegetables smoothly and make your work a lot easier. Your work will go faster if you take those few moments to hone it.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

August 23rd, 2016

How to Teach a Reluctant Child to Cook

 

How to Teach a Reluctant Child to Cook

Some kids start out early loving to cook. My kids, not so much. While they all went through the “mommy’s helper” phase when they were little, they all lost interest in cooking and meal preparation early on. They have all been very reluctant to learn how to cook.

The solution, fortunately, has not been too difficult, although none are enthusiastic about the job most days. These are some of the steps I took to bring my kids from reluctant to cooperative and occasionally enthusiastic cooks.

Set Up a Schedule

Pick a day of the week that your child will help out with at least one meal. With three kids, this means I get help in the kitchen quite often. They know which day is theirs, and that if there’s a particular recipe they want to make, they need to tell me in time for grocery shopping. If I don’t know what they’d like to make, I may not have the ingredients on hand.

Start With Favorite Meals

What do your kids like to eat? Teach them to make their favorite homemade meals first. There’s a reason why all of my kids have helped make homemade pizza.

Don’t feel bad about allowing them to use premade ingredients. If you aren’t comfortable making homemade pizza crust, for example, buy a crust from the store. We have also used meatballs from Costco and other shortcuts in recipes.

Cooking doesn’t have to be dinner, although it has usually been the most convenient for us. If your child wants to make breakfast or lunch and there’s time for that, go for it.

Don’t Forget Desserts

If there’s one thing kids love to make, it’s dessert. Allow them to sometimes pick a dessert to make along with dinner. I don’t allow dessert to be the only thing they make that day, but it can be a part of the meal.

The great part about making dessert is that many of them can be made early, or even need to be made early. Many desserts need to cool before they can be eaten, which makes it easier to prepare the dinner that goes with the dessert.

Plan Fun Meal Days

The week that school started, I told each of my kids that their meal that week would be either “eat dessert first” or “breakfast for dinner.” They got to pick which one. They were also allowed to suggest their own ideas for a fun dinner, but to my complete lack of surprise, none did. Only one wanted to make breakfast for dinner – the others wanted dessert first on their nights.

My son was the one who chose to make breakfast for dinner, and he got a lesson on how complicated it can be to make a big meal where everything has to be warm at the same time. We made chocolate pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon and fruit salad. Naturally, we started with the fruit salad, as that could just sit in the fridge until dinner. Making the rest took quite a bit of effort on both our parts to keep up. We both had fun, of course.

Be Flexible

I’m very flexible with my kids and cooking, especially during the school year. If they have too much homework or they’re just exhausted, they’re excused from helping. There’s time enough for them to learn about the occasional monotony of cooking a meal when they’re older and it has to be done every day no matter how they feel. If they learn to enjoy cooking when they’re younger, the monotony shouldn’t be as bad when they’re older. I hope.

Why Should You Teach Your Kids to Cook?

If you’re getting a lot of resistance from your kids about cooking, there may be times when you wonder why you should bother, especially with young children. Aside from the fact that they will need the skill as adults, there are excellent reasons to teach your children to cook.

1. They will understand food better.

Cooking is how kids learn about what goes into making a healthy meal, and what food looks like before you combine the ingredients to make a meal. There was that show a few years ago where children had trouble recognizing common vegetables. Getting them involved in food preparation (and including vegetables in your everyday diet) will help ensure that they know about a wide range of foods.

2. They will be more confident.

When my kids started cooking, they were very nervous about the heat from the stove and oven. They’re still cautious, but they get more comfortable every time, as they learn that it’s not that hard to deal with the heat and not get burned. The exception is my youngest, as she’s still small enough that it’s hard to reach things on the stove, never mind the oven.

It’s also important that kids get comfortable using knives. When their movements have been more tentative with knives, they have been at greater risk of hurting themselves, as they haven’t held things safely for fear of the blade. As they gain confidence and knowledge, they’re safer. That goes for a lot of things in life.

3. Kids are more likely to eat what they cook.

This is a real help if you have a picky eater. While it’s easier to start with foods they love, as your kids get more comfortable you can start challenging them a little. You can have them cook things that aren’t favorites, try new recipes or unfamiliar ingredients and get creative in the kitchen together. The pride of accomplishment can make kids more willing to eat things they might not have been willing to try otherwise.

4. It eventually takes stress off you.

Teaching kids to cook is not always fun. Sometimes it’s just a pain. But in the long run, as they get old enough to cook without your direct supervision, it makes your life easier. You don’t have to cook when you’re tired from a hard day – you can have one of the kids handle it. You might even save some money by not needing to eat out so often.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

June 23rd, 2014

10 Simple Reasons to Cook With Your Kids

10 Simple Reasons to Cook With Your Kids

Cooking is a great skill to teach your kids. It’s something that everyone should learn how to do, at least at a basic level. It’s not an easy lesson to give if your child is nervous about dealing with the heat of the stove or oven, but it’s important. The kids may test your patience as cooking dinner takes longer than usual and they make little mistakes and messes, but they will feel proud of what they’ve accomplished. Here are more reasons you should cook with your kids.

1. It’s time together.

Many families find it hard to make time to be together. School, activities, doing stuff with friends, work, it all adds up. Cooking together is time to talk, not just about what you’re making, but any other topic that comes up.

This is why I prefer to cook with just one of my kids at a time… that and the sheer truth about “too many cooks spoil the broth.” One on one time with any of my kids is a good thing.

2. It’s good for their self esteem.

Kids are really proud of what they’ve accomplished when they cook. They may even brag about it at school. My oldest became more interested in cooking when a group of her middle school aged friends started talking about what their favorites foods to make were. She enjoyed cooking well enough before that, but hadn’t really considered that my offers to teach her more might be worthwhile.

3. It teaches them to be comfortable with heat and kitchen tools.

My kids have all been on the nervous side about cooking due to the heat. As they’ve learned, they’ve discovered that it’s not that hard to work around, and the occasional injury isn’t that bad. My oldest was quite upset the first time she got a burn on her hand – nothing severe, but definitely painful that day – and was relieved when she realized how little discomfort there was the next day.

Cooking also helps them to be more comfortable with knives and other utensils. It takes a little work getting them comfortable, but it’s such a relief to no longer have to cut each child’s meat at mealtimes. Start them early with things that can be safely sliced with a butter knife so they learn technique while dealing with a knife that only rarely does serious damage (butter knives can still hurt someone who’s using them wrong!) and work up to sharper knives as they learn how to cut things better. Guide them through the differences as they cut tougher items.

4. Kids are more likely to eat what they cook.

Kids who have helped to cook a meal are more likely to eat that meal. They made it, after all! It’s not a guarantee, but it’s better odds.

5. Science and math!

Yes, I am that geeky mom who talks science and math with my kids when we cook. I point out that moisture evaporates from eggs when we cook them, and about the boiling point of water. I double or halve recipes when I can with the kids and make them do the math for the ingredients, then explain how cooking times may change. Nothing too pushy, but when I notice it, I explain it or have them try to explain. Chemical reactions are fun to explain too!

6. It encourages reading.

Not only do kids have to read while going through the recipe, you can encourage your kids to read through cookbooks and pick out recipes they want to try. Be prepared to say “no” a lot, however. Kids will always pick out some extravagant recipes. My son just went through a book on barbecuing, and picked out a bunch of recipes involving crab and lobster for the most part. On our budget, that’s not generally going to happen.

7. It’s a sensory experience.

Cooking food isn’t only about the taste at the dinner table. There are wonderful sights and smells, and changes in texture through the entire process. My youngest has something of an obsession with smells, and this makes cooking a real treat for her. She often wants to smell what I’m doing, even more than she wants to look at it.

8. Familiarity with real food.

Food from a box isn’t all wrong – most people resort to it at times, but it just doesn’t compare to freshly prepared food. Helping to prepare meals allows your children to see where their meals come from, and what it looked like at first. They may find some of it gross (how my kids hate the sight and feel of raw chicken!), but it becomes something they enjoy after it’s cooked.

9. Eventually they’ll be a real help in the kitchen.

Teaching your child any new skill means you have to slow things down to their pace. It’s not convenient at the moment to teach your child to cook, but the day will come when he or she will be able to cook a meal all alone, and you won’t have to help. You’ll probably have days where that will be really nice.

10. It’s a life skill.

Ever meet an adult who simply cannot cook? I have. It’s not that uncommon for college age kids to only be able to cook food in a microwave, and maybe spaghetti. Your kids will be glad to be able to prepare better food for themselves at a lower cost than they’d pay to eat out.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

October 8th, 2013

The Slow Cooker is Your Friend When You Work at Home

The Crockpot Is Your Friend When You Work at Home

I’ve often thought that the ability to make meals at home is one of the great things about working at home. It’s not always convenient to make dinner in the evening, however. That’s especially true for my family right now, with soccer in season and practices many evenings. Cooking with the slow cooker/crockpot means I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to get a meal on the table at a decent hour.

One of the things I like about slow cookers is that you don’t have an exact cooking time for most meals. If you start cooking early, you put it on low; if you don’t get to it until early afternoon, set it to high. There’s a wide window for when you need to start cooking, so you can make it convenient to your work schedule.

There are, of course, disadvantages to the slow cooker. Meats can be too dry, vegetables overcooked, flavors lost. You have to know which recipes go well in the slow cooker.

Still, there’s nothing like finishing up your work day or bringing the kids home from practice and knowing you don’t have to hurry up and make dinner. It’s pretty much ready, right there on the counter. You can even use foil to separate certain ingredients so you don’t have just one flavor through the whole thing. Just look for crockpot layered meals for ideas, or just wrap things up on your own.

Don’t remove the crockpot lid more than necessary while cooking. The steam it holds in is a part of the cooking process. However, if you don’t want to overcook your vegetables, sometimes it’s necessary to open things up for a moment.

Here are a few of our favorite slow cooker recipes:

Italian Chicken and Potatoes
Easy Slow Cooker Ham
Chicken Teriyaki
Country Captain Chicken with Rice
Pineapple Barbeque Chicken

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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Disclosure: Home with the Kids is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I also review or mention products for which I may receive compensation from other sources. All opinions are my own.