At our house homemade from scratch meals are the normal. The most important factor in our meals is that they are healthy. While I want to save money at the grocery store, I still make sure my children are eating healthy. While sometimes I want a very quick to prepare meal, it still has to be healthy.
What are some tips I have for making sure your children are have good, healthy meals? Let me share some ideas I have and also how you can get your child's help with the meal prep.
Breakfast: For some breakfast is the trickiest meal. Often children aren't hungry when they first wake up. Some children need a little time to be up and awake before they are ready to eat. If you have a child like that, make sure they are up a bit early if they need to leave for school in the morning. That way they can be ready for breakfast before heading out for the day. Or, if they have a bit of a bus ride ahead of them and are allowed to eat on the bus, pack them something to eat on the way. Another challenge at breakfast is that cereals and other breakfast items marketed to kids are basically very unhealthy choices. They are loaded with sugar and have little nutrition at all. So what are some good breakfast choices? Number one around here are hot cereals. Oatmeal, Cream of wheat, Cream of rice (look for the whole grain variety!), oat bran etc are often eaten for breakfast at our house. Another great breakfast idea is to make extra brown for dinner the night before. Refridgerate the extras. The next morning, reheat the rice and top with cold milk and a bit of sugar and cinnamon. You can also add raisins or other dried fruit or fresh or frozen fruit as well. Its really quite yummy and filling and nutritious too. Children can package the rice extras the night before to help out. They can also be in charge of adding a spoonful of sugar to the rice after its heated. They can also add the fruit in. Very young children can even do those tasks. Children from maybe 7 or 8 can really get the breakfast all on their own!
Lunch. if you are packing a lunch for school bound children the toughest thing is keeping from getting into a rut. The same old peanut butter and jelly sandwich sure can get boring. Try mixing it up by making other sandwiches or wraps. You can prepare a little extra chicken for dinner the previous night. You can use it to make a chicken salad. You could also use the chicken to make ranch chicken roll ups (chicken, lettuce, cheese, ranch dressing and whatever other veggies your children will agree to! all rolled up in a wheat or other whole grain tortilla). I like to make extra brown rice when I prepare it for dinner too. The extra can go into the ranch roll ups as well. This is especially good for children who will not choose to add veggies in their roll up...it gives them a little extra nutrition and makes them more filling as well. You can also use the extra chicken and rice to make a mexican inspired roll up. I use chicken, rice, salsa and cheddar cheese. I add in lettuce too. Simple, yet, a big change from the peanut butter and jelly routine! You can have children participate in adding ingredients to each tortilla. Older children can help do things like peel vegetables and even slice them.
Dinner. The possibilities are endless here! A rule I generally go by when planning meals for our family is that the majority of our dinner plate should be occupied by vegetables. Also, I like to serve something like brown rice with our meals. It fills everyone up but reduces the amount of meat they need to eat...which is not only economical but healthy too. When I make dishes like Chicken and Rice casserole, I always substitute brown rice for white. Brown rice does take longer to cook than white so I will cook it on the stove following the package directions for about 20 minutes, drain it and add it to my recipe just as you would white rice. Dishes come out with more nutrition and fiber that way. If I am adding something to a recipe that I am afraid my children won't like...I like to grind it up very small with the help of a food processor. I always do onions that way because my children "don't like onions"... just don't tell them they eat them everyday but don't see them! I do green pepper that way routinely, too, since some of my children turn up their noses to them. If you don't mind ruining the "secret" that there are things like onions in the food, pushing the pulse button is a great way to have children "help" out with dinner. Some of my younger children feel like they are a big help when they are my ingredient runners. I give them the task of getting various ingredients I need, one by one. Sometimes I put one of my older children in charge of looking ahead in the recipe and measuring out the quantities of all the ingredients we will need and have them sitting ready and waiting when I am ready for them. When making things like a roux I often enlist the help of stirrers to stand and stir and wait for it to thicken while I accomplish other tasks to prepare the meal.
Dessert. Even desserts are often made healthier around here. I often reduce the amount of sugar called for in recipes. This is especially true in fruit type desserts. Pies, cobblers, crisps etc are often very very yummy with as much as 1/2 the sugar cut. I search for things like cookies that use things like oat bran or flax seed. There are many healthy muffin recipes that use ingredients like those as well. When I make a family favorite like rice pudding, I do so using the more nutritious brown rice.
Yes, we do use a lot of rice around here! Its reallly a win win! Its healthy, filling, and inexpensive. Now is a great time to enjoy rice, too. Uncle Ben’s has launched an exciting national contest called Ben’s Beginners! You could win $20,000, along with a $50,000 grant towards a cafeteria makeover for your child’s school. In addition, you will also be able to appear on The Rachael Ray show! Uncle Ben’s is calling for parents with children ages 5-12 to submit a 2-3 minute video of you cooking a rice-based dish with your children. For more info on the contest, please check out Ben’s Beginners on Facebook! Hmmm...I think I can do this!
Cooking anything can be a challenge when you are a busy mom like me. It takes a lot of time to plan meals, shop for food, prepare the meal, serve the meal, clean up after the meal. Often it feels like my whole day is going from one meal to the next. Once one is completely cleaned up after, its time to start the next! Having a large family of children (ages 13,10, 7,4,2 and infant) makes it further challenging. Finding things that everyone will enjoy and keeping it healthy as possible is a struggle at times. Knowing that I am doign the best possible for my family makes it all worth it, however!
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