One of the hardest things is figuring out what to cook for dinner when you have a small family. I always end up making too much, or deciding that a recipe looks too complicated to make for three people, two of whom are likely to turn their noses up or eat too little to put a dent it the dish. Over my years as a single mom, I've developed some strategies for cooking for small families. I hope this makes mealtime planning more delicious and less wasteful.
Don't cook at all
On nights when I don't have my kids, it's often depressing to cook an entire meal for one person. That's why sometimes I don't cook at all. Instead, I'll order prepared food. I've heard of Chef's Plate (they deliver the raw ingredients and you cook the recipe), Rose Reisman's Personal Gourmet, SupperWorks and Fuel Foods. Yet of all the meal options I've tried, my latest discovery is the new meal box plan from my favourite salad joint, Freshii. I recently ordered the slim box (there are several meal box options for if you want to bulk up, eat clean, slim down, or are gluten intolerant).
I ate oatmeal and berries for breakfast, apples and walnuts for morning snack, a huge salad for lunch, veggies and dip for afternoon snack and a filling soup for dinner. I loved the convenience of having three healthy, delicious ready-made meals and two snacks to eat throughout the day. I didn't have to stand at the fridge debating what to make and whether to bother eating at all. There was no effort, no mess and no debate. I had to pick up the food from my local Freshii the day before, but some locations may deliver.
Sometimes I'll buy a BBQ chicken and plan the next couple of meals around it so as not to waste any food. On day one, we'll have it hot off the bone with some easy side dishes. On day two, I'll shred it and make stir-fry with broccoli or use it in stir-fried rice. You can even use the shredded chicken and bones to make soup. I'll make sure to have the right veggies on hand so I'm prepared with the ingredients I need for each meal.
I'll use the same strategy for when I buy family packages of ground meat. I'll make spaghetti and meatballs the first day and use the remaining meat for meatloaf, hamburgers or stuffed zucchini boats. If I have leftovers of any of these dishes, I'll even pack it in a thermos so my kids can enjoy a hot, hearty lunch the next day. If you need inspiration, check out Pinterest, your Facebook feed or a site like epicurious.com, which pulls up tons of recipes if you search for a keyword.
Keep it simple
I'm often surprised when my kids request a simple meal like scrambled eggs for dinner. Healthy and satisfying, eggs are easy to make and they are always a hit. I'll serve it with cut up cucumbers or fruit. They also love French toast, which is easy to make; fresh fruit and yogurt complete the meal. Another breakfast-for-dinner hit are pancakes. I have a great recipe for paleo pancakes made with banana and ground cashews. The batter is easy to make in your blender and I'll even throw in hemp seeds and flax for extra protein and omegas. All you need to make any of these dishes is one bowl and a pan, and staple ingredients I'd typically have on hand.
Host a party
My kids love having dinner guests. Throwing an informal party for our friends and family is a great excuse to cook something special on the BBQ or test out a more adult recipe I clipped from a magazine and have been meaning to try. For these occasions, I'll go all out, making steak, chicken, salad, potatoes, and dessert. It's fun to cook for other families and to watch everyone enjoy foods I wouldn't typically make for my own kids. To avoid having to clean up all night, I'll use paper plates leftover from birthday parties or holidays. My guests and I end up chatting and cleaning up together while the kids play. Many hands (and mouths) make light work.
Pack it up for another (small) family
If I make a big batch of cookies or muffins, or end up with too many jars of soup, I'm excited to share it with family and friends. Rather than waste it or even store it in my freezer, which has become a wasteland for muffins, I'll pack it up and make the rounds. If my mom has a cold, I'll bring over some soup. If my best friend has a craving for healthy homemade cookies, I'll put some in a container and drop if off at her house.
Recently, one of my friends made me a batch of delicious energy balls. I was so touched by the gesture and think of her every time I reach into the container for a snack. Instead of returning an empty container, I've been thinking all week about what I can make for her in return. No matter what I choose, sharing food is a great way to make others feel cared for loved. In the end, isn't that what cooking is all about?
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