Toddler Dinners: Weeknight Cooking

Next up in the guest post series for Toddler DInners, we have Kendra of My Full-Thyme Life talking about being a working parent and trying to get dinner on the table at night. I know we discuss this over at Liberating Working Moms frequently but when Kendra offered to talk about the toddler dynamic, I said CMON OVA! I know we have the nights of ” i don’t wanna cook or make a decision” quite frequently and she is here to discuss.

SIDEBAR: If you are interested in guest posting for Toddler Dinners in the coming months, feel free to contact me. I know there are topics I can’t cover due to lack of knowledge but want to help everyone out! Also? Newborn.

Hi my name is Kendra.  I’m the Director of Operations for a Wealth Management firm and share the role of Director of Operations for my household.  I’m the lucky mom to a precocious toddler and a baby girl due in January, and lucky wife to a husband that I fell head-over-heels in love with at the age of 17.  Hubby and I both share a passion for food and cooking but as two full-time working parents the time spent on our passion has become increasingly less.

Although Hubby and I love to cook, we do have those nights where we just don’t wanna!  We’ve had a long day, it’s stinkin’ hot, we went for a family walk after work and now we only have 30 minutes before little man has a complete melt-down because he is starving…  There are many reasons why making a home cooked meal isn’t feasible or appealing.

I thought I’d share with you how we handle our dinners throughout the week.  It makes things easy, we have a plan and we soar through the weeknights with the greatest of ease never experiencing a bump in the road or a hiccup of any kind. HA!  Yeah right!  I can’t even say that with a straight face.

First off I’d like to point out that although we would love nothing more than to make homemade meals every night and eat only real food or only organic, it isn’t a good fit for us.  We are on a tight budget and time is of the essence.  On an average week I only get to spend 2 hours a night with my son (I get home around 5:30pm and he is in bed by 7:30pm).  I want to make the most of my time at home so I need meals that take a total of 30 minutes or less from start to finish.  In regard to real food or organic, that shit is expensive!!  There are plenty of healthy alternatives these days and we do buy organic when we can. Our shopping cart is probably 10% organic and the rest is as healthy as we can get with the occasional splurge of decadence.

Part of making our weeknight meals a success is having a well stocked pantry.  That way we aren’t spending money every week on ingredients like chicken broth, spices, olive oil, breadcrumbs, etc.

The second key to easy peasy weeknight cooking is the grocery listHave a plan for the week and while you are shopping get all the essentials you need.  If you need inspiration look up recipes online, in cookbooks, magazines, etc.  Make sure you consider proteins, starches and vegetables.  Also consider what nights you will have time to actually cook and how many “gimme meals” you are going to need.

“Kendra, what is a gimme meal?”  So glad you asked!  Here are just a few examples that we turn to:

Frozen pizza – you can get thin crust and they have so many out there these days that aren’t that bad for you.

Sandwiches – you can do your basic cold-cuts here or since it is dinner after all, you can jazz them up a bit.  We make paninis every once in a while or we make what we call “melty’s.”  “Kendra, what on earth is a melty?!?!”  Oh man, such a great question!  Start by toasting your bread (we use whole wheat sandwich thins), building your sandwich on each side of the bread with the cheese being the last thing on.  Then we melt them under the broiler.  You can eat them open-face or smash them together.  Have a salad on the side, soup or baked chips.

Nachos – baked tortilla chips, black beans, ground turkey, onion, tomatoes, green onions, black olives, cheese, etc.  The world is your oyster here AND you can buy all organic ingredients, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

After figuring out your gimmes for the week, decide how many meals you are actually going to cook or grill.  On an average weeknight Hubby cooks at least one meal and I cook at least one meal.  Remember, you want the weeknight meals to be snappy and not too involved.  My specialty happens to be chicken cordon bleu but I’m not about to make that anytime Monday-Friday.  It is an easy recipe however the prep time, bake time, time for the accompanying sauce, etc. is just too much during the week.  Are you picking up what I’m throwing down??  A few examples of super fast home cooked meals:

Sausage and peppers

Many, many, different types of pasta dishes

Almost ANYTHING on the grill

Most seafood is pretty snappy to make

Chicken Picatta (just one of many quick chicken dishes)

Jazzy Salads

Then there is the middle ground.  The not quite a gimme but not quite a homemade meal either.  “Kendra, what pray tell is this that you speak of?!?!”  In a nutshell – the grocery store is your friend.  Let it do the work for you.  Allow me to show you an example:

Store bought “ready to bake” Alaska Cod already prepared with a Moroccan Style situation going on.  Rice a Roni and pre-washed and trimmed green beans.  Now… are you ready for how easy this was?  Seriously.  Brace yourself!

Line a baking sheet with foil.  Spread the green beans out and add baby bella or regular button mushrooms.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Line another baking sheet with foil and follow the prep instructions on the package.  These are great because they do not even require thawing before throwing them in the oven!

Make your rice according to the instructions as well.  The way our meal shook out I started the rice first and when it got to the, “reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes,” I popped the fish and the green beans in the preheated oven.

The entire meal took 10 minutes to prep and 25 minutes to cook.  BAM!!  Now that’s what I call a “not-quite-a-gimme-but-not-quite-a-homemade-meal” meal! (please avert your eyes from the two mix-matched plates and the chip in the blue plate that I am poorly trying to cover with my thumb.  But hey, the Queen of England wasn’t coming over last night so I was just keepin’ it real!)

Most nights we offer our toddler bits of whatever we are eating.  Of course we always have the staples which we know for sure he will eat but we are constantly trying to introduce him to new things in hopes of finding food he loves.  On this particular night our toddler ate some of our fish, some rice, and he didn’t care for the green beans but he did give them a fair try.

So I leave you with this, my friends…  Set yourselves up for success.  Stock up, have a plan, make a list, roll up your sleeves and rock your weeknight meals!  Keep it simple, keep it healthy, and keep it yummy.  Go forth and enjoy!

Be sure to follow Kendra over at her blog.

I am still documenting Landon’s dinners when I get a moment in the evenings over on instagram. You can see all the #toddlerdinners by me and many IG users throughout the week by following the hashtag. No time for photoshop with baby just yet..forgive me?

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