Making Simple Meals at Home
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When you become a parent, you'll find that your free and available time goes way down. If you're not big into cooking, then having some quick meal ideas will be a real lifesaver. You don't have to invest huge amounts of time to have a delicious meal at home.
We’re a very busy family between myself going to work and my wife going back to school. Making meals generally isn’t something we have a ton of time for. We do have more time on the weekend, but during the week, that’s not the case. I previously wrote about simple breakfast ideas. The following ideas are for lunch and dinner time meals.
Don’t eat out
That’s not what this article is about. We usually eat out once a week, and it’s actually usually on the weekend. By that time, we’re tired of our usual meals and want something a little different. Obviously, these are the simplest meals, but they’re also the most expensive, and like the least healthy options.
Don’t be afraid of leftovers
This can be a touchy subject for some people. I have people that I work with that refuse to eat leftover food, and won’t even take food from a restaurant to eat. I’m of a very different mindset than that, which is to throw out as little food as possible. That generally means that we end up eating leftovers a couple of times a week.
One of the nice things about eating leftovers is that you can make a slightly nicer meal one day and eat it again a couple of times during the week. If you don’t touch leftovers, then you’ll be spending a lot of time making meals, or else eating a lot of the exact same things.
Use a crockpot
I’ll be honest, we don’t use a crockpot that often. Chopping and cutting is just not my thing (I’m really slow at it), and my kids don’t like most things that we bring out of it. However, it can make some really tasty meals, and save you a ton of time (and money) when coming home in the evening. I have a tasty roast cooking today, so I’m actually looking forward to a crockpot meal that’s a little bit different than our basic meal plans from below.
Use a basic meal plan for each meal
For us, that means that we’re aiming to get three main things on our plate: a vegetable, a protein, and a carbohydrate. If you have this basic idea for each meal, then you can start piecing together most anything that you want. There are a lot of ways to mix and match these different items, and it will help you to feel like you’re eating something different.
This generally means that we eat a lot of rice, macaroni (spaghetti, etc.), or bread of some variant (not white bread as we don’t really enjoy it). Chicken and fish are the top two protein based items that we eat (my wife doesn’t like the texture of beans or we’d eat a lot more of them). Vegetables are either frozen, canned, or fresh from the grocery store. More details on these top staples in our meals are below.
If you don’t have a rice cooker, I’d highly recommend one. We have a pretty fancy one that we really like and have had for several years - we use it 3-4 times per week and it makes great rice every time. It has several settings for different types of rice, and can be used to schedule when to start (although we rarely use the feature). It also has a nice basket that sits above the rice for steaming vegetables or fish. Overall, a solid investment, and makes way better rice than anything I’ve made without it.
Surprisingly, my kids actually really love brown rice. I make a big batch of brown rice on Sunday each week for my weekly lunch meals, and I make sure to make extra for my kids as they really like it. You just never know what your kids might enjoy.
Macaroni, spaghetti, and other pasta
No, not macaroni and cheese, and not some prepared meal - this ends up being plain macaroni that you boil. We generally eat our macaroni and spaghetti completely plain - no tomato sauce or anything on it (I do like Sriracha on mine). There’s nothing wrong with adding sauce to them, we just like to eat them plain. For many years, my oldest didn’t even know that most people eat spaghetti with sauce on it. He likes to put shredded cheese on the top of his and let it melt.
We use macaroni, spaghetti, and all of the other pasta variants pretty interchangeably in our meals - if you’re pickier than that, that’s totally fine, but there’s no reason you have to be. Tomato sauce on top of macaroni tastes just as good as on top of spaghetti, although I’m sure someone will disagree.
We go through a decent amount of chicken in our house. It’s by far the cheapest of the meat options for protein, and it’s ratio of calories to serving size is excellent. There are so many different ways to prepare chicken that you can probably eat it every day of the week if you want. We like it grilled, baked, and sliced and sauteed. Watch for a future article on a few ideas for how to prepare chicken that your kids will like.
I am not a big fish or seafood person. I didn’t grow up eating it, whereas my wife ate it multiple times per week. As such, I don’t eat as much fish as the rest of the family, although I’ve grown to enjoy it more than I used to. Our kids, however, really like fish and will eat it when served. Generally, we steam fish in our rice cooker or steamer - they’re the healthiest and easiest. You can also saute it if you’d prefer.
My kids love avocados. I like to slice them up like an apple for meal time, and they’ll just eat them like that. If you get your kids eating avocado as one of their first foods, it’s going to be easier for you to get them to enjoy them when they are older as well. I also really like avocados, but didn’t love them when I was younger, so there is still hope if your kids don’t eat them.
We eat a ton of salad as well. The hardest part of salad is cutting everything up, but it doesn’t take any work beyond that. My oldest has found a love for ranch, recently, but before that we would eat most of our salads plain or with a very little bit of vinegar based dressings. Most salads these days are plain though. Including dressing is fine as well, just a little less healthy (but probably far more bearable for most).
There are so many different options here, and making these is very simple in the microwave. Throw them in, turn the microwave on for a couple of minutes, and enjoy. My kids tend to like broccoli and green beans the best right now, but they’ll eat the mixed vegetables and most anything else. It seems that the eternal joke of kids not eating their brussel sprouts holds true with us as well - my kids won’t eat them without some major coaxing.
Did you know, you don’t have to cook or warm canned vegetables up at all. I was shocked when my wife opened a can, dumped the liquid, and just ate them. I actually prefer them cold now vs warmed up, but to each their own. Warming them up doesn’t take too much time, and is definitely preferred by some. My son used to eat a heaping plate of peas and corn from the can when he was younger - he’s since scaled it back a little bit.
Having some basic staples that your kids like in the house will make meal times much easier to get through and keep your meals at least semi-balanced. I’d love to hear about tips that you like to use for simple but tasty meals.