We did a couple posts back in 2014 called The Battlefield is in the Kitchen: Part 1 and The Battlefield is in the Kitchen: Part 2. I thought it would be nice to throwback to those and expand on them with more of a family focus.
If you’ve been visiting the blog lately, you’ll have noticed a new series I’ve been doing called Feeding the Family. Compared to 5-years ago when the first Battlefield posts went up and my kids were 2 and 4, their needs were not very aligned to the way I chose to eat. That was the applesauce and halved grapes stage.
But, we’ve now entered a different stage of their lives and our lives as a family and as I reread the Battlefield tips, through my mom lens, I felt like they really were not very helpful for applying to my family! I’m willing to bet that if you have a family with children, you would agree.
Here is the updated 2019 version:
Plan Ahead: the original recommendation was to plan on cooking in bulk 1 or 2 days per week. While adults intent on maximizing their time in the kitchen may be just fine with eating the same 2 or 3 meals for a whole week, kids are not!
Okay, so if you’ve seen many of the mommy-style food blogs, you’ll see elaborate meals prepared for children, that are (in my experience) not realistic. We’re approaching this battlefield-style, so we’re not going to have time to “plan ahead” and make turkey-cucumber pinwheels with homemade mayonnaise and black bean brownie animal cutouts. We’re going to get real. Real practical.
Planning ahead for family meals if you are working during the day and/or are a single parent is a super challenge. But here are some of the things I have found that work:
If you prepare food in bulk, do so judiciously. Pick things that keep well for several days. For example, a properly seasoned hamburger will stay delicious for a couple days. Just reheat it, and stick it on a fresh bun with some salad. The whole family will enjoy this.
Have staples on hand that hit your targeted family nutrition goals.
Draft a few meals to make during the week and shop for them ahead of time. I say “draft” because...
Be willing to be flexible and you’ll live to fight another day! My best plans for meals during the week - even with ingredients on hand - are often no match for our schedule! Sometimes, you’re going to need to pull that pizza out of the freezer.
Purge Your Pantry: again the original recommendation may be a bit too extreme for families. As much as I personally would never miss Oreos or potato chips in my pantry, the other 75% of my family definitely would!
I’ve tried to find a reasonable middle-ground here. I do adhere to the principle of “If it is in your house eventually you or someone you love will eventually eat it.”
Under that guideline I don’t want too much junk in the house. So, we generally keep only one dessert in the house at any given time. It might be ice cream OR cookies OR pie. But never all of those at one time. We also rarely ever have more than one type of chip. In terms of staples we keep plenty of (that the kids love) here’s what I always have on hand in the pantry or refrigerator:
High protein pasta: Barilla makes a delicious high protein pasta. My kids aren’t quite ready for meat sauce, so this gets them the protein and carbs they need. Again, pairing it with a salad makes for a quick, easy, and realistically healthy meal.
No sugar added Applesauce
Soup - I do not consider this healthy, but rather a somewhat neutral food. The main advantage is the kids love soup and it’s crazy fast.
Dried fruits (no sugar added, which is sadly limiting, but if you get the stuff with sugar you may as well just buy candy)
Canned plain tomato sauce (no sugar added) & canned diced tomatoes - it’s shocking how often tomato can be used as a base for many meals
Shredded cheese and tortillas (quesadillas)
Bread, yes, bread.
***With a proper stock of the basics, you can throw something quick together when the Plan Ahead technique occasionally falls apart!
Eat Real Food - this is a great principle, but I think being flexible and setting your mind on the 80/20 rule is best. Avoid overly processed foods 80% of the time. This will leave room for the desserts and chips I mentioned we have in our house!
Eat in Moderation - this is what parents need to live by! Eat to 80% full. For the kids, allow their natural appetites to guide them. When they are smashing food, let them! It means they are probably growing or about to. If they’re not hunger, don’t push the issue, get a few bites in and let them move on.
Make Small Changes - Yes! I wrote a post recently on this. Here’s the main key: you do not need to announce small changes! Just do them! I always cringe when I hear one or both adults in the family has decided everyone will now be eating Paleo. Please don’t, just don’t.
First of all, kids don’t need to eat that strictly.
Second of all, neither do you!!! Start slowing with reasonable, sustainable changes. Hey, read my 80% rule - seriously, this is life changing.
While you’re navigating this and trying to imagine a world where Twinkies don’t live in your pantry, please remember highly processed and prepackaged foods are literally engineered to be highly addictive. It’s worth it to break the cycle.
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