What To Feed Picky Kids During Deployment

woman and children eating dinner
(John Suleski/DVIDS)

There are some good things about having a spouse deployed. (I really hope he isn't reading this ...) Here are some of them.

  1. I barely have to make the bed anymore because the covers stay where they're supposed to be. Smooth out the wrinkles. Add the pillows. I'm done.
  2. Cooking? I guess I could. Just let me blow the dust off this Foreman grill ...
  3. Same goes for shaving my legs.
  4. And wearing make-up.
  5. And the amount of laundry in our house seems to have been cut in half. Maybe it's because his clothes are twice as big as the kids' clothes?

Still, the good doesn't even come close to outweighing the bad. I miss him. But that's a sad topic for another day.

My current dilemma is this: Three nights a week, my oldest has football practice from 5:30 to 7:30. We have to leave the house just after 5 to get to practice on time, I have to stay the whole time and we don't get home until nearly 8.

So dinner is supposed to happen how? And when?

Kids eat in the yellow-tan-brown color palette, right?

If my husband were home, I could ask him to start dinner while the rest of us are at practice, or he and I could tag out and I could head home to start cooking. But he's not home.

To complicate matters, I'm something of a foodie and a healthy eater, but my kids only like food in the yellow-tan-brown color palette.

I did a Google search for "fast, kid-friendly meals" and kept turning up suggestions like "Roast Beef and Salad Crepe."

As if "short, open-minded adult" is the same thing as "child." Mine might eat the roast beef. They wouldn't touch the salad or the crepe. They would, however, get a real kick out of calling the crepe, "crap."

Another no-go? "Carrot Ginger and Apple Soup" which sounds pretty good to me, but my kids would use it to fingerpaint the dog.

I mean, why not just go all out and serve them Bruschetta with Goat Cheese and Olive Tapenade. Or is that just for toddler birthday parties?

Current adventures with a Zoodle

My solution (for now) is this: At 4:30, the kids and I sit down to a light, quick meal, something like Zoodles with jarred marinara sauce and pre-cooked frozen meatballs. And you can read more about Zoodles -- my current favorite vegetable preparation method because my kids will actually eat them -- here.

Then at 8, we eat something (maybe sitting, maybe while the bathtub is filling up, maybe while yelling that someone needs to finish his homework) like a peanut butter sandwich, or we just finish off the leftovers from the earlier meal.

But we can't eat the same thing every night, so I've added a few more quick, easy dishes for our rotation. None would have made Julia Child swoon, but they're all palatable to me and to my finicky offspring, and they get the job done with nary a combo meal nor a pizza box in sight.

Best of all, the total prep-to-eating cooking time on these dishes is about 10 minutes, which leaves plenty of time to get everyone fed, bathed and into bed by 9, so that I can hang out with my good friend Netflix for two hours before falling asleep on the couch.

Fast, Kid-Friendly Meals for Deployment.

  1. Fondue. Melt some cheese, Velveeta works well, but if you're processed cheese-averse, find a good recipe for cheddar dipping cheese. In the microwave, slice up cold cuts or other meats, slice vegetables and cut bread into large cubes. A baguette is best, but sandwich bread works, too. Or just skip the bread and do meat and veggies. Done. Everybody gets to dip. And, dontchaknow, dipping makes everything fun.
  2. Breakfast for dinner. A classic solution that never gets old -- for kids. (It gets old quick for adults, though.) Scramble some eggs, cook some bacon in the microwave and add toast, frozen waffles or pancakes and fresh fruit. I've tried getting cheffy and subbing in a frittata -- and I loved it – but the kids wouldn't touch it.
  3. Chicken Quesadillas. Canned, pre-cooked chicken, shredded cheddar cheese, tortillas and the aforementioned Foreman grill are all I need to have these on the table in under five minutes. I add a salad for myself and fruit for the kids.
  4. Fish Stick Tacos. These take a bit longer because the fish sticks need about 15 minutes in the oven, but everything else comes together in mere seconds, so I can tackle homework or baths while the fish cooks. You need store-bought fish sticks, tortillas, a bag of shredded cabbage, salsa and Spicy Ranch salad dressing. Let the kids dress their own tacos.

I want to try bulk-cooking large amounts of ground beef in a slow cooker to expand our options a bit and cut prep time down even more, but haven't been brave enough yet. Has anyone tried it?

What are your favorite quick, kid-friendly dinners?

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