Don’t get overwhelmed with unrealistic New Years Resolutions – try these instead.
I love a new year because it feels like a fresh start, and this year, my desire for a new beginning was taken up a notch. As many of you know, the past few years have been hard on our family, with one home becoming two, and having to establish a “new normal”. So with a heck of a lot of resilience, I’m excited to say “bring on a new decade!”
Part of what’s been challenging is only having my kids half the time, and the menu planning and feeding challenges that come along with that (here are some tips for surviving mealtime as a solo parent, if you’re interested). I’m finding that I’ve had more food waste and that I’m not as creative with meals as I used to be. It’s a lot of repeat breakfasts, lunches and dinners in our household–and it’s getting old fast. Sigh…
But I’m trying not to get carried away with lofty or unrealistic expectations. And neither should you. Let’s agree to start small, shall we?! I’ve compiled 5 small, simple changes that that can make BIG differences, but are realistic for most busy parents. Try starting with ONE of these five simple feeding shifts (or two if you think it’s possible), and you’ll notice that your entire family will benefit.
1. Create a simple breakfast rotation
Sick of serving breakfast cereal every. single. day? Me too! So, let’s branch out and start offering a variety of options during the week. Listen–it’s fine to have breakfast cereal on that rotation. After all, most kids love it (and so do I sometimes). But breakfast is an important meal for your kids (if not the MOST important), especially if they’re in school. They need the energy and sustenance to perform well, concentrate and focus. It’s important to include a balance of nutrients, such as fibre, dietary fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. In food terms, this might look like oatmeal (here are 5 oatmeal recipes that you might want to try), homemade muffins with Greek yogurt and fruit, a fruit and yogurt smoothie (here’s our favourite smoothie recipe), or eggs (here are my kids fave egg recipes). Yes, some of these breakfasts might take a few minutes longer than just pouring a bowl of cheerios, but the benefits are endless — it’s worth every second!
2. Stop making it your job to “get your kids to eat”
Positive mealtimes are paramount to a child’s long term relationship with food. So that’s our #1 job – to keep mealtimes positive and pressure-free. By doing this we help our kids feel confident to try new foods when they’re ready – and hopefully like them too! And trust me – the phrase “short term pain, long term gain” really rings true. Now, I totally get how hard it is to feed kids – I’ve got a couple of picky eaters myself! But here’s the thing – it’s not YOUR job to get your kid to eat, or even try a new food. Crazy, right? But it’s just not. As counter-intuitive as it might feel, stop micromanaging your child’s meal.
Your job, according to the Division of Responsibility in Feeding (sDOR), is to take care of the what, when and where of feeding. So this means, you provide a nutritious, balanced meal and a time that you choose and a place that you choose. The rest is 100% up to your child – they decide if and how much they eat. This magical strategy takes the pressure off of everyone, and makes it much more likely that your child will be open to eating a variety of foods. Not to mention that it makes mealtimes a heck of a lot more positive and stress-free! So, no more airplane trick, hovering over your child’s plate, “two more bites” rule or “your can’t have dessert until…”. If you want more guidance on how to do this, read this post.
3. Do a pre-dinner veggie tray
Sounds simple, right?! Well, yes, it is. But it’s also a total game-changer. We all know we need more veggies (this is just a fact) — kids included. Kids diets these days are largely made up of ultra-processed foods and lacking plants. Throw in picky eating issues, and veggies don’t really stand a chance. So, if you’re struggling to get your kiddos to munch on their greens, I HIGHLY recommend a pre-dinner veggie tray. Here’s the deal: while you’re preparing dinner and your kiddos are whining because they’re hungry, slide a veggie tray on the counter, with a variety of pre-chopped veggies, and a couple of dips and say nothing–just watch the magic happen. See, when veggies don’t have to compete with other foods (like starches, meat etc.), they’re more likely to get eaten. Raw veggies not an option? Try veggie soup or frozen peas (my kids eat these like candy — I’m not even joking). Here’s more on the pre-dinner veggie tray.
4. Cook once, eat twice.
Finding the right balance of food to cook is a constant work in progress. I’ve made a big batch of oatmeal before thinking it would last for two breakfasts, but after breakfast number one – and three sufficiently stuffed kids later – I’m left with 1/4 cup of oatmeal for leftovers. Seriously kids! But it’s important for sanity reasons to try to make meals stretch. Not only for economical reasons, but for time management and mama-sanity as well! Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Big batch oatmeal -> oatmeal muffins
- Shredded chicken (either home-cooked or store-bought rotisserie) -> chicken tacos, chicken on salad
- Cooked lentils –> egg dishes, smoothies, soups, salads, spaghetti sauce, taco mix
- Ground meat –> tacos, spaghetti, hamburger soup, and burritos bowls
- Sauces, chilli, soups ALL freeze well. Remember to label and date your food before putting it in the freezer. I speak from experience as someone who brought “chilli” for lunch only to realize too late that it was spaghetti sauce.
- One (or two) pan meals like: my One-Pan Thai Prawn Green Curry, Thai Peanut Noodles, and Two-Pan Thai Chicken Veggie Bowls.
5. Swap half of the meat for plant-based protein
This simple feeding shift is just that – SIMPLE! Waking up one morning and deciding to go VEGAN will not be easy if you’ve consumed animal products consistently for the previous 20 years. Start slowly and be realistic when making dietary changes. Maybe commit to a “meat-less Monday” routine or swap half of the meat in your recipe for a plant-based protein! It’s easier than you think. For example:
- Swap half of the ground beef in a taco recipe for canned (drained and rinsed) lentils! The kids (and your spouse) will never know the difference I promise.
- Reduce the overall ground beef in recipes like spaghetti sauce, hamburger soup, chilli and supplement with lentils!
- For recipes requiring cubed or diced chicken simply cut the meat portion in half, and add cubed or diced firm tofu.
- Add crumbled tofu (break apart extra-firm tofu using a fork) and add to your usual omelette or scrambled egg recipe!
From a nutrition perspective, plant-based sources of protein like beans, lentils, peas, nuts tend to not only contain protein, but also dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and are low or free from saturated fat. Perfect for growing kids! Not to mention, they are cost-effective, versatile, and a quick and easy pantry staple. And as kids grow to teenagers, throwing in a can of lentils to help your recipe stretch will be an economical life-saver! Check out this blog post with a few delicious plant-based protein recipes to try.
I’m a note taker, because seriously – as a busy single-mom if I didn’t write it down, the thought would disappear. Between scheduled activities, playdates, groceries, work responsibilities, and trying to remember to carve out me time, keeping a list of groceries or menu ideas keeps me sane. Because there’s nothing worse than heading to the grocery store and forgetting a KEY ingredient! Oh the frustration. So, grab a sheet of paper or make a grocery list on your phone. The simple act of “writing it down” will help you tackle some of your mealtime prep. And if you’re feeling like you need an easy reboot – check out my blog post with Five Tips to Finally Start Meal Planning (for real). I know I need a refresher heading into 2020! Good luck!