When that happens, I have a few things that I always keep in my fridge or pantry so I know I have things I can whip up quickly, while still appealing to the toddler palates and maintaining a certain level of healthy eating. Here are some of my favorite things that I keep on hand for me and my two 3-year-olds to eat when things go off the rails.
1. Frozen Peas
I've had a bag of frozen peas in my freezer at all times for the last 2 years I think. My girls will eat them straight out of the freezer, or I can heat them up in the microwave in 30 seconds flat. I also add them sometimes to casseroles, pasta, or even tuna. If they finish their meal and they're still hungry, peas are often my go-to option to offer the girls as backup. They're also an easy food to take on the go- I throw some in a ziploc bag for each of them to eat in the car, at a picnic, or on a play date. No matter what state of frozen-ness they are in, the girls love them!
2. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are the best. They're so yummy and so healthy. I haven't met a toddler yet who doesn't like sweet potatoes. And, if you don't know this yet, you can cook them in the microwave in 4-5 minutes (depending on the size). I try to buy the long, skinny ones because they cook faster- poke a few holes in it, wrap it in a paper towel, cook on high for 2.5 minutes, turn over, and cook for another 2 minutes or so. And it's the perfect on-the-go food- it even comes in its own packaging! We take it on picnics still in the paper towel, and put the peel in the paper towels to throw away or take home more easily. For meals at home I usually peel and cut them into smaller pieces. And because they keep longer than other produce, they're a great thing to keep stocked.
3. Boxed Mac and Cheese
I know, this is totally a stereotypical thing to feed small children. But really, every now and then it's a great comfort food. It's my go-to food when the girls are sick, or we're feeling out of sorts. It's also easy to add things to it, like ground meat, spinach, bacon bits, or hmm, peas! When I'm totally stumped and don't want to put up with any complaints about what's for dinner, mac and cheese has never let me down. Our favorites are Back to Nature and Annie's brands. I feel less guilty giving them pasta out of a box when I use those, plus they come in cute shapes :)
Another easy food to take on-the-go, prepackaged by nature :) Also a good addition to smoothies (my favorite way to use up veggies that are about to go bad). When I'm feeling fancy, we make "banana splits"- I cut a banana length-wise, spread with peanut butter, put it back together, and cut it into slices. My kids are going to kill me when they find out what a real banana split is. Oh well.
5. Canned Beans and Corn
hate really don't care for other canned vegetables, like green beans, because they're soggy and taste weird, but canned black beans and corn have become a pantry staple. They're both good to add to casseroles, pasta, tuna etc, and my girls love them straight out of the can too. Plus if I have some chicken, cheese, and tortillas, we've got ourselves a pretty nice taco dinner.
I don't know why it took me as long as it did to figure out that fried egg sandwiches were an excellent dinner option. It was one of my girls' favorite breakfast for a while before I had my epiphany. Now it's my go-to emergency meal. If I have ham on hand, our favorite way to make them is to crack the egg in the pan, flip it, put a slice of ham on top, flip it back, and when the ham and egg are both cooked, turn off the heat and add a slice of cheese on top. The girls like them without bread, but I like to put mine on a bagel or piece of toast and maybe even put some salsa on top. Yum.
I have a confession to make: I LOVE cheese. I don't know how or why, because I grew up in Japan where cheese and other dairy products really aren't that big. But it's true. I usually have some kind of shredded cheese, cheese slices, and cheese sticks in my fridge at all times. Cheese is great for thrown-together meals (like casseroles, pasta, or fried egg sandwiches), and the cheese sticks are a great quick snack.
8. Frozen Salmon
I know not all kids love salmon like mine do, but boy do my girls love salmon. They will chow down on that stuff like nobody's business. I love it too, so that works out. Plus it's quick to defrost, and quick to cook. I usually pan fry it and throw on a little teriyaki sauce at the end. Done.
9. Frozen Chicken
Chicken is just so versatile. It's also probably the #1 kid-friendly meat because it's so mild. I recently discovered that my girls LOVE pan fried chicken thighs with a little salt. That's it. I can't believe I've been spending all this time seasoning and cooking my chicken different ways when they love it just plain like that. Obviously there are a million different easy ways to use chicken too, but I'm adding that to my emergency meal plan options now. I have also found quite a few crock pot recipes that let me throw in the chicken still frozen in the morning, and I come home to dinner. Awesome.
Another versatile food that's great at home or on-the-go. I put some in pouches (read more about my reusable pouches here) to take in the car, add them to smoothies, or just eat it. One of the beauties of yogurt is the variety. I think the girls get excited about the different colors and flavors. Right now they usually eat greek yogurt, which comes in so many different flavors it's astounding.
Alright, I'm still thinking of more things that I always keep stocked in my fridge or pantry, but I'd better stop there. Those are definitely the "biggest hits" in my house. What are yours? Leave a comment! :)