So many of us have become part-time chauffeurs getting the kids from school to dance or swimming or soccer.
And, have you noticed that so often these activities seem to fall right in the middle of eating time. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to schedule, you find either you’re missing a meal or it’s getting too late for the kids to wait until they’ve finished. We also want to make sure they are well nourished so they have enough energy to spend an hour bouncing around and not be so tired and hungry by the end that they have a meltdown in the car.
Finding a balance between snacks, dinner, energy and healthy options can be a real challenge. Making food options portable, quick and easy to eat ups the ante even more.
If you’re missing out on dinner and need something to eat on the go, there are meals that can work. Think about having a kitchen/bathroom tidy to pack things in to keep organised. Even better, crumbs will be less likely to hit the car seat/floor.
1. Sushi – it’s the perfect mix of protein, carbs and some great nutrients in the nori. Either prepare yourself which is surprisingly easy or buy ahead of time. It’s also a great share option if you need to feed a team.
2. Wraps – you can parcel up protein and veges in an easy-to-hold roll. Lamb, roast veggies and hummus or cheese, salad and avocado. Or go Mexican and use a tortilla stuffed with mince, salsa and guacamole. You could use quesadillas too! This is a great option for personalising dinner to cater to tastes.
3. Rice paper rolls – these are so simple to make and very versatile. Yes, you can stuff with the traditional marinated chicken/prawns and chopped veg and herbs. But there is no reason not to use left-over mince and mash or cheese and salad. Make the night before and wrap in a damp towel if you’re short on time.
4. Jacket potatoes – potatoes stay warm inside for ages and so you can grab from the oven, wrap in a tea towel and then slice when needed. Bring a spoon and add cheese, beans, salad, mince and make it into a meal.
5. Quiches/slices/frittata/tortilla – making an all-in-one dinner saves a lot of time. You have a combination of the protein from the egg (and meat additions if you wish) plus veges and you can beef up with some sliced potato or grains like quinoa. If your activity straddles dinner time, you can serve half before and half afterwards.
6. Salad in a jar – having your dinner from a jar is so much fun and of course it doesn’t have to be lots of lettuce. It can have beans, pasta, lentils, chickpeas, rice and be so energy boosting. Add some zesty homemade dressings to give it zing or some chopped chicken, bacon or salmon to add flavour. Think outside the square and use broccoli florets, corn or chopped asparagus. All you need is the jar and a fork or spoon.
7. Crepes – use a thin pancake to wrap up some mushrooms, sausage, tomato and spinach and add cheese sauce for the yum factor (eat over a plastic tub so mess gets contained!). Or go tuna, corn, spinach and mayo.
8. Patties or fritters – these are perfect for eating out and are delicious even if cold. Easy to hold and you can pack with protein and veg. Think pumpkin and feta or zucchini and egg or potato or salmon cakes. Falafels are another easy-to-make option.
If you are looking for something to tide the children over until dinner but give them enough energy to be active, then a nutrient-dense snack could be what you’re looking for.
9. Protein – protein is filling and will stop kids feeling either over-full or hungry. A chicken leg, a boiled egg, a stick of cheese or, if you’re looking for even more “snacky”, some jerky.
10. Chopped vegetables – have a pot with a variety of colourful veg. Everything from carrots to snow peas. If you need a few extra calories or want to increase the “yum” factor then serve with hummus, pesto or guacamole.
11. Fruit salad – having different fruits in bite-sized pieces can be a lot more appealing than serving a whole apple or banana. It’s also good for sharing and as we know variety is the spice of life!
12. Muesli bar or slice – there are some great recipes for low sugar/nutrient-dense bars that you can easily put together to give the kids an energy boost between meals. Ones packed with oats, nuts, seeds, quinoa and dried fruit will give them enough bounce to get them through until dinner. If a muesli bar is too hard to make (or a healthy version too hard to buy) then a homemade “trail mix” is a good alternative.
13. Yoghurt – sometimes a pot of yoghurt is kind on the tummy before doing strenuous exercise but fills enough of a hole to stop the hungries!
14. Snacks – cheese and crackers, roasted chickpeas, rice cakes and nut butter. If you’re looking for a quick and easy snack these can fill the gap. Or a pot of corn chips with some salsa and guacamole.
15. Muffins – there are so many options! It may be good to find a savoury recipe as it’s before dinner. These can be an easy way to increase the veges with choices like pumpkin or spinach and feta.
Judith Yeabsley is a mum of two boys who is passionate about healthy food for kids. She runs a food art website, theartofnutrition.com, focusing on presenting fruit and veges creatively. She also works to change the food environment in schools, community groups and lunchboxes. For information on this and great recipes, see theartofnutrition.co.nz.