Eating outside is one of the joys of summer. For the kids it’s about fresh air and fun. For me it’s about not having to clean the floor. And cooking all the food outside? Even. Better. Here’s our foolproof family meal, made completely on the grill.
Tag: kids & family
Three of our four small kids were born in Italy, where eating out is practically the national pastime. That meant toting our tots to a lot of restaurants. Here are the tricks we learned along the way — and still use for our group that now includes one baby, a toddler, a preschooler and even a kindergartener.
1. Take a “Fun Pack.” Our oldest daughter was a toddler when she started filling up a bag she called her “Fun Pack” for restaurants. Whatever she could fit in, went: toys, dolls, sunglasses. I also brought crayons and a coloring book, which weren’t automatically handed out in Rome. She may spend only a few minutes with each thing, but she’ll have enough stuff to explore during the meal to stay occupied.
2. Go early. This was a bit of a moot point in Europe, where dinner typically isn’t served until 8 p.m., but boy have we used it ever since we moved to the U.S. We are out the door by 4:30 p.m., trying to arrive at 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. The kids don’t get overly hungry, and the restaurant will likely be less busy.
3. Practice restaurant manners. For toddlers and preschoolers, role-playing ahead of time makes all the difference. (We did this before flying on planes too.) We physically sit at the table and explain what will happen at the restaurant. We tell them that a waiter will arrive to ask questions, there are menus, there is no getting up from the table unless you need to go potty — tell them whatever your family rules are. And we ask silly questions: “Any climbing under the table?” Which gives the kids a chance to yell, “No!” Yelling at home? Good. Yelling at the restaurant? Bad. Hence the dry run.
One Recipe, Two Meals: Pasta with Butter and Peas for the Kids, and a Veggie-Packed Primavera for Youby Bev Weidner in Family, Recipes, June 3rd, 2015
If you’re not a fan of pasta, there may be something wrong with you. Just kidding. You’re still a good person.
But really, how could you not like pasta? You know, don’t even tell me if you don’t. I don’t think my heart could take it. I feel like we’re in a good place in our relationship, and I can’t rightly handle any deal breakers. I have to wash my hair today; that’s already too much for me.
Anyway, what we have here is a ridiiiiiculous pasta primavera, but super-stripped down on the front end for your babes. I included some peas in the kid-friendly recipe. Ya know, color! And health or whatever.
The mature version is loaded with veggies, a bit of dry white wine, a little bit and a lot of butter, tons of good Parmesan and a heavy hand of fresh herbs. You may cry. Just keeping adding cheese at the end and I’m sure you will.
As a matter of fact, I’m tearing up right now.
I may need a moment. Or more pasta?
I like to cook with my 8-year-old. It’s way more fun than room cleaning and other required household activities. Recently, I decided to bring our pastime into her third-grade class and make strawberry shortcakes with them. I was nervous. I have stage fright. Also, though I have made this dish dozens of times, I have no prior experience doing it with the help of 19 small friends. (Hats off to all teachers in the land, by the way.)
I figured that strawberry shortcakes would be a good teaching dish; most kids like this springy dessert, making it does not require tons of technical skill, and the recipe has three parts to keep kids engaged. To make it easier, I chose the simplest cream biscuit recipe I knew, and measured out the ingredients ahead of time. (I sliced the berries too, because that’s time-consuming and a little boring.)
The primary reason to show kids how to make this is that someday our kids will be old enough to cook by themselves, and if they know how to make strawberry shortcakes, they might make some for us. Don’t I want that to happen? Yes, I do.
Here’s what you need to make strawberry shortcake with your own group of kids. Below, I am including a prep list, an equipment checklist and the recipe. Scale it up for every 12 kids you want to feed. It is possible, with some extra preparation, to sneak in other skills, like addition, multiplication, division and fractions, and how to read and follow instructions. Use the shopping list and class plan to help simplify the work. Use the checklist to pack and to plan, and the class itself will go pretty smoothly. As it turns out, this third-grade class was a friendly audience. They were curious and helpful, and loved eating their work.
Tired-mom confession: I’m kind of psyched for summer because I won’t have the pressure of packing a single lunchbox for nine whole weeks. (Yep, ours is a year-round school, but still…) Summer lunches offer a bit more flexibility and require less planning, and sometimes the kids can even help.
Lunches That (Even Little) Kids Can Make Themselves:
1. Strawberry & PB Wraps: Slather peanut butter on a whole-wheat tortilla, sprinkle with diced strawberries and wrap it up like a burrito for a hand-held meal.
2. Pita Pockets: Whip up the egg salad (with a kid-friendly ingredient), chicken salad or even Ellie Krieger’s healthier version of chicken curry salad and show the kids how to stuff a couple of spoonfuls into each pocket.
3. Sub Sandwiches on a Stick: Set out the fixings — chunks of cheese, cherry tomatoes, cubes of thick bread, pickles cut into large dice, rolls of salami — and let kids slide everything onto a bamboo skewer.
4. Watermelon Gazpacho: Taking a tip from the amazing Barefoot Contessa’s original 5-star cold soup recipe, give the kids a turn at the food processor with this fruit-filled summertime soup.
In the winter months, I love nothing more than tucking into a warm meaty stew or sliding a butter knife through succulent tender braised roasts. I create my meals around the protein — sometimes relegating the sides to a secondary consideration, sticking to tried-and-true standbys most weeknights. If I am trying out a new flavor in the kitchen, it isn’t usually in the veggies.
I realize that as the weather warms up, there is a subtle shift to my cooking: I create my meals around the vegetables and keep the proteins uber-simple, usually just tossing them on the grill and then slicing to serve on a small platter, almost as a side to the veggie stars. The vegetables become my canvas for improvisation. Sometime around April or May, I start bulking up my veggie purchases, and I find myself browsing the local farmers market, or even just the supermarket produce aisle. Last week at dinner, my nephew Jack commented on the plethora of veggie dishes I served — I served three, but they were full recipes, not just the quick steamy work of a microwave. (I feel compelled to add that he even gave my sauteed cabbage a 55 on a scale of 1 to 10, which is something for cabbage and a 10-year-old.)
Before they’re ready for margaritas and garlicky guacamole, we’re introducing our kids to a handful of starter Mexican recipes like these. Each one is simple and straightforward enough for busy parents who still love a delicious meal on a festive day.
Rachael Ray’s Mexican Lasagna (pictured above): With spinach tortillas in place of pasta, this 5-star recipe packs chicken breasts, black beans, corn, cheese and more into a dish you can make (and even freeze) ahead of time and then throw in the oven for a rich and bubbly Cinco De Mayo dinner.
Slow-Cooker Shredded Chicken Tex-Mex: Sometimes the best family meals are the ones that are easiest to make. This slow-cooker meal comes together while the kids are in school, politely waiting to be topped with sour cream, guacamole or salsa when the whole family is ready.
Remember tuna salad from when you were growing up? Or if you’re like me, remember tuna salad from lunch 20 minutes ago? I have to tell you: I still absolutely dig me a good tuna salad. The kind I’ve been making for sixish years now isn’t just your (yawn) boring ol’ canned tuna mixed with mustard and mayo. Oh, no, pigeons. This adult version’s rocking stilettos and a hot-pink wig!
Actually, that sounds awful.
But before we get to the adult version, I’ve also included a cool, classic variant for your kiddies. I kept the binder pretty neutral, but instead of mayo, I swirled in a bit of Greek yogurt to lighten it up a bit. They won’t know the difference. Tell them elves made it. It’s also loaded with a hint of mustard, and fresh celery and apple, which I feel like all kids like, right? Again, just tell them elves made it. And ignore how many commas were in that sentence.
Now for the deluxe version. Again boasting a touch of Greek yogurt, it’s also laced with fresh lemon juice and curry powder — what? I also threw in some chopped almonds, fresh parsley, a bunch of red grapes and minced celery to boost the antioxidants. But I took out the stilettos and hot-pink wig because that was weirding me out.
Every afternoon was the same at my house: tired kids running around, alternately asking for snacks, playing and fighting. I was distracted in the kitchen trying to get a fresh meal on the table — something that didn’t come out of a sack and something that would nourish us. Then I discovered how to use my freezer to cook dinner.
Now when I’m prepping dinner, I can double (or split) it into two portions, one for now and one for later. Not every recipe will cooperate, but these family-friendly dishes work beautifully for just such a job:
Honey-Mustard Chicken: If you try nothing else, try this one that our kids love. Chicken thighs (or breasts) bake in a simple sweet sauce; double the recipe and throw half into a baking dish for dinner and the other serving into a zip-top bag bound for the freezer. Serve both over your favorite grain to soak up all that juice.
Giada De Laurentiis’ Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables: A one-pot meal brimming with fresh veggies like zucchini, summer squash and peppers sounds perfect for spring, but Giada’s penne goes the extra kid-friendly mile with two kinds of cheeses. Prep the entire recipe and pour into two pans (or double it for large groups); cook one pan and cover the other with foil for the freezer.
I can still taste the tang of fresh rhubarb as my mom picked long stalks of the stuff from our garden as a kid. (I also remember yelling to my friends who always seemed to be grabbing it for a snack, “No! That’s not celery!”) But what a transformation: How soft rhubarb became in the oven, set in a custard pie filling along with sweet strawberries. Strawberry-rhubarb is the killer combination of spring. So as those first stalks are spotted in markets everywhere, these recipes are on our radar:
The Classic Approach:
1. Rhubarb Custard Pie: This is it! This is exactly the sweet and creamy pie I remember, the one I’ll make for our kids this spring.