But Happy Meals are so much easier... - The Produce Moms

You work until 5pm, fight traffic on the interstate & pick your children up from after-care just in time to dodge the ridiculous $5/min late charge.  Your kids are cranky & you are ready to just throw in the towel and wave the white flag.  The last thing you want to do is come home & start making dinner.  It’s MUCH easier to hit up a drive thru.  I’ve been there & I have waved the white flag.  But our kids deserve better.

Here are some things that I’ve tried to incorporate into my kitchen so I can always make dinner in 15 minutes.

1.  Vegetables

Frozen Vegetables can be steam-cooked in the microwave…. often within 5 minutes.  Some produce departments are starting to offer fresh cut veggies in steam/microwave-ready bags.  I prefer these, but they do cost more.  And you gotta give yourself some credit.  Serving your children frozen or canned vegetables is better than serving them no vegetables at all!  If you want to stick with fresh vegetables, I love the Garden Cut Grill Ready line – No prep needed!  All you need is a grill pan & your fresh veggies can be perfectly cooked in about 10 minutes (if you don’t have a grill pan, a skillet would work).  And I always serve the vegetables first!  It’ll keep your children occupied while you finish up the other components of the dinner (eliminate the nuisance of them hunting for a snack in the pantry while you are slaving away & hustling to get a fully-balanced meal on the table).  AND – it helps to set the precedent that vegetables are not optional.  They are the 1st course & the most important course.  Make the vegetables your priority when you start cooking dinner.

2.  Proteins

Proteins can be prepared quickly & conveniently by planning ahead, but I’m awful at planning ahead.  If you can just get yourself to defrost your meat, poultry or fish the night before, that helps A LOT.  A thawed boneless skinless chicken breast can be cooked in 15 minutes – start it on the skillet.  Brown the chicken in some olive oil on both sides for about 2 minutes each & then move the skillet to a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Yes.  Bake them in the skillet.  You don’t have time wash a skillet & a pan!  If you cannot remember to defrost your meats, at least remember to buy some canned or bagged tuna.  You can make a tuna patty in about 4 minutes.  Mix the tuna with an egg & some breadcrumbs or crushed crackers.  You can season the patties with some seasoned salt.  Cook it in the skillet with a small amount of oil or just use a non-stick spray.  Serve it with ketchup.  Your kids (and Jessica Simpson) will never know it’s fish

3.  Starches

Don’t get hung up on serving these.  A good starchy side should be more of a treat than a staple at your dinner table.  If your kids are anything like mine- or the rest of the kids in the United States- they are getting their fair share of carbohydrates everyday.  Plus, if your vegetable is corn or potato, that counts as a starch.  If you (or your meat & potato eating husband) wants to have a hot starch with dinner, the Idahoan instant mashed potatoes received the Chef’s Choice award & they cook up in just 4 minutes in your microwave.  But more often than not, I will just serve a slice of good bread from my local bakery or a Hawaiian Roll.

4. Fruits

Fruits make the perfect dessert.  We love yogurt parfaits at my house!  Keep some frozen fruit on hand for the nights you are caught off guard & have no fresh fruits.  Allow your kids to put some frozen berries in their parfait cup, fill it with yogurt & the kids can top it off with granola, animal crackers, sprinkles, honey… whatever you gotta do to get them to think it’s a decadent dessert.  This is also a great way to use up brown bananas.  Banana slices + yogurt = delicious treat!

My upcoming recipes will focus on my 4 aspects of the balanced 15 minute meal.  A mom is like an arsenal.  We need lots of defense tactics/tools for all the challenges that we face everyday.  Our battles against our own kids & spouses in the kitchen are no exception.  Let’s get ready to win this war, ladies!

xoxo Produce Mom

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15 thoughts on “But Happy Meals are so much easier…”

  1. I like to make couscous with grilled vegetables and you can add some protein by adding chicken breast (pre-cooked). Easy and healthy – takes about 15 min!!!

    Thanks for all of your great ideas!!!

  2. Lori, here is a 15 minute white chicken chilli that’s delicious! I use prepackaged (low sodium)chicken bc it’s easier! I also add one packet of white chilli seasoning to the recipe! You are doing a fantastic job with this!!! Love ya!

    3 tablespoons olive oil
    1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons ground red pepper
    2 cans (16 ounces each) great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
    1 can (14 1/2 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth
    1 1/2 cups chopped, cooked chicken breast
    Shredded Monterey Jack cheese, optional
    Sour cream, optional
    Salsa, optional
    This savory soup is the perfect way to spice up a meal or to serve as a main course on a chilly night.
    Preparation Time: Approximately 10 minutes

    Cook Time: Approximately 15 minutes

    Preparation: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until tender. Add the chilies, flour and cumin; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the beans and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until lightly thickened. Add the chicken and heat through. Garnish with cheese, sour cream and salsa, if desired.

    Servings: 6

    1. Sorry I use red pepper instead of cumin and don’t add green chilis if the kids are eating. So sorry I didn’t change the cooking instructions!

      1. Leslie – this sounds FANTASTIC! I’ll make it this week as my 1st “Fan Feature” when I do my recipe blogs. I really appreciate your support & willingness to share on here. xoxoxoxo

  3. Thanks I love the ideas. I like to hand my kids a plate of fresh veggies and fruits about 30 min before dinner. They always east so much more this way. And it keeps them out of my hair while I cook dinner. We also have a rule that you can always eat fruits and veggies whenever you want. No asking required. Even if it is right before our after dinner.

    1. I love this rule, Melissa! I, too, have a plate of fresh fruit on the table at all times, usually something easy to eat – like grapes. I love this tip, though, and will be incorporating your feedback into an upcoming blog! Thank you for all the support… from the bottom of my heart – I really appreciate having you as part of my audience! 🙂

  4. My favorite, easy recipe is to cut up the skinless, boneless, organic chicken breast. Put a few teaspoons of olive oil or vegetable oil in a skiller. After about 10 minutes of cooking and stirring the chicken, throw in a bag of frozen snow peas and carrot mixture or any mixed vegetables, plus a few garlic cloves out of your garlic press. Cook about 5 or 6 more minutes and the meal is ready.

  5. Easy fresh vegetables from the Harvest Time.

    In August and September in Indiana, when the produce is fresh and the vegetable markets are full of good things, buy extra:

    onions
    tomatoes
    banana peppers
    jalepino peppers
    red chili peppers

    This will take about an hour but last all winter long.

    Get out your cutting board and sharpest knife. For the onions, I usually use my Pampered Chef chopper.

    I chop five or six cups of onions and put in the zip lock freezer bag, gallon size.

    Place 5 or 6 whole washed tomatoes in each freezer bag.

    Place as many peppers as you can fit in a few more freezer bags.

    Bryan gave me this next idea: Zip the bags up to almost 1/2 inch. Insert a straw into the zip lock bag and suck out the air, then complete the sealing of the bag. Now you have the air tight freezer bag without spending any extra money!

    The next time you are ready to make soup, chili, stir-fry, or even just add a few onions to an omelette, just grab a spoonful, or a few tomatoes and peppers from your freezer, re zip the bag and ENJOY!

    1. What a great idea! And I love Bryan’s vacuum seal technique! Even if you are not a gardener (I am not) you could use these freezer tips for when produce is at the peak of it’s season and/or really cheap. THANK YOU!

  6. I love how you suggest fruit for dessert! Girl scout cookies, specifically Thin Mints, are my weakness. To keep myself from eating a whole package, I have started cutting a cup of strawberries and topping them with 2 chopped Thin Mints! I get my cookies, plus a serving of fruit AND I keep my cookie portion in check.

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