Meals for Practice, Game & Other Activities Nights

Spring is such a busy time around my town.  Many moms I know are so happy when summer arrives because evenings less hectic, since we usually don’t have to cart kids around to practices/games/scout meetings/lessons/club meetings plus still get home for dinner, homework, baths/showers as well as getting them to bed in time so they’ll get off to school the next morning on time with hair neatish, teeth brushed, homework completed and fed breakfast.  Lately I’ve noticed requests and conversations about how to feed kids on those hectic spring evenings when they have all those after school activities.  Especially if a mom/dad has more than one kid in a variety of sports with different days and times when these are scheduled.  

Fresh vegetables are easy to take with you.

Fresh vegetables are easy to take with you.

So, how to get kids fed nutritious food they’ll eat as well as not drive us crazy trying to prepare in the 50 seconds we’re home? 
I’ve had a few posts with 10-20 minute recipes and other suggestions here, here, here and here

Crockpots are a wonderful way to have dinner ready when you’ll be home for enough time it takes to eat.  I’ve made stews, ratatouille, chili, soups in mine.  

  • Cooking a pork butt to make pulled pork is always a kid pleaser.  (Cooking the pork one day letting it cool in fridge overnight makes it easier to remove the fat.  Just reheat portions with bbq sauce).  I often serve it with coleslaw and either over noodles or on rolls. You can even wrap with foil to bring to your game/practice, etc.  
  • Chicken stew with dumplings my mother-in-law introduced me to is a family favorite. Using the left-overs for a chicken pot pie stretches the one into two meals.   
  • Roasting a chicken whole. Slice onions and line bottom of crockpot.  Remove the giblets/neck and stuff chicken loosely with celery, carrots, thyme.  Coat it with olive oil, salt pepper and Penzy’s Mural of Flavor Spice/Herb Mix and cook for 6 hours on top of the onions low.  You can use the leftover bones to make stock in same crockpot. 

What if we’re not home at dinner-time?  Picnic-style dinners to bring with you, maybe even eat in the car.  
Cucumbers, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers are fabulous to travel with and you can always bring some Ranch dressing if your kids like it.  Yesterday we met with friends and I had a store-prepared tabouli, hummus, couple of cheeses, crackers, carrots, olives and yogurt squeezers with a bottle of seltzer.  This was fine to tide them over or even to give them a balanced meal. 


Cold pasta salad with vegetables & pesto

Cold pasta salad with vegetables & pesto

Tomatoes sliced, basil chiffonade...

Tomatoes sliced, basil chiffonade…

CSA greens, Tatsoi & Cilantro salad

CSA greens, Tatsoi & Cilantro salad

As I mentioned before you can wrap sandwiches in foil as well as burritos, quesadillas, and even full meals.  There are so many containers out there to help you manage eating on the run.  

If you have time before they get home from school plus the creativity and patience it takes, you can make fun bento-style containers for each kid.  I love looking at some of the designs out there, but I’ve never had the time nor inclination to do it myself!

Quiche/Egg Pie – whether you make it or buy it many kids will like this classic egg pie. There are so many varieties with various ingredients.  My kids love the NZ version with 2 crusts: Bacon & Egg Pie.

So, no need to always go to the drive-through at fast food chains or always stopping to pick up a pizza.  It can be done with either some preparation or just a little planning. And summer is just around the corner!  (Even though it feels as though winter finally just ended.)


Most kids will eat (HOMEMADE) chicken nuggets


Most kids will eat (HOMEMADE) chicken nuggets

At a loss for inspiration… then it hit me!

Last night I walked into the kitchen and stared at the chicken breasts I’d taken out of the fridge. I knew I was making chicken for dinner, but I hadn’t planned in what way/which recipe and now I found myself at a loss of what to do with them.  I just stared at them.  Hmm. What to do with them?  I’d made curry the night before.  I’ve done Moroccan, Asian, Italian and Barbecue within the past week.  Just couldn’t think of something I’d like to make (quickly since we’d had tennis lessons, homework and other stuff) that the kids would eat.  I was trying to avoid any major meltdowns with food choices.  I looked in the pantry but nothing jumped out at me, but when I opened the fridge for the umpteenth time I had several lemons staring at me. 

Of course!  It made me remember how much my sons liked the Chicken Française I’ve made.  But no way was I interested in starting that process at 6pm.  I should have had dinner finished by now.  So instead I made a sort of Chicken Piccata. My eldest two love capers so I knew it was going to be a mostly whine-free dinner and since I’d just poured myself a glass of white wine I knew I had plenty for the chicken.

I cut up butternut squash into thin slices and started roasting them (really thin so it wouldn’t take long).  I then cut up some broccoli and cauliflower added to pan of water to steam.  I threw the 3 minute frozen organic brown rice into the microwave.  And then started cutting the breast meat into 2 inch pieces.  I didn’t use flour, just lightly browned the chicken, removed from heat and added white wine, lemon juice, chicken stock, capers, salt and pepper.   I reduced the liquid until it was thicker, added the chicken back to it and soon was ready to serve.  It took less than 20 minutes (yes, even with the butternut squash). 

Not only was it delicious it was stress-free and whine-free (well, I did have to serve it sans capers to my youngest).  Sometimes it just takes one thing to give you the inspiration you need to create a healthful, quick and yummy meal that all the kids will like.  They didn’t eat all their butternut squash, but I finished it off for them.

Have you found yourself at a loss at what to make?

A subtle touch

Sometimes a simple addition can change the whole dish.  I’ve already posted how salmon is one of my go-to dishes for dinner.  The kids love it and will eat it in almost any way I’ve prepared it.  But, this simple addition of Matcha salt, a powdery green tea infused sea salt, on top of the finished pan roasted salmon, makes it that more delicious and the kids greedily gobbled up.  My husband brought home a small sample of Matcha after he’d cooked a Japanese themed dinner at the restaurant alongside some real Japanese trained chefs.

It’s really amazing how subtle the Matcha salt is but how it transforms the dish in an almost indescribable way: slightly salty, slightly sweet.   If you can get your hands on some, you’ll see what I mean.  Just add a sprinkle on top of some grilled fish or shrimp and the subtle difference will convert you.


My middle son exclaimed when he saw me cutting the salmon into portions to cook, “I don’t want salmon! …Well, unless you have that green stuff on it.”  I told him that was exactly what I’d planned and he happily left me to continue cooking dinner without complaint.

Pan Roasted Salmon with Matcha Green Tea Salt

Fresh wild caught salmon (about 1 lb)

1 Tbsp olive oil

Matcha to taste (about 1 tsp)

optional fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350F. Cut the salmon into 2-3 inch width slices and with a sharp knife score the skin (shallow crisscross cuts).  Heat olive oil in sauté pan with oven-proof handle.  Place salmon pieces into oil skin side up.  Cook for about 5 minutes (you see the color change up the sides from dark to light) and turn over.  Place in oven for another 5-8 minutes (depending on thickness of your salmon).  Remove from oven (Remember the handle is hot.  I place an oven mitt on it, so I don’t grab it.) and sprinkle the Matcha salt over the salmon tops. Serve with rice, vegetables and/or salad. 

Watch everyone devour it!

It’s also such a quick dinner.  After play dates and homework help there wasn’t much time and I didn’t have any fresh vegetables in the house.  Still had a wonderful, healthful meal.

My eldest ate his so quickly that my middle son was nice enough to share some of his with his older brother.

Another last minute meal

 We got home from a friend’s house after 6 pm and I had only an hour before I had to go out.  We’d been busy since 1 that afternoon so I hadn’t considered what I was making for dinner until the moment we got in the door.  Luckily I had a full fridge (due to so much snow, I was prepared) so I knew I could come up with something. 

I figured a pork loin is fairly fast to make, and I sped up the cooking by slicing it into one inch medallions and sautéing them.  I had spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard on one side before I put them in the hot pan.  While they were cooking I steamed spinach then added leftover broccoli to the pot to reheat.   I turned the medallions over and also threw some leftover penne pasta into the microwave with an inch of water for one minute.  Then stirred and repeated to properly reheat. 

Took the pork off the heat, let it rest and added beef broth (veal demi glace would have been preferable) to the pan.  Brought that up to a boil and added white wine then cream, Manuka honey (New Zealand honey with distinctive flavor), and touch more mustard.  Stirred that into a nice sauce, put the pork back in it for a moment, then served. 20 minutes from taking the pork out of the refrigerator to putting it on the table. 

The pork was superbly tender and tasty.  I loved the extra dimension the Manuka honey lent to it.  The boys liked it all but not the fact that the babysitter was coming.  It was short lived once I promised them she’d give them ice cream regardless if they actually finished their meals!

Snowed In!

This past week my kids have had a 6 days in a row without school (only 2 were actually snow days) and they’d just returned from the winter holiday break and had a snow day the week before.  In the morning I will find out if it will be 7 days in a row.  Luckily the inability to get to school has also turned our town into winter wonderland and without having to travel, the kids have had a blast sledding, making snow forts and just playing in the more than 2 feet of snow.   If they stay inside too long they drive me and themselves crazy.  Snow is such a great draw to play outside; it’s much more fun than rain! 

When the first big snowfall of the year was falling I made a simple, quick yet delicious and nutritious meal using leftover roast chicken.  We had chicken quesadillas, broccoli and cauliflower, brown and red rice, black beans and peas.  Since the rice was left over from a previous meal it took only 10 minutes to cook/assemble the whole dinner. 

I used pre-shredded cheese (Cheddar, pepper Jack and Muenster), chicken and chopped cilantro in the tortilla.  My husband showed me how the Mexican cooks he works with cook their quesadillas by putting the filling inside one half then folding the tortilla over it.  I think it’s easier to flip.  Once they’ve browned nicely and the cheese is melted you can cut into pieces and serve.  I didn’t have any avocados for guacamole (and wasn’t going out in the snow) but did have some jarred salsa.  I only had to heat the peas and beans (added oregano, 1/4 tsp chili powder, some chopped cilantro and garlic powder) and reheat the other veggies and rice. 

The kids loved it and it was so little effort.

Funny thing about peas…My middle son said he had to “turn the plate around for the peas express” so it was easier to scoop up.  My youngest said when he saw the plate, “I don’t want any. I don’t like them!”  I just reminded him that peas are in snow peas and sugar snaps, which he loves, so he tried some. Minutes later when he’d finished all the peas on his plate, “Can I have some more?” 

Quick, Quick, Quick — Part II

Continued from Quick, Quick, Quick

More recipes/ideas for quick meals:

Chicken breast: unlike the dark thigh meat, chicken breast takes only minutes to cook.  It is so versatile and can be added to liquids to poach or sautéed  (browned) or baked in the oven.  I also don’t know many kids who don’t like chicken.  Again, just adding a few herbs or spices to the chicken can create a flavorful and quick meal.  Just a pinch of paprika and cumin over the cut breast and sautéed in olive oil for just minutes and served over potatoes, noodles or rice.  Add a 1/4 cup of cream and you’ve got a wonderful sauce as well.  Panko bread crumbs or my homemade bread crumbs with herbs (thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, sage) coating pieces of chicken breast then baked make a wonderful alternative to chicken nuggets. 

Pasta: always on hand in our pantry is a variety of pastas for different meals. There’s nothing wrong with keeping some jarred tomato sauces in there too. I often have Trader Joe’s Organic Tomato Basil sauce in my pantry (it’s healthy and cheap at just over $2 for 25 oz). It’s easy enough to create quick and healthy meals with pasta this way. Pasta is great for sides or for the main course and a wonderful way to incorporate vegetables, especially for those kids who are more resistant to eating them on their own.  Just chop veggies, (broccoli, zucchini, squash, beans, spinach, mushrooms, peppers, carrots, kale— all are great in pasta), add to olive oil and minced garlic, some protein (chicken, shrimp, beans, tofu), season with herbs, salt and pepper and lastly add to the pasta and you’ve got a great dish that most kids will love.  Ideal way to use up small amounts of vegetables and meats/seafood. 

Vegetables: whether the main focus or the side, incorporating many into your children’s diet is ideal.  Kids need around 9 servings of fruits and veggies a day.  Think of that as 9 fistfuls (the size being that of the recipient).  If you need a quick side dish frozen peas are super fast— microwave on high for about 2 minutes, stirring half way.  Add a touch of butter to help make it more palatable. Spinach can also be cooked in microwave, steamed for few minutes over boiling water or just throw in sauté pan with Tbsp water, dash of sea salt and cover.  Cook for few minutes (until wilted) and drain any excess water, add butter.  Broccoli can be boiled/steamed for a several minutes.  Just put in cold water when it’s done (soft yet still got some crispness/color). Again add a pat of butter.  Butter helps many kids eat their vegetables by providing umami the savoriness they/we like.  Fat (butter) is also helpful to absorb many vegetables’ nutrients. Hope this gives you all some ideas to help getting kids to eat healthily.  I wish everyone the best for this New Year!  I hope more kids will eat well and thrive. 

You can always contact me if you have recipe questions or requsts!

We will be having that again: Chicken Piccata Française

“When are we having that again?”  Those words made my heart sore.  My eldest son asked me that while he cleared his empty dinner plate.  He’d just finished but wanted to know when I’d serve it again because he said it was “Great!” and “So delicious” (he) “loved it!”  It being a cross between chicken Française-Piccata-Florentine over rice.  I actually served the spinach on the side.

Now my other sons weren’t as effusive in their praise, but they too loved their dinner.  There was only some rice and small piece chicken left over on my youngest son’s plate.  They did a mother proud.  I love it when I find a dish they all love.  And I only made one adjustment—my youngest son’s sans capers.  Which considering all I had to do was scrape the capers off his plate onto mine, but still give him the sauce, it was easy enough and fine by me.  I gave them each a bit more chicken compared to vegetables than I normally serve, but since it’s not the norm, figure it’s ok. 

So, if you make it without the capers it’s Francaise; if it’s without the egg dip it’s Piccata; and the Spinach makes it Florentine. You can make it in any combination, it’s still good.  It doesn’t take long to make either, so it’s fine for school nights.

Chicken Française-Piccata (or Chicken Piccata-Française)

4 Chicken Breast pieces (I used a couple of thighs too, since that’s what I had in the fridge)

2 eggs

1/3 cup flour

salt and pepper

3 Tbsp olive oil

juice from 1/2 lemon

1/3 cup white wine (use a wine that you will actually like to drink)

1/3 cup chicken stock or 1/2 tsp chicken base (Better than Bouillon or Knorr) & 1/3 cup water

1/4 cup capers, drained

2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Tbsp butter

Cover chicken breast/thigh with plastic wrap (Trust me, you’ll be glad you did at clean up time.) and pound with mallet until about 1/4 inch (1 cm) thin.  In a shallow bowl beat egg, set aside. In another similar bowl mix flour with 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil in sauté pan.  Take one piece of chicken and dip in flour then egg. Place in hot oil.  Repeat with each piece without crowding pan. Flip over after 3 minutes and cook other side until done, flip again if necessary (about 8 minutes total for breast, thigh takes longer).  Place finished pieces on a plate.  Pour wine, stock and lemon juice into pan and scrape any browned bits into liquid.  After two minutes add capers and parsley butter. Finally stir in the butter.  Cook for another minute. Serve chicken over rice or pasta and spinach, pouring sauce over all.


I know I’ll be making this (and variations of it) again because my kids really enjoy eating this!