'Sad, Bland Vegetables and Cheesy Noodles': Two Parents Dish on the Trials of Child-Feeding

©. Andrea W. (used with permission)

This week's family meal-prepping interview is overflowing with honesty and humor.

Welcome to the latest post in TreeHugger's series, "How to feed a family." Every week we talk to a different person about how they approach the never-ending challenge of feeding themselves and other household members. We get the inside scoop on how they grocery shop, meal plan, and food prep to make it go more smoothly.

Parents work so hard to feed their children and themselves, to put healthy meals on the table, to avoid spending a fortune at the grocery store, and to fit it all around busy work and school schedules. It's a feat worthy of more praise than it commonly gets, which is why we want to highlight it – and hopefully learn from it in the process.

Today we hear from two parents who told TreeHugger, "We're not convinced that our answers are particularly interesting," and yet, I think they do a marvelous job of depicting the daily chaos that every family with young kids must endure. This is real life. Chances are, you can relate.

Names: Erik (31), Andrea (31), Rowan (almost 6), Lucy (almost 4), Evan (18 months)

Location: Port Elgin, Ontario, Canada

Employment: Both adults work full time (weekdays) outside of the home.

Weekly grocery budget: CDN$200 to $250 (USD$150-$187)

plate of food

© Andrea W. (used with permission)

1. What's a favourite or commonly prepared meal in your house?

Due to discerning young palates, many meals are some version of meat, grain and vegetable – not mixed together (this is very important). Typical meats are chicken breast or thighs, pork tenderloin or homemade meatballs. Grains are usually rice or whole wheat noodles, sometimes with tomato sauce or cheese. Vegetables are sad, bland and a bit over-steamed, because for some reason the kids love them this way. We try to fill half the plate with vegetables.

We aim for two meatless meals a week, one of which is usually breakfast for dinner (Andrea is a breakfast nut). We try to break up the monotony with at least one or two more interesting meals like curries, burritos, or stir fry. Andrea and Erik enjoy eating a variety of flavours and textures. The kids do not always approve of these meals, but they are necessary to keep the adults sane.

2. How would you describe your diet?

Omnivore. Local by convenience. Andrea has coworkers who sell things like eggs and maple syrup, and they deliver to her at work!

3. How often do you shop for groceries?

Once a week, one store only. We have to buy milk, or else the world ends. Lately bananas are also a must-buy item. We bought three bunches of bananas this week!

Andrea's pantry

© Andrea W. (used with permission)

4. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?

We work the outside of the store (produce, bakery, butcher, dairy), then selectively go down the aisles for non-perishables. We try to cook things from scratch whenever possible. There is usually at least one child with whoever is shopping, so we avoid the candy aisle and try to go as quickly as possible. Any children present may choose one food item to go in the cart as long as they behave, and the result is a really big collection of crackers...

5. Do you meal plan?

We make a very good attempt at meal planning on weekends and using that plan to write a grocery list. The goal is for everyone to have some input into what goes on the plan, which means we eat a lot of cheesy noodles. We deviate from the list/plan if things are on sale. Usually the plan gets derailed mid-week, but we keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer so it’s easy to switch things up.

Andrea's menu plan

© Andrea W. (used with permission)

6. How much time do you spend cooking each day?

15 minutes making breakfast at most, 30 minutes cooking supper. Cooking time in the evening really depends. Sometimes there’s prep to do the night before, and that’s worked into the meal plan. We have to plan around everyone’s schedules. Sometimes we cook the entire next day’s meal the night before! We have to pack Rowan’s lunch the night before too. Daycare provides lunch for the other two.

7. How do you handle leftovers?

The adults eat leftovers for lunch. If there are extras they are frozen and kept for days when there are no leftovers.

8. How many dinners per week do you cook at home vs. eat out or take out?

We usually eat at least six suppers per week at home. Once a week we consider ordering pizza or we go to visit family. Eating at restaurants is generally not fun at this stage.

Andrea kitchen view

© Andrea W. (used with permission)

9. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourself and your family?

Our “challenging” eater (Rowan) keeps us on our toes. He actually likes a lot of food, but is very nervous about trying new foods. We make sure that each meal has some component that he does like so he doesn’t feel threatened by the new food, and usually he will give it a try. We do not make separate meals for anyone.

Another challenge is that as soon as we get home from work at 5 pm the baby will scream until he is fed. He will only stop screaming if he is being held. It’s really hard to cook while holding a toddler. The four-year-old also whines constantly for snacks at this time. We try to hold out until supper is ready because we think it’s important to eat together as a family, but it is frustrating. If there is only one parent home, we’re more likely to dip into that big stash of crackers to temporarily soothe the masses.

10. Any other information you’d like to add?

On weekends Andrea often bakes a couple loaves of sourdough bread. It is both ugly and delicious bread. This began as a maternity leave experiment, but the starter (affectionately known as the “yeasty beasty”) has claimed a permanent spot in the upstairs fridge.

sourdough bread

© Andrea W. (used with permission) – The "yeasty beasty," transformed!

Andrea makes a batch of blueberry or pumpkin muffins most Sunday nights for quick breakfasts. Usually the muffins have ground pumpkin seeds in them (because nuts aren’t allowed at school or daycare, but seeds are!).

We have two fridges, and we could not function without them. The basement fridge stores the majority of the milk, eggs, overflow vegetables and any meat for the week. It is a handy spot to store a prepped slowcooker pot overnight, or a fully-cooked meal for the next day.

Erik will quite often give the kids a small treat after supper, as long as they have eaten and behaved well. We used to find ourselves overwhelmed by all the candy people gave to the kids. Now all the Halloween/Christmas/Valentine/Easter/birthday candy is kept in a small bin on the top shelf of the pantry (Lucy is sneaky). If it doesn’t fit in the bin then it can’t stay in the house! They get to choose what stays and what goes.

To add a meaningful aside that Andrea told TreeHugger over email, "I'm very happy to have a partner who takes on 50% of the household and parenting duties. We're a good team. This is what modern feminism looks like, and I don't consider it to be luck. If there's a takeaway from our story, that might be it!"

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