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Dinner on the Go - Quick Meals for Supper When You Don't Have Time to Cook
Eating healthy sounds so easy in theory. A few hours, a list of strange ingredients, and a table full of children waiting to try something new.
Does that even exist in real life? Not in my world. More often than not, I'm trying to figure out how to cram dinner in between sports, acting, and taxi rides to and from various activities. McDonald's seems like such an easy alternative.
Until you watch Food Inc. Maybe you aren't a health nut, but you want to have a few ideas in your pocket for meals on the go. How do you give your kids a healthy dinner when you are busy doing a thousand other things?
Here are some ideas.
A little preparation goes a long way
If you have a bit of time for planning, you can easily get dinners ready for on-the-go consumption. First things first - you need some good containers.
Start with an insulated thermos. You'll need one for drinks and one for keeping food hot (or cold). I love the thermos ones for kids' drinks. They are stainless steel and keep water cold for 8 hours in the baking hot sun! Plus, they don't spill when they are knocked over.
To get a thermos heated up, just pour some hot water in it for a few minutes. Then add the warmed food. It should remain hot for several hours.
Get some snapware
In order to have easy on-the-go meals, you'll have to do some cooking ahead of time. The difference between good reheated food and great reheated food? The container. Get the glass or plastic snapware that seals in freshness and keeps air out.
Now you're ready to cook!
A carbohydrate base
Preparing carbohydrates ahead of time saves you a lot of work. Here are some ideas.
Rice is a great carbohydrate to prepare on Sunday and have for at least three or four days. Make a big pot of white rice and store it in a sealed container in the fridge. Rice goes well with any sort of veggies, fish, or meats. It keeps well and doesn't usually get soggy or gross in the microwave.
The same goes for couscous. Plain couscous can be dressed up with sauces, herbs, etc. It takes minutes to prepare and keeps the same way as rice.
Boil some pasta on Sunday and store it as well. To reheat pasta and avoid it drying out, quickly boil a kettle of water and pour it over the cold noodles. Then store in an insulated container. Another way to reheat pasta is to pour hot sauce over it and keep it in the insulated thermos.
Add a protein!
When I don't have time to cook a protein, I keep a stash of hard boiled eggs on hand. The kids love hard boiled eggs right out of the shell!
Or you can pick up a rotisserie chicken or some deli meat to roll up and serve with veggies and a carb. If you do have some time, these meats are a snap to prepare and can go with your pre-made carbohydrates.
I usually buy two packages of these and soak them in Italian dressing. Then I saute them quickly on the stove top. If you don't have much time, keep the marinated chicken in the fridge and only cook the few that you need.
Ground hamburger meat
Believe it or not, if you saute it up in a pan, you can add a couple cans of diced tomatoes and beans. Pour it over the rice and you have a makeshift chili!
Slice it up and saute it in a pan. Throw it over the rice, couscous, or pasta. Add a can of corn and you have a kid-friendly stir fry.
Don't have time to cook at all? Run some shrimp underneath a colander with warm water and you have shrimp ready to go. When you throw it into the thermos with the warmed rice, it'll heat it up a bit more.
These are a great source of protein and beef up a stir fry or meal in seconds. Just run under hot hot water when you drain. No cooking needed!
Use your veggies
Frozen and canned veggies are your friend. They are just as nutritious (if not more so) than fresh produce! Here is a list of no-fuss veggies you can add to pasta or rice when making your on-the-go dinner.
- Canned corn
- Frozen peas (just run through hot water)
- Diced tomatoes (pour into a pan and heat up for a few minutes - great over pasta with shrimp)
- Canned greenbeans
- Frozen broccoli
If your kids don't like cooked veggies (which a few of mine don't), I simply buy and chop up fresh produce and store it in the snapware. Whatever I put together to go, I just add a bag of fresh cut veggies to the meal to round it off!
Quick meal maker
Canned Corn and Kidney Beans
Diced Canned Tomatoes
Rotisserie or Sauteed Chicken
Frozen Peas (run under hot water)
Add a dash of chicken stock to mix it all up
Shrimp Cocktail thawed
Frozen broccoli (run under hot water)
Diced Canned Tomatoes
Frozen Red Pepper (run under hot water)
Pineapple Chunks in Their Juice
When you're really in a pinch, fruit can substitute for veggies. Here are some ideas for fruit-themed dinners on the go.
- Roll up ham and American cheese. Serve with a side of canned pineapple chunks, a hard boiled egg, and some whole wheat crackers.
- Serve some store-bought fried chicken...cold. Then add a cup of cooked pasta with some Italian dressing (like a simple pasta salad) along with a bowl full of blueberries.
- Roll up salami and cut up some cheddar cheese. Serve with grapes and whole wheat crackers.
When dinner is impossible...
Homemade snacks are better than fast food...always. You may feel guilty giving your child popcorn or trail mix for dinner, but there is more nutritional value in what you can make up at home then in a box of french fries.
Here are my last-minute "snacky" dinner survival ideas.
- Trail mix - pretzels, peanuts, M&M's, raisins
- Popcorn sprinkled with cheddar cheese
- Peanut butter on Ritz crackers
- Yogurt and granola
- A bowl of cereal (pour the milk in the thermos and keep the bag of dry cereal with a spoon)
- Berry fruit salad with cool whip and some wafers
- Deli roll ups
Don't get stuck in a rut
Dinner doesn't mean nice dishware and filet mignon. It's just another meal - like breakfast and lunch. Don't be afraid to switch it up if your schedule is busy. Make breakfast your big meal and dinner a small one.
Think outside the box and you'll be one less french fry healthier at the end of the year!