These are my top tips for saving time in the kitchen and making your family meals that are still healthy and well balanced, brought to you in partnership with Hilary’s.
It’s just not possible to spend an hour in the kitchen every time you prepare a meal for your little ones (or yourself, for that matter!) While we’d all love to make a fresh chicken cacciatore for dinner, it’s not going to happen most nights. During the week, we’re all exhausted by the time dinner time comes around, we’ve already assembled a couple meals and a few snacks, and we just want to get something on the table that’s well balanced and edible. Right?
Even though I’m a food blogger by profession, there are so many nights where I open my fridge, stare at all the fresh veggies and meats I bought for the week and just don’t have it in me. So, what do I do in those situations? Using the tips below, I can whip up healthy, nutritious meals in a pinch (usually under 15 minutes!)
Tips for Making Your Family Quick Meals
1. Have a well stocked freezer
Now, this is my #1 tip that has helped me tremendously to cook quick meals for my son (who is now 15 months old.) I utilize the freezer so much that I bought this extra mini freezer to freeze breast milk and my son’s food. It has saved me so much money!
Now there are two ways to stock your freezer: prepped homemade meals and pre-packaged foods you buy from brands.
For the prepped homemade meals, I can’t suggest this enough. Having these prepped homemade meals helps you use the pre-packaged foods as a complement and vice versa. For example, I can combine some freezer foods with other freezer foods and some fresh foods from the refrigerator or just some pantry items. More on the fridge and pantry later, here are some of my favorite premade meals to freeze include:
- Cauliflower biscuits from my Inspiralized & Beyond cookbook
- Chicken, Kale and Lentil Curry from the Inspiralized Littles eCookbook
- Veggie Tots from my Inspiralized & Beyond cookbook
- Meatballs (like these Pork, Apple & Cheddar Meatballs)
- Veggie marinara sauce – my #1 most used freezer food
- Turkey meat sauce
- Chickpea flatbread
For some of my favorite pre-packaged foods that I have in my freezer include:
- Frozen vegetables (I always have peas, corn, a pea/carrot mix, broccoli, green beans, shelled edamame)
- Frozen fruit (this is really just great for making smoothies, like my go-to Family Smoothie in my Inspiralized Littles eCookbook)
- Frozen raviolis (I’m loving The Ravioli Store right now, because their ingredients are mostly real and they taste great, but I also love KiteHill’s vegan raviolis)
- Frozen meats and seafood (right now, I have a bag of frozen wild caught salmon because freshly caught wild salmon is out of season!)
- Frozen waffles (for breakfast, I love Birchbenders!)
- Frozen Veggie Burgers from Hilary’s
- Frozen Millet Medleys from Hilary’s, made with a little chicken broth for extra flavor and to make it nice and creamy and thick (like a porridge), easy on a preloaded spoon
- Frozen Veggie Sausages from Hilary’s – great for eggless breakfast options, served with buttered toast and fruit!
- Frozen Veggie Bites from Hilary’s
I love Hilary’s, because their ingredients are real and wholesome, they come in multiple flavors that can satisfy tastebuds of every family member, AND they work for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I introduce a pre-packaged frozen product like Hilary’s to Luca, I make sure to serve it alongside whole foods, such as some frozen veggies or freshly roasted veggies. I’m always conscious of the sodium levels I’m giving Luca and we go out a lot on the weekends, so I love having the quick and easy option of Hilary’s to pair with some of the fresh foods I have on hand.
And if you want to try out Hilary’s, here are some key retailers that carry Hilary’s products across the US (they also have a helpful Store Locator on the website where you can enter your zip code to find the closest grocers in your area):
- Whole Foods
- Sprouts Farmers Market
2. Have a well stocked fridge
Are you seeing a theme here? It seems simple, but honestly, if you have just a few key foods in your fridge, you can throw together meals in 10-15 minutes, especially if you have a well stocked freezer to complement with! Here are some key foods to have you in your fridge:
- Fruits (bananas, cuties, berries – raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, kiwis, grapes etc)
- Cheese – a fresh block of cheddar or a bag of shredded Mexican cheese can turn into many meal options!
- Butter (babies/toddlers need a lot of fat in their diet!)
- Dips (hummus, spreads and dips like black bean, premade guacamole – I love Trader Joe’s brand)
- Basic vegetables that you don’t need to prep and be safely eaten raw, like cucumbers, carrots, broccoli etc.
- Condiments (ketchup, etc)
- Spinach (for chopping up finely and stirring into pastas or making my Spinach Donuts)
- Precooked beets (love LoveBeets)
- Yogurt (we use Stonyfield’s Whole Milk plain Greek yogurt)
- Deli meats (Luca actually doesn’t like deli meats, but many kids do and these are so easy to make meals and snacks with!)
Now, we can start building! You can serve a Hilary’s Frozen Veggie Burger with sliced cucumbers and hummus with some cooked frozen carrots or peas! Literally, that meal will take you no longer than 10 minutes.
3. Have a well stocked pantry
Okay, I promise this is the last one of the stocking! My pantry gets a lot of use – don’t think of pantry as ‘processed food storage.’ It isn’t that at all – it’s a place with essentials for building quick and easy meals. Here are some of my favorites:
- Spices (my favorites for cooking with Luca are chili powder, curry seasoning, cumin, oregano, Italian seasoning, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dried basil and parsley)
- Boxed mac and cheese – combined with some frozen peas or chopped up broccoli, you have a veggie packed meal with starch, fat, protein, and veggies!
- Beans (I always have Black Beans, Chickpeas, and Pinto Beans on hand)
- Coconut milk – full fat or lite, depending on your family’s needs, but little ones need the fat! Great for making super easy curries (put some carrots, green beans, and edamame in a skillet with coconut milk and curry seasoning and you have an easy veggie packed curry! Pour over rice and voila!)
- Nut butters (sometimes if I’m pressed for time at meal time, I’ll make Luca an almond butter and banana sandwich)
- Cereal (we use Cascadian Farm’s Purely O’s) and snacks – here’s a list of my favorite toddler snacks and honestly, if I only have 5 minutes, sometimes I’ll just give him a bunch of snacks with fruit and a slice of bread with almond butter or hummus!
- Canned tuna – Luca hasn’t been a fan of canned tuna yet, but for those kiddos who are, it’s a convenient protein source.
- Broth – for cooking frozen veggies and adding more nutrients and flavor
- Pastas – I love pastas made from lentils or beans for added nutrients
4. Never throw away food, even if your kid hated it – repurpose it
This is something I learned through trial and error. If I made Luca a food (say, some roasted brussels sprouts) and he didn’t touch them at meal time or tried them and hated them, I would just eat them myself. But that’s a waste of your energy! Instead, now, I save these foods and repurpose them. Here are some examples:
- Roasted bell peppers ➡ chop them up and use them with some black beans as the stuffing for a cheesy quesadilla
- Steamed broccoli ➡ finely chop the broccoli (literally, so small) and stir it into mac and cheese or in marinara sauce with pasta
- Chicken ➡ bake it into egg muffins or a rice casserole
- Grilled cheese sandwich ➡ save it in the fridge and serve it as a snack a day later!
If it’s freezable, I’ll freeze it and give it to Luca a couple weeks later, to see if he’s in the mood for it then. You never know with toddlers!
5. Batch cook some basics once a week
Whichever day of the week is kind of your “start” of the week (usually a Sunday or Monday), try an easy batch cook that day. I’m not saying cook all of your meals for the week, I’m just saying stock your fridge with some essentials to making simple meals when you’re in a pinch.
Here are some of the foods that I’ll batch cook:
- Cook ground meat in oil on the stovetop (but don’t season it a specific way, so you can use it different ways, like in a marinara meat sauce, a rice casserole, or a chili.)
- Roasted vegetables – roast some vegetables, like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, delicata squash
- Quinoa and/or rice
- Steam vegetables – I like to steam some cauliflower because Luca loves it with marinara sauce and it’s great to stir into curries
- My blender donuts/muffins – whether you use these for breakfast or snack time, they’re a guaranteed way to get veggies and protein into your baby’s diet every single day.
- Make sure there’s enough Veggie Marinara in the freezer for the week
Easy toddler meal ideas
Those are my top tips for saving time in the kitchen and still making healthy and well balanced meals for your kids! Now, let’s build some easy meals together using the tips just mentioned:
Hilary’s Veggie Burger + Cubed Avocado + Black Beans
Hilary’s Frozen Herb Millet Medley + Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Hilary’s Apple Maple Veggie Sausage + Toast with Almond Butter (or scrambled eggs!) + Raspberries
And here are some other basic ideas:
- Grilled cheese + Green Beans in Butter (from freezer) + Cucumbers in Hummus or Ranch
- Freezer ravioli + Carrots and Peas (from freezer) + Steamed Cauliflower in Veggie Marinara Sauce (from freezer)
- Quinoa with chopped broccoli (fresh or frozen), marinara sauce (freezer), and ground turkey (I’ll just serve this in an EZPZ Happy Bowl)
- Cheesy Taco Pasta using black beans and spices from the pantry and corn from the freezer
- Carrot Veggie Tots from Inspiralized & Beyond (from freezer or batch cooked) + Roasted Sweet Potatoes + Guacamole from Trader Joe’s
- Pasta with Pesto from Trader Joe’s + Green Beans (from freezer) in Marinara Sauce + Roasted Delicata Squash
- Pizza English Muffin (Veggie Marinara Sauce + Mozzarella cheese) + Carrots from freezer + Edamame from freezer
- Chicken Sausage sauteed until browned + Roasted Potatoes + Peas in Butter
- Pasta in butter sauce + Pork and Apple Cheddar Meatballs from the freezer + Sliced precooked beets
I hope this post inspired you to get in the kitchen and make cooking for your little ones a LOT easier!
Note: Although this post was sponsored by Hilary’s, all opinions are my own, always.