A frequent permissive point I make about living the life of a creative mother is that choosing to serve cereal for dinner is a perfectly valid option. It’s a sort of battle cry for overwhelmed mothers of small children. We are tired, we are beleaguered, we don’t have neither the time nor energy to make a more complex dinner than cereal with milk.
I’ve made this claim so often (like on my latest Hevria post) that I’ve ceased to think about its implications, or what it might look like to, you know, the rest of the world. That is, until a dear friend of mine made the point that cereal for dinner is not, in fact, okay in every household, and that I should thank my lucky stars that my husband is as chilled as he is.
This comment prompted some introspection, and after thanking my lucky stars indeed for the gem of a husband I have, I though it might be appropriate to make a whole post dedicated to what I really mean when I say I’m serving cereal for dinner.
Here are some super-easy and quick dinners I have thrown together on those nights (or weeks) when time is just too little to do much else:
Not Actually Cereal:
Noodles and cheese: Oh, noodles and cheese, what would I do without you? You are so flexible. You can be just noodles for the uber-picky eater, or you can be noodles and ketchup for the more heimish among us. The cheese can be mozzarella, a mix of cheddar and mozz or even Parmesan, as some of my children prefer. I can dress you up with tuna for the adults. You are everything a quick dinner should be.
Breakfast for dinner: Yes, this can include cereal. But it can also mean pancakes or waffles and eggs. This brings back memories of post-bar excursions to the pancake house in my college town. Sometimes we will even have fake bacon and sausage to include in this dinner. Toast also makes an appearance from time to time. The pancakes are usually the frozen kind, but making fresh pancakes isn’t all that much effort, and it’s a fun activity for the kids, so that’s a win, though it obviously makes it considerably less quick.
The Classically Jewish dinner: Bagels, cream cheese, and if I’m being fancy, lox. Honestly, the hardest part of this dinner is just having all the ingredients on hand.
Pizza Bagels: Sometimes we get the frozen kind from Costco, sometimes I just take actual bagels and put marinara sauce and cheese on them and put them in the oven until the cheese is melted. My children far prefer the latter option, and it’s not that much more work.
Frozen protein: fish sticks or morningstar fake (soy) chicken nuggets usually. My husband likes to buy frozen french fries, which, personally, I’m not a huge fan of but my kids eat them so, you know, calories.
Wacky Mac: Isn’t this just noodles and cheese? NO. NO IT IS NOT. The orange powder that comes in these glorious little boxes can’t exactly be called cheese, so I’m putting it in its own category. This conversation actually happened in our home:
Adorable child, eating Wacky Mac: “Mommy, what’s this flavor? It’s so good.”
Me: “It’s cheese. Cheese flavor.”
AC: “Oh. Well, I like it.”
Grilled chicken and rice: We have a grill, a second-hand grill that has as of late decided it doesn’t want to work. But I also have a grill pan! So in a pinch I can take some thin cutlets, season them with salt and pepper and cook them satisfyingly on both sides.
It’s faster and healthier than schnitzel (though some would argue not tastier, but whatever, this is a post about FAST dinners and schnitzel is not fast not even when you have a gigantic pan to fry as many as possible in one go). My kids like it with ketchup and Near East rice as a side is always a hit. As long as it’s the Near East original rice pilaf or maybe the one with garlic but definitely not the more adventurous ones (heaven help me if I attempt to serve the wild mushroom and herb variety).
Where are the vegetables?
Yes, you may have noticed that these dinners are basically just proteins and carbs. Well, small children tend to like those things. HOWEVER I do try sometimes to introduce vegetables, and so I will rotate the following as sides, with more than occasional success:
- red peppers
- romaine lettuce
- tomatoes (isn’t this a fruit??????)
- yellow peppers
- broccoli (one child actually eats this thank G-d)
- potatoes (this is a starch I know but I still count it as a vegetable)
~ ~ ~
I hope this is helpful for some other mothers out there. Also, I must add that there have been times that I have made beautiful, time-intensive and thoughtfully balanced dinners and my children have categorically refused to eat them. So I let them have cereal as an alternative.
But these dinners that I’ve shared with you today are tried and true. I would love to hear what works for you! It’s always nice to have a few new things in the arsenal.
12 thoughts on “Alternatives To Cereal For Dinner”
Cleveland Kosher doesn’t allow Romaine Lettuce…so…
…so…interesting comment. What do you mean exactly with the “…so…” part of your comment? Do you mean …so…Rivki, you’re making a big kashrus mistake? …so…Rivki, you should stop eating Romaine lettuce this minute if you ever want people eating in your house again? I mean, that’s what I’m assuming you meant, but it’s a little vague, and, honestly, it feels a little icky to have to defend my level of kashrus here on this light-hearted post about feeding my kids dinner.
But, whatever, here’s full transparency on my views on Romaine lettuce!
I’m aware that Cleveland Kosher doesn’t allow Romaine lettuce to be served in the restaurants they manage, but I’ve also attended a bug-checking course by Rabbi Gutman, though that was a few years ago, maybe something has changed since then that I’m unaware of? I check my own Romaine lettuce, and while it is time-consuming, and super frustrating when there’s an infestation, it is something I consider well worth the effort. The Star-K is an incredible resource for information on checking for insects (http://www.star-k.org/checking) and I am always impressed with how accessible they make this information.
There is also Positiv Romaine lettuce available for sale around town (at Boris, maybe also at Ungers? I haven’t checked there) so if you’re not comfortable with checking yourself or don’t have the time to check, this is an option. In Baltimore I could buy bags of pre-checked Fresh Express Romaine lettuce with the star-K hechsher, I loved that option!
Having been in many people’s houses for Shabbos meals, I know that I’m far from the only woman in town (and even women I consider more “shtark” than me) who takes the time to prepare Romaine lettuce for use in salads and in accordance with kashrus standards, so I find it curious and mildly unsettling that this is a point that you chose to address. And I don’t even know who you are, anonymous commenter!
Love this! Completely legit and lovely. Especially when we consider that in many parts of the world, the evening meal is the light meal! Much healthier! Cereal is the new meat and potatoes.
Yes! It’s a much more European way of eating!
Excellent article!! Very validating !!!
I’m so glad! Thank you!
When my kids were littles, I found the frustrating part was trying to please everyone. My favorite meals involved a base item (baked potato, cooked noodles, bowl of soup, etc) that they could dress with items they liked. This was usually the vegetable part, but could include cheese or croutons. Or sauce. My kids were more willing to try something if they were in control. Also, frozen spinach can be sneaked into many things unnoticed (try chili). Cereal is good, too.
I like the idea of giving them more control over their food choices, the base with dressings is a wonderful idea! It is definitely a challenge to please them all. BH, these challenges I will take.
Hooray! I loved this! Thank you so much for posting it. I honestly don’t know what I would have done some years for Yom Tov without the menu plans/ideas that you and Tali Simon of ‘More Quiche, Please’ provided. You are a constant inspiration to me on so many levels (and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way!) and I, for one, would gladly eat any of those meals for dinner any time (except the non-vegan elements, obviously!) and may try some myself. And while I’m here, I’d also like to add that each year since HaKodesh Boruch Hu blessed me with finding you online, your Thoughts for Elul have greatly enhanced my experience of this holy time of year, when we take inventory of our behaviour over the past year and try to work on ways to become kinder, more compassionate, less judgemental people (amongst other things). I will look forward to any future ones you may post and to continuing to learn from you and be inspired by you. Thank you for being wonderful you.
Thank you so much Eva! So much love to you and your constant support and kindness! I am so happy we found each other!
I loved this! And yes, sometimes I do have cereal for dinner.