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)
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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.