Originally, I titled this post, “Dinners For When I Give Up,” because that’s often what it feels like. I have many inadequacies as a mother, but one thing that I do try really hard on is making sure the kids have home-cooked, healthy meals every day. Most of the time I succeed, in some part thanks to our Instant Pot and a more flexible work schedule, but there are definitely days where I’m in a rush or just don’t have the energy to whip something up in between the time I get home from work and when I leave to get the kids.

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Love these two and want them to eat healthy, even when I don’t have the time for elaborate meal prep.

When I feel like I’ve given up and am just throwing whatever we have in the fridge at them or things that I can prep in ten minutes or less (some of these literally take five minutes), I still want them to eat healthy and foods that are not processed (or minimally so).  Here are some of the foods that meet our needs:

Hummus – We always have leftover hummus in our fridge because the kids love to snack on it. Sometimes we purchase hummus from the grocery store and other times we make it ourselves (if you have canned garbanzo beans, it really does take less than ten minutes). I love that it is high in protein, especially as we’ve increasingly moved to a meat-free diet. It is pretty healthy, delicious and probably one of Lion’s favorite things to eat. I think the kids really enjoy the whole aspect of dipping things in. Serve it with baby carrots, broccoli and cucumber slices for a healthier option, or with pita bread.


Avocado toast – Yes, I feed my children avocado toast. I’m a California girl who believes avocado belongs on just about anything, so we end up consuming our fair share of avocado. It doesn’t get much easier than sliced avocado on some freshly grilled toast, with a bit of salt and pepper and olive oil. For extra protein, I’ll put a sunny-side up egg on top of it, serve with tomato slices and call it a day.

Burrito bowl – This option is cheating, a bit, because we always seem to have leftover beans in our fridge or freezer. I love making beans myself because they’re cheaper and taste better, but you could also just open up a can of beans. I have a “quick cook” setting on my rice cooker that literally cooks up a pot of rice in about eight minutes and while I prefer rice cooked on the regular setting, Mr. Dolphin can’t really tell the difference. While the rice is cooking, I’ll reheat beans, cut up avocado, add whatever vegetables we have in our fridge, and top with an egg and shredded cheese.

Charcuterie plate – Remember how I said I like non-processed or minimally processed food? Well, obviously this is not one of those meals. But the kids love it and it’s lovely during the summer months when I don’t really want to heat up our entire house by turning on the oven. I like to pick up the variety pack of cured meats from Trade Joes, which includes prosciutto, capacola, and genoa salami. I add a couple types of cheeses, some cornichons (which our kids devour whenever they see them), olives, dried or fresh stone fruit or apples, and some lightly grilled toast. No, not the healthiest of meals, but an easy dinner solution once in awhile.

Shrimp salad – I often have a bag of cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp in the freezer for nights where I need to make something quick. It’s great to throw into pasta, but for something even faster, I’ll just mix up a quick salad. I thaw the shrimp in cold water and basically use whatever vegetables I have in our crisper. Typically, it’s raw spinach, avocado and tomatoes with some red onions. There are a variety of vinaigrettes that work well. Full disclosure: shrimp is not Lion’s favorite food and he’ll eat precisely one bite of it before moving on to other things, so it’s not exactly a successful meal in our household with the kids (though he does eat the avocado).

Sushi/sashimi – To be fair, this isn’t really the world’s easiest meal for me simply because I have to drive up to the asian market to purchase the sashimi grade fish that I like. But, when I do, the meal prep at home is a matter of minutes. I do like to serve this with sushi rice, so it helps to have a pot of that available (or you can use the quick cook setting on your rice cooker if you have one), but rice is not the primary part of the meal. I usually purchase salmon and egg block, since those are always favorites. I also will get at least one or two more options, often octopus, tuna, sea urchin, salmon roe or surf clam. No matter what, though, the kids love it and the only real prep time is slicing the fish. I serve it with seaweed salad and miso soup.

Salmon poke bowl – The day after sushi night, I use leftover salmon to make a salmon poke bowl.  I cut up the salmon into small cubes, add in some diced avocado and leftover seaweed salad. I make a dressing based from soy sauce and rice vinegar. The kids like to add their open toppings like sesame seeds and roasted seaweed. We sometimes serve it rice, but on occasion with chips.

Soba noodle salad – Once you get a pot of water to boil, soba noodles cook in about two minutes. These are Lion’s favorite noodles in the world and whenever I make something like spaghetti, he asks, “Can I have brown noodles, instead?” While the soba noodles are cooking, I’ll also cook edamame for protein, and shred some carrots or add raw spinach to the bowl. I cool the soba noodles in cold water, then mix everything together. Sometimes we use soba noodle dipping sauce as the dressing, other times a combination of soy sauce with rice vinegar and sesame oil. Ten minutes is all it takes and the kids love it. Plus, it makes excellent leftovers for lunch the next day.

Grilled cheese and tomato soup – Also not exactly a non-processed meal, but it’s one that’s a hit every single time. To be honest, Lion doesn’t like many “kids” foods (nor did I as a child), but grilled cheese is an exception. It’s easy and fast to throw a bit of olive oil into a pan and grill up a few sandwiches. Mr. Dolphin loves Yes! Tomato Carrot Bisque but we’ve also used plain old Campbell’s tomato soup, or mixed up a quick soup from canned tomatoes or even V8 juice.

Quesadillas – I’ve never been a huge cheese lover myself, but I am seriously outnumbered with Mr. Dolphin, Lion and Panda’s obsession with cheese. Quesadillas are an easy meal to make, even more so than grilled cheese and tomato soup. A quesadilla takes less than five minutes to make, and I can load it up with cheese, beans and spinach (or leftover vegetables if we have them). The kids like to dip it in plain Greek yogurt.