Winning the War Over Family Dinner

by Abby on November 16, 2011

Skull and Crossed Cooking utensils, the war over family dinnerWeary from combat, the mighty mom warrior raises herself up on the battlefield once again. She smooths her armor apron and raises her sword spatula to the sky. “I will win this battle or die trying!” she cries, her voice cracking. “I will triumph over my adversaries and win the war over … family dinner!”

What can I say? Dinnertime in my house can be a struggle. When you combine a vegetarian who eats fish, a carnivore who shuns carbs, and 2 small pickytarians under one roof, mealtimes can get downright ugly.

We tried a meal plan which, while practical and economical, didn’t fit our needs. Next, we signed up for a grocery service. Heartland Home Foods is a local company based in Baltimore that serves MD, DC, VA and PA. They came door-to-door in our neighborhood with samples of their all-natural and organic food.

Heartland Home FoodsEverything Heartland sells is flash-frozen and vacuum-sealed in individual portion sizes. (Note: If you have Trader Joe’s near you, they also package a lot of their frozen food this way.) What that means is that we can quickly and easily prepare, say, chicken breasts for the boys, a filet for my husband, and a piece of tilapia for me. Throw in a side of veggies – also flash-frozen – and you’ve got a quick, healthy meal.

While they had me at local, organic, and individual portions, I was REALLY sold when we tried the food. My 5yo, who previously would not touch a green bean if you paid him, gobbled down an entire bowl of them like they were candy, and then moved on to the chicken. There’s no denying that organic food tastes better.

We ended up signing up for the grocery delivery service, which meant that one morning at 6:30am a young man showed up at our house with 6 mos.’ worth of frozen food. That’s a LOT of food. Good thing we have a chest freezer in the basement.

First, the cons: it’s hard to imagine what you’ll want to eat next week, let alone 6 mos. from now, so we ended up with lots of the same stuff that we got tired of. Why did I think we’d eat so many peas? Also, we didn’t like some things. Tilapia: delicious. Salmon: not so much. Fortunately, Heartland allowed us to swap them out for other items. Also, the service did not really cut down on trips to the grocery store or our grocery bill. We still go several times a week for milk, eggs, bread, fruit, and other perishables. It has, however, cut down on takeout and eating out.

Almond-Crusted TilapiaOther pros: First, because the protein and often the veggies are on hand, dinner comes together in a snap. Big hits include almond-crusted tilapia with a side of edamame or green beans; halibut with citrusy tomato and capers (or orange roughy or any other white fish) and rosemary roasted potatoes; linguini with shrimp scampi. C. says the pork chops and hamburgers are delicious. A friend who came over for dinner said it was “restaurant quality.”

Also, we waste almost NO food anymore. Partly, this is because we’re only cooking what we eat. No more buying and wasting half of a jumbo pack of chicken breasts because they were on sale. And partly, it’s because I’ve been inspired to use what we have instead of running to the store for more.

Leftover frozen spinach gets mixed into pasta sauce or turned into dip with sour cream and veggie soup mix. Half a zucchini or a handful of baby carrots left in the crisper? I grate them up and add them to pumpkin muffins. (The kids never know the difference.) Extra raw veggies – broccoli, red onion, green or red peppers – are roasted with olive oil and parmesan. A leftover piece of fish or chicken gets chopped up and added to a salad or tossed on a pizza. I’m telling you, people, once you start NOT wasting food, you can’t stop. I am turning into my mother, who will freeze 2 tablespoons of tomato paste rather than throw it out.

So while family dinners can still be a battle sometimes, we’ve found something that helps make it easier, and certainly tastier. What about you? Have you found any strategies, tips, or recipes that make for happier mealtimes at your house?

NEWS O’ THE DAY: In case you missed it, parent coach Meghan Leahy has agreed to do a follow-up Q&A for readers of this blog. Just leave your question in the comments and I’ll have her answer it in a future post.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Lou Mello November 16, 2011 at 6:50 am

Very interesting way to do dinners. We have a Trader Joe’s now, new in the last few months and we have bought some of the individual frozen fish items and they are great. There’s just the two of us so we don’t really waste anything, just make enough for both of us and plan leftovers for lunch the next day at the office.
We do need to get a big freezer to take advantage of the frozen stuff, had one a long time ago and froze garden veggies and lots of stuff.

Hope you had a great time in Miami.


Abby November 16, 2011 at 10:27 am

We love TJ’s! Their spinach quiche is awesome, as are the apple blossoms in the frozen dessert section. Not light, but very tasty.


Malia Jacobson November 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I was going to ask you for that almond-crusted tilapia recipe! Thanks! I’m a devoted meal-planner, and I grocery-shop every two weeks. I also make and freeze lots of soups and casseroles–a necessity for me during my husband’s busy basketball season when I am basically a single parent for 3 months. My almost-5yo is very picky, but I’ve discovered that she likes some foods that have surprised me–like beef chili, thai noodles, and raw broccoli. For me, the biggest challenge is keeping both kids from snacking too much before dinner. They’re always staaaarving at 4pm. I’ve been putting out some veggies and dip on the table while I make dinner to help keep them from raiding the fridge while I’m cooking.


Abby November 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm

That’s exactly what I do! My son is so hungry after kindergarten, but it’s too early for dinner, so he gets one “snacky” thing like popcorn or pretzels, then we do veggies & dip. That way I feel like they’ve at least gotten something healthy even if they don’t end up eating much dinner. As for surprises: my kids hate spaghetti w/ sauce but will eat shrimp scampi?!


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