How to cook for your children during the extended school holidays
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School closures due to the novel coronavirus outbreak mean millions of children are about to spend a lot more time at home.
That's challenging on any number of levels, and food is at the top of the list. What will you cook for your children? Will your budget hold up under the increasing economic strain many families are facing? How can you keep children occupied for days on end?
We turned to a few experts for their advice. Here are their tips:
Inventory and prioritize your food
Alicia McCabe, the Massachusetts director of Share Our Strength's child-focused Cooking Matters campaign, says that before you run to the grocery store and fill your cart, take a look at what you already have in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry.
If your children are old enough, involve them in the inventory process. Start meal planning and thinking about what you can make with your current supplies and be prepared to substitute, improvise or try new recipes.
Be sure to use any fresh, perishable food in a timely manner. The last thing you want to do in a situation like this is waste food, McCabe says. Even if you don't plan to use produce right away, roasting and refrigerating or freezing it - or putting it into something like soup or chili - can extend its useful life and save money.
Look for hidden gems
McCabe recently went grocery shopping and noticed how much was out of stock, including a lot of fresh produce and pasta. But those aren't the be-all, end-all for feeding your family, especially on a budget. It's time to seek out other ingredients that can help you stretch your dollar and fill you up.
McCabe espoused the virtues of cabbage, which is versatile and long-lasting (and maybe a tougher sell for some kids?), as well as sweet potatoes. Take a serious look at frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. In general, they're cheaper and just as nutritious as fresh. Frozen vegetables are particularly ideal for stir-fries (fried rice) and soups.
Rice is an obvious choice, but food writer, blogger and cookbook author Katie Workman says don't overlook other grain options, such as bulgur, polenta or cornmeal and quinoa.
Much has been made about beans, but McCabe still advises you to not overlook dried beans, especially now that you will probably have more time to cook them. Cooked or canned make great kid-friendly dips and spreads. They can also help stretch a meal.
Cook smartly for the short- and long-term
No parent wants to become a short-order cook for their family three times a day during school and work closures. Workman says most of us aren't used to doing that even in normal times. Be prepared to use food in a variety of ways. Maybe pulled pork is for sandwiches one day, and then repurposed for burritos or nachos.
Cooking different dishes and then stashing some in the freezer means you'll be able to better incorporate variety rather than being stuck eating the same things for days on end.
Make the most of your spices
Workman suggests mixing up how you season your food is a great way to avoid palate fatigue. The good news is that spices last a long time, and you probably have a decent supply in your pantry. And if not, pick up a few new ones to try, as they're a relatively cheap investment - an unlikely to be out of stock at the store.
Get the kids involved
Many of us will be spending extended, even unprecedented, amounts of time with our children. "It's a moment where we can start to give our kids life skills that most people are too busy to do, frankly," Workman says. "We know we should teach our kids to cook." Kids who are involved in cooking may be more engaged with their food and, fingers crossed, more likely to try new things.