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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Prepared Foods - Do I Partake?

Dear Foodmomiac,

Help. Both hubby and I work full time (and, even days when he's home, he's little help in the food department). My kids are almost three and almost one. Right after Younger Kid (YK) was born, I was relying pretty heavily on frozen stuff from Trader Joe's to feed Older Kid (OK). He would eat their meatballs and many different types of dumplings. However, he's gotten a bit pickier and I'm less inclined just to nuke something for him now that I can put YK down long enough to prep dinner. So, my question is - do you use any of the frozen stuff from places like Trader Joe's to simplify life? Or do you think the extra step of making sure you have fresh and then prepping/cooking it right before eating is worth it? (Maybe this is less a real question and more a need for me to validate my mothering skills, jeeze now you're my therapist as well as Foodmomiac).

Thanks!
Rachael

Hi Rachael!

You know, I'm not surprised that you tied in validation of mothering skills with the concern over buying prepared foods. As mothers, we are endlessly bombarded with all of the things that we should feel guilty about, from co-sleeping to making our own baby food, to whether or not we are raising our children bi-lingual. Food is supposed to be something joyous that brings the family together. It is not something that should EVER generate guilt or concern about the validity of ones mothering skills. I realize that your comment was presented somewhat in jest, but this hits a sore spot with me, so I figured I'd take the opportunity to vent.

I want to make something clear. I LOVE freshly prepared food. If I had the time to make a homemade meal every night for my family, I might very well do it. I happen to love cooking. However, I don't have the time to do this. I work, I write, I knit, and I have two very busy kids who need my attention. So...

Prepared foods. Yes, I buy them. I just try to buy them sensibly. I look at the ingredient list very carefully. If all of the ingredients are items that I would myself use in the kitchen, it makes the grade. Trader Joe's, if you have one (I know you do, Rachael), is an excellent source for pre-made meals. But, even local markets will have items that are pretty nutritious and tasty. Here are some prepared food items that we use in our house:

- Frozen meatballs - these can be added to tomato sauce for a quick spaghetti and meatballs, but our favorite thing to do is to heat them up with some barbecue sauce. Speaking of which...
- Barbecue sauce - in the summer, I make up a big batch of my own and keep it in the fridge, but come winter, we don't go through it fast enough to make this worth my time. I like the Annie's Natural Organic BBQ sauce.
- Tomato sauce - there are a bunch of great brands. One of our favorites is Emeril's Kicked Up Tomato.
- Chicken Nuggets - kids love 'em, and especially for nights when Michael and I are headed out, or when we are eating something that they just won't abide by, it's good to have these around. I'm not a huge proponent of non-organic meats, but I do buy the Tyson brand nuggets. I think they are tasty, and we don't serve them often enough to be terribly concerned. I like that they come in a resealable freezer bag.
- Annie's Mac n Cheese - I buy boxes of this in bulk from Amazon grocery. I also like the microwaveable version, but with two kids now eating the stuff, I find that the box version is cheaper and gets eaten in one sitting anyway.
- Trader Joe's Simmer Sauces - We like the green curry version. If you heat up leftover frozen pork tenderloin in a crockpot with some chicken broth, you'll be able to shred it after about 6 hours on low. Drain some of the broth, add a bunch of sauce and serve over rice. Voila! An instant Thai dinner.
- Frozen veggies - I always have organic green peas and Trader Joe's french green beans in the freezer. These are great backups to have on hand when you need a veggie but are out of everything fresh.
- Trader Joe's French Toast - This is a very easy breakfast for Max. I heat it in the microwave for 45 seconds and cut it into pieces for him.
- Trader Joe's Steelcut Oatmeal - These frozen discs of oatmeal are really tasty and are a very quick way to get the extra nutrition of steelcut oats without the extra time.

There are more that we use, but the above are almost always present in our pantry/freezer/fridge. What prepared foods do you guys rely on to get through mealtimes?
 

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