Cooking for Breakfasts and Lunches with Small Kids

Since it’s been so cold, I’ve been trying to do more hot food for breakfasts and lunches lately. But I don’t really have a ton of time to cook on weekdays, and spend most of that time prepping dinner which is our biggest meal of the day. Growing up I think I ate a cheese sandwich and chips, and maybe an apple, every day from ages 3 to 15. :blush: Breakfast was usually some sugary cereal.

So I’m looking for ideas for breakfast and lunches, preferably not too messy, that could be prepped in advance, are nutritious, and are kid-friendly. I’ve learned you can freeze pancakes, French toast, and waffles, so those are options to serve with fruit and/or yogurt for breakfasts. For lunches, I could premake quesadillas, do leftovers from dinner if we have enough, or homemade mac and cheese (also learned that is freezable!), hot dogs (cut up for little kids, of course), chicken “nuggets,” mini pizzas, etc.

Other ideas? I’d rather not spend ALL my time on lunch prep, but I am willing to do a little work so my kids are eating better stuff than they are now (and they seem to be hungrier in the middle of the day than dinner time anyway, so I might as well make it count!)

Yeah, little kids haven’t yet gotten the memo that dinner is supposed to be the biggest meal of the day.

All of your ideas sound good. I also like those little mandarins (and kids often like them, too), bananas, apples, blueberries (if on sale–locally I’m often astonished how cheap they can be), and strawberries.

I haven’t done this at home (we are an instant oatmeal family–oh the shame), but you might be able to get good results by offering plain (i.e. cheap) oatmeal plus a sort of “oatmeal bar” of things to put on it: brown sugar, raisins or other dried nuts, crushed nuts, fresh fruit, etc. It’s a little sweet, but I actually think that instant apple oatmeal is not that terrible a food for under 3s.

I recently ordered an Elmo-Big Bird-and Cookie Monster plate and bowl for my 2-year-old. I was discovering today that Cheerios are WAY tastier from the Elmo plate.

Don’t forget the possibility of a Vitamin D deficiency. We were surprised this fall when our middle child got a Vitamin D deficiency–he was lethargic, depressed, had all sorts of aches and pains, and his weight gain had stalled out. It turned out that I had made a bit of a dietary boo boo–I hadn’t realized that the kids needed either specifically milk, some other fortified food, or a vitamin. Just eating a lot of cheese was not good enough. Our middle child has since perked up after months of supplementation and what I call “chocolate milk therapy,” but I have since gotten religious about giving the 2-year-old her vitamin drops, because she’s not a milk drinker.

Sounds like you’re doing fine–kids naturally get more adventurous about food as they get bigger.

I really should learn to cook oatmeal. I keep hearing that it is easy and good for you, but I never ate it growing up so it is intimidating to me. I don’t even know what it tastes like. My MIL makes it on the weekends and then just reheats in the mornings. Apparently you can freeze it, too.

You can make steel cut oats in the crockpot overnight.
Warning though, it takes a heap of “additions” . I like Xan’s suggestion of having lots of things to dress it up with, including all those, brown sugar, whole milk drizzled over top, golden raisins, (tasty but not near as gross for kids that don’t like raisins…they’re juicier) and always, a pinch of salt and a pat of butter on top.
Yummy. I like fro a snack in the evening.
but you can buy craisins, almonds, even m & m’s for the fussy kids. A little bit of fun additions makes the whole bowl more fun.

My hubs grew up on banana sandwiches. Who knew? :shrug:

My mom would make it pretty much every school morning when we were kids. It cooks really fast. And then she’d feed the leftovers to the dog. We’d also sometimes have other hot cereals, but I suspect that oatmeal is the best for you.

I microwave 1/2 cup of plain oatmeal (not instant) for myself just about every morning and have it with a squirt of Torani syrup (pumpkin spice or vanilla or whatever), some crushed pecans, and a splash of milk. A big dish of oatmeal was probably the thing I missed most when I had my gestational diabetes last pregancy (I still had a tiny, tiny token portion of it with an egg but it wasn’t the same). I find it very filling and warming on cold mornings.

The texture is probably better with stovetop oatmeal, but microwaved is fine.

Gluey restaurant or cafeteria oatmeal is an abomination.

Yeah, I’m stealing the “oatmeal bar” idea from Starbucks. The idea with their “perfect oatmeal” is that they give you a bunch of toppers (brown sugar, dried fruit, nuts) and you add exactly what you want to your oatmeal. My big kids have really enjoyed the Starbucks oatmeal in the past, so it might be a good introduction (for instance, when traveling).

And for what they charge…you can buy an oil drum full of oatmeal! LOL

Breakfasts are easy. You could make hard boiled eggs ahead of time and just grab them as needed. Or peanut butter on toast. Or granola, milk and fruit. Or refrigerator oatmeal (do an internet search - it’s not cooked but the oatmeal with milk and fruits gets soft in the refrigerator overnight.
Lunches - well you could still use hard boiled eggs for lunch too. Make a big batch of soup ahead of time - usually kids like soup. When I was a kid, my mother used to just heat up a can of creamed corn with milk and we’d eat that like a soup. You could do cut up slices of celery filled with peanut butter or cream cheese. Fruit slices are good.

My kids loved mini-pizzas for breakfast. Schwan’s has the best mini-pizzas. Or you can make your own, of course, with tortillas or crescent rolls.

They were never into oatmeal or any hot cereal when they were young, but my older daughter (31) started liking it when she got into college up in Michigan.

For some reason, my big kids love canned chowder.

I know you wanted some hot food but if you are trying oatmeal Overnight, No-cook Refrigerator Oatmeal might be something to try. There are six variations so hopefully something for everyone.

I’ve found a few slow cooker breakfast meals though they lean more toward comfort food than health food.

ETA: This crockpot cheeseburger casserole looks tasty and it’s supposed to be healthy.

I always did as a kid, too. I grew up in the northeast, and seafood can be pretty cheap there, so we ate it a lot. I didn’t even realize until I moved to the Midwest that some kids “don’t eat” fish. To this day, I still fantasize sometimes about New England clam chowder. That, and San Francisco’s. Their take on it is to add pancetta (Italian cured bacon) to the usual New England recipe, and serve it in sourdough bread bowls.

drools into keyboard

I digress. Wildly. :o

Back to the OP: Oatmeal can also be cooked overnight in a crockpot. I haven’t tried this method–don’t really eat oatmeal anymore, not enough protein for my mornings–but I’ve heard it’s very good. Love the oatmeal bar idea!

Have you considered smoothies for you or the kids for breakfast? Milk plus protein powder plus a couple of handfuls of frozen fruit? You can get protein powder in either chocolate or vanilla flavors. It is a bit more processed, but at least the smoothie provides protein (yay!) plus calcium/Vitamin D from the milk (double yay!) and various fibery/general goodness from the fruit (more yays!). I’ve recently started doing this for breakfast, and I’ve noticed a big positive change when I do–less temptation to skip breakfast, then eat something obscenely high-carb with my coffee once DD goes down for a nap. Not that I’d ever do such a thing, of course. :wink: Ever. :wink: :stuck_out_tongue:

ETA: facepalm I missed the word “hot” in the OP. Duh!

Well, I can save the smoothie idea for warmer days (if they ever come :winter::winter:)!

Right now breakfast is usually peanut butter toast or Cheerios, fruit, and milk for the kids (crackers and ginger ale for me :rolleyes:). Not horrible for them, but our kitchen is one of the coldest rooms in the house in the winter time (it has a door to the outside and several windows), and I’d like to give my kids something hot that doesn’t require tons of effort. I used to cook hot breakfast regularly, but with morning sickness I just have no idea how I’ll feel morning to morning, so if I can cook ahead when I’m feeling well - which tends to be much later in the day - that helps a lot. I am super sensitive to smells and sometimes just being in the kitchen is too much.

Scrambled eggs with cheese baked in a casserole dish. Cut into squares and heat leftovers in microwave.

Breakfast sausage cooked in batches. We prefer Trader Joe’s chicken sausage but any kind works. Reheat as needed.

Oatmeal with banana slices for sweetening. I always serve sausage (or other protein) with carb breakfasts otherwise my kids have major meltdowns.

Quiche is possible.

So are kolaches with sausage (or similar).

Bacon is also great.

I dice dried apricots into my oatmeal, in the last minute of cooking on the stove. It’s my go-to hot breakfast, either at home or when camping-helathy and tasty. You can whip up a batch quickly on the stove and it will keep you going through the morning.
Also, a lot of healthy stuff can be tucked into an omelette which makes a healthy hot meal any time of day and is perfect for meatless Fridays.:thumbsup:
Your kids might enjoy grating cheese for lunchtime quesadillas-or for tuna melts on bread or english muffins. English muffins also make perfect bases for spagetti sauce/mozarella mini pizzas which heat under the broiler in record time.:slight_smile:
Have a good time exploring new ideas with your kids!

We do a lot of oatmeal during the winter in our house.

My kids love it and since they adore being “big girls” and using proper utensils….oatmeal with a spoon isn’t as messy as one would think.

I like the instant packets…somewhat on the sugar side but there are plenty of fiber and oats to make me not feel too guilty giving it to them.

I also pick up a big container of vanilla yogurt, frozen strawberries and crushed granola. I defrost the strawberries I will use in the fridge over night and combine everything for a homemade yogurt treat. The kids love it and it’s far more inexpensive then getting tons of individual yogurts.

A very freezable meal that the kids love…that I make a lot is American Chop Suey.

I think it’s a New England dish. My grandmother used to make it and my sister and I loved it.

Unfortunately she never wrote down her recipe but I know most of my family has tried to replicate it and I’m fairly certain I’m the only one who has it down to her specifications.

Elbow Macaroni
Can of Cambell’s Tomato soup
Tomato paste (about 2 table spoons…mostly for taste and texture)
Green Peppers and onions…chopped
Browned ground beef.

Add water…depending on how thin or thick you like the sauce.

My dad and my sister make it with regular marinara sauce…but I’m a creature of habit and I was bent on recreating my grandmother’s original recipe.
I knew she used the tomato soup…but it never tasted right with just the soup alone.
On a hunch I put some paste in and hit the jackpot. It was the original recipe…tasted exactly like it.
It’s very kid friendly.

I get a lot of milage out of my crock pot during the winter and make a lot of freezable things.

Marinara sauce, chili, pot roast, chicken dishes of all kinds.

I’m a bit off topic, but there is a reality show called Whalbergers (starring the brother and mother of actors Donnie and Mark Wahlberg)

Anyway, the mom Alma, has a recipe for each of her nine children, and one of them is called American Chop Suey. I thought it was her own invention, but I guess it must be regional New England recipe. She’s from Dorchester, Massachusetts. Hers is similar, but she adds bacon and canned stewed tomatoes I think,

Yes , gluey oatmeal is an abomination.

You may want to try steel cut oats. Put it in a crock pot overnight with coconut milk, cinnamon and nutmeg and a crushed banana for sweetness. Top with more bananas or mango slices if available.

My grandmother was from Dorchester too. My dad grew up a couple of miles away from where the Wahlberg family did.

It’s a very basic recipe that essentially involves macaroni, some kind of marinara sauce and Hamburger. Cheap, simple, kid friendly and very hearty.

What is interesting is that it is a regional dish but I don’t think too many people make it anymore.
I could be wrong, but I moved to Southeastern Mass and my husband and his family have never heard of it. Not to mention my BIL being from the South Shore and never heard of it either.
I think it was more of a post WW 2 thing. Especially for poorer families that needed to stretch their dollars as far as they could.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit