The Joy and Pain of Feeding Children
I genuinely enjoy planning weekly meals, cooking them, and even stuffing leftovers into lunchboxes the next morning. I genuinely don’t enjoy spending an hour making dinner, after a long day of work, and then listening to my kids complain that they no longer like [insert favorite meal from last week here]. As I’ve navigated this lovely dichotomy of parenting, I’ve learned a GREAT trick, which is to stash my freezer full of quick-to-prepare and sure-to-please ingredients. Trader Joe’s frozen aisle comes through for an easy parenting win.
All of these meals are balanced in my personal not-expert opinion: they have protein, carbs, and even a veggie that your kid may try. Trader Joe’s also makes it super easy to modify ingredients depending on your dietary preferences; scroll to the end for some quick swapping tips.
4 Delicious Not-Recipes
Shrimp Pasta Primavera
Buy: A bag of shrimp, a bag of pasta, and a bag of veggies.
Prepare: Cook the shrimp on the stovetop, don’t overdo it, then set it aside (defrost first). Cook the pasta in the same pan, and the veggies in another pan. When those two are done, mix them together and add the shrimp.
My favorite pasta is the Penne Arrabbiata, but it is a little spicy. This meal also works well with Cacio E Pepe. Honestly, I’ve tried most of the frozen pasta, and they’re all pretty good, so lead with your eyes when you’re in the pasta section. For the veggies, you can choose a bag of broccoli to keep it simple or go with one of the mixed bags. And if you don’t like shrimp, use any protein, including a wide variety of plant-based options (although you should also check the refrigerated section for veggie-protein).
Burgers, Fries, and a Side of Veggies
Buy: A pack of burgers, a bag of fries, a bag of green beans.
Prepare: Cook each of them by following the package instructions. Add a bun and some condiments, and you’re done.
I like the high-protein veggie burgers, but Trader Joe’s has tons of burger varieties, including carnivorous and pescatarian. For the fries, if I can find them, I buy the ones made out of different vegetables (beets, carrots, etc.). I mean, they’re still fries, but they’re pretty AND your kids may try a new vegetable. You can swap out the green beans if your heart desires, but I will say that for a frozen vegetable, green beans defrost surprisingly well.
Buy: A jar of curry sauce, a protein, a bag of mixed veggies, a box of rice. Ok, this one’s a bit of a stretch because the curry base is in a JAR, but once you try it I know you’ll forgive me.
Prepare: Heat up the rice in the microwave. Cook the protein according to package directions. Lightly saute the vegetables, but keep them a little crunchy. Add the jar of curry sauce to the pan of vegetables, and simmer until it’s hot. Then add the protein back in. Serve over rice.
Level up by buying a fresh lime and squeezing a wedge on top of each bowl, then garnish with a bit of cilantro and sriracha if you please. If you have picky eaters (e.g. toddlers) try serving the curry deconstructed. Instead of mixing everything together in the sauce, create a plate with different sections for rice, protein, a tiny pile of vegetables, and the curry sauce to dip. Make sure nothing touches! Your little love will at least eat something on the plate.
Edamame Rice and Gyoza
Buy: A bag of Japanese Style Fried Rice, a bag of gyoza (any variety that suits you).
Prepare: Cook them each according to package instructions in their own pan. Read the gyoza directions twice before you start; this one’s not a beginner item. Plate the rice, and top with gyoza. Serve with soy sauce, or with one of Trader Joe’s yummy dipping sauces (not frozen).
This is my very favorite TJ’s frozen meal, I could eat it every day. Buy an extra bag of edamame and add it to the rice for extra protein (pre-shelled to save time). For the gyoza, you have lots of options: shrimp, spicy salmon, vegetable, chicken, etc. And if someone before you bought the last Japanese Style Fried Rice (rice with edamame), you can use any bag of fried rice as a backup.
- Protein: Swap the protein in any of these recipes. The many burger options speak for themselves, and you can also cut them up to use in the other meals. Trader Joe’s has lots of seafood and vegetarian proteins, including individually wrapped frozen fish portions, plant-based “chicken” nuggets, and mini meatballs. Try the baked tofu (refrigerated) if you want something you can eat straight from the package.
- Vegetables: My favorite vegetables to buy frozen are broccoli and green beans. If you want some variety, try any of the mixes like the Stir-Fry Vegetables or the steamier Organic Green Vegetable Foursome.
- Carbs: For extra veggies, try the Zucchini Spirals for noodles or Riced Cauliflower for rice (both frozen). Or add in more whole grains by choosing brown rice instead of white (yes, also available frozen).
Dinner is Served
Be prepared to wow your family members with your fancy new defrosting skills. But, if for some reason you need another trick up your sleeve, give your tiny food critic a tiny ice cream cone (preferably the chocolate chip flavor, also from TJ’s freezer). Pour yourself another glass of Two-Buck Chuck as you wait for the accolades to roll in. Works every time.