Blending Healthy Families: Eating Out at Home
Mom: “What do you want to eat tonight?”
Do you often get a place rather than a food item when you’re asking your kids ideas for dinner?
In a blended home, the two (or more) houses may not know what the other one is cooking for dinner - or if they’re even cooking!
My husband wasn’t separated long before we met. So, not only was he learning how to date again, he was learning how to parent on his own. And, how to parent picky eaters on his own.
So when I entered the picture, it was a whole new ball game. I hated wasting money eating out at places like McDonalds or Subway, where there was no nutritional value and half of it got thrown away. I hated that the choice then became the kids - what do YOU want for dinner, instead of *this* is what’s for dinner. It caused conflict and ultimately set the kids up for disappointment. It was a constant struggle to manage the time, emotions, finances and nutrition of the kids.
And let me be clear - it’s not just my situation NOW. It was also my situation growing up. Dad’s house was always where we went out to eat. Or got TV dinners. Or frozen pizzas. All the crap my mom didn’t buy or didn’t want to feed us (although, she did her own share of eating out with us, too.) And, to be honest, it was fun! Dad’s house was where we could eat whatever we want and do whatever we want.
Since I knew that could happen, I put my foot down when I became a stepmom. Sorry, kids!
This doesn’t mean we deprive the kids of eating out. It doesn’t mean we never eat out or never eat junk food. But it’s calculated.
Another troubling part of the blended family is that you don’t always know what the other house is offering. You may hear “we had that yesterday” or “that’s a mom food” or “we eat that all the time”!! And you just feel defeated because you’ve tried so hard and these little rascals just stomped all over you.
Before you give up, I want to encourage you with a few things to make mealtime fun at your house - regardless of what the other house is doing.
Talk to your kids - what do they like? What are they craving? What meals do they miss? I often ask them “Next week when you’re here, what do you want to eat?” Sometimes they say foods that are already on the menu and I can tell them that. Then, we pick another meal. Sometimes they remind me of dishes we haven’t had in a long time. And because we talk about it, and they have input ahead of time, it often mitigates foods that they eat a lot with their mom or something they may have just had.
Let some things go over to the other house - I used to HATE doing this. I distinctly recall feeding the kids tortellini and all of them loving it! Later, my stepdaughter came back and said, “Mom has been waiting for me to like tortellini! Now she serves it to us there!” My stepdaughter was so excited - and the last thing I wanted to do was squash her excitement by telling her “Well I served it to you first!” I let that go. The more I thought about the statement, the more I came to the conclusion - all I did was offer them a new food, whether they liked it or not - and I have the power to keep doing that even if the other parents will not. Even if she takes all the foods I introduce to them, at the end of the day, these kids are learning to like more and more foods!
Be prepared - it’s much easier said than done. Some nights we just know - school, home to change, stop by subway, go to the game - and we let the kids know that’s what we’re doing. I typically bring fruits and veggies along with the sub, or chicken, or noodles that we pick up. I often even make them pack their own drinks to avoid fountain drinks. But very rarely, if at all, it’s - school, home, “What’s for dinner” and we end up going out to eat because we’re not prepared. I would encourage you each weekend (or pick whatever day in the week) to lay out the next 3-5 days. Start there. See what’s ahead, see what meals you can prepare - do you need to prepare them quickly? Do you need to see what the other house is making? Do you need to buy some groceries? Asking yourself those questions AHEAD of dinner makes it a lot easier not to eat out.
Make your food fun - Okay, the truth is we all like to eat out. There’s something about it that’s more magical. There’s no need to compete and say “This is like the subway sub you always get.” Because that will lead to comparison...and when it’s not exactly alike, they won’t eat it. Trust me...been there. Same with Chinese take out. But, you are the parent so you get the option to say “This is my spin on China Hope tonight!” You can make it fun by letting them eat with their fingers, pick their own toppings, cut their own veggies, etc. You can bring the magic of mealtime into your own home by simply letting the kids be involved.
Make meal time sacred - This is my final and MOST important topic. Make meal time sacred. I remember sitting in the lobby at Arby’s or Pizza Hut or Subway or in front of the TV and not interacting with people during dinner. Just shoveling the food in my face. That’s what happened when I first met the kids, too. They just had their greasy little fingers all in their fries, then wiped it on their iPads - too busy to look up. So, we started setting the rules, no screens at the table. (After I take a picture of the dish, of course.) And we ask each person to find a “high” of the day to share. It could be what they learned, something good they did, something good done to them. It evokes a conversation that we may otherwise not ever get to have. All of the sudden, the topics become about them and not the food and the arguments and distractions lessen.
Now listen, we’re not perfect. I’ve had 20 years to be part of blended family situations and this is what I’ve learned. So, if you’re just starting out, that’s okay! Maybe there’s just one piece of this info that you can take back to your spouse or family to make dinnertime more manageable!
Oh, and speaking of China Hope - here’s my home-cooked spin on some Chinese take out!
Chinese Take Out - at home!
1 lb Protein of choice - Chicken, shrimp, pork, tofu
1 bag frozen fried rice** (or make your own, I just don’t have time for that!)
1 bag frozen edamame - found in the frozen veggie aisle
Oil of choice (I like sesame oil for this recipe, but olive or avocado work too)
Soy sauce (optional)
Prepare the protein by cutting it into 1” cubes (or just prepare the shrimp) and seasoning with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a 12-ish” pan, enough to cook all the protein evenly, then cook the meat.
As the meat is cooking, prepare the rice according to packaged directions. When rice is fluffy, add 2 eggs, scrambling as you mix into the rice. You can add a little more soy sauce to give the rice the extra flavor.
Also while the meat is cooking, pop the edamame into the microwave and cook according to packaged direction.
You can either keep the meat on the side or mix into the rice. Use soy sauce or teriyaki sauce as a dip on the side, if desired.
Sprinkle the edamame with kosher/table salt if desired before serving.
*Check out my Insta Live for pork fried rice using my leftover grilled pork chops
**We like the Trader Joe’s or PF Chang’s brands best, but many companies have it.