Simple Family Dinners for Busy Nights

little chefIf your house is anything like ours, the days start to get even more jam-packed as the weather starts to warm up.

To help you spend as little, precious Spring-time in the kitchen and yet still manage to fill your family’s bellies with good food, we’ve compiled a list:

10 super simple, kid-friendly dinners sure to please everyone (we’ve even included a new meal for the baby!):

  • White Bean Stew with Bacon and Vegetables – There are plenty of chilly Spring days, and when it’s cold outside, there’s nothing better than a warm bowl of goodness to end the day. Put a pot of this creamy stew on and head outside to play with the kids while it cooks. It’s a mild stew, like a warm blanket on a cold day, and perfect for dipping crusty, hearty bread.

    Creamy White Bean Stew from The Cozy Apron
    Creamy White Bean Stew from The Cozy Apron
  • Black Bean Nacho Pizza – Turning anything into pizza is a sure-fire way to get your kids to chow down. You can make this simple and quick by using a store-bought pizza crust or dough (pick up a ball of whole wheat dough from Trader Joe’s).
  • One-Pot Pasta Dinner – Leave it to Martha to show us how to a delicious meal without breaking a sweat. Follow her formula for making the most of your pot and your time, such as cooking eggs or vegetables in the water with the pasta, and making a quick sauce while the pasta drains.
  • Quick and Easy Pork Fried Rice – So much better than take-out, but just as quick. You can leave out the pork if you prefer to go vegetarian, and even amp it up with more veggies.
  • Parmesan Chicken Cutlets – Oh how we drool for chicken cutlets, plain and simple or fancied up. This recipe creates a nice crispy crust on an all-time favorite. If you must, cut the cutlets into small chunks, and voila, you have nuggets.
  • Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato Soup – Turn grilled cheese sammies into hearts (a cookie cutter, of course) and you get big points with your kids.  Add a bowl of creamy tomato soup (Whole Foods has a tasty one in a carton) for dunking, and you’ve got a respectable meal on the table in minutes.
  • Braised Pulled Pork with Apple Cabbage Slaw – Sounds too complicated to be called quick and easy, right? Throw it in a slow cooker after you drop the kids at school, and sometime during the day whip up the crunchy veggie slaw.
  • Chicken Pot Pie Cupcakes by Quick Dish Tablespoon
    Chicken Pot Pie Cupcakes by Quick Dish Tablespoon

    Chicken Pot Pie Cupcakes – Imagine the look on your kids’ little faces when you announce that you’re having cupcakes for dinner. Whoever invented the muffin tin is a genius. This is an awesome meal for several reasons – it’s made with short-cut ingredients, it’s good to make-ahead and if need be, it’s mobile. A yummy meal-on-the-go.

  • Quick Fish Tacos – Known to convert even the pickiest, non-fish eaters, these tacos remind ya that summer is on the way.
  • Southwestern Pasta Salad – Good for toddlers and big kids, too. No need to heat this well-balanced meal.
Sweet Potato Carrot Soup  by Spoonful
Sweet Potato Carrot Soup by Spoonful

And, we haven’t forgotten about the littlest member of your family. Give’em a taste of something completely new.  Sweet Potato Carrot Soup with Cheddar makes the most of fresh, early Spring vegetables, and is so delicious, you’ll want to make enough for the whole family family.

Bon Appétit!

Did you know some babysitters will cook dinner for the kids? Log in to UrbanSitter and look for “Cooking” listed under the “Other Services” section of a babysitter’s profile.

Jump the Food Rut in Three Easy Steps

Regardless of how good our intentions about feeding our families nothing but whole, healthy goodness, hectic schedules and picky eaters often have a way of derailing even the best of us. If your family has fallen prey to eating the same old foods, regardless of how healthy they may or may not be, here are a few ideas about how you might just jump that food rut once and for all:

Choose your battles.

Committing to an overall better eating plan is admirable, but overwhelming and tough to sustain. Instead, pinpoint an area of food weakness in your house that could use some improvement. Do you feed your kids too many sugary breakfasts? Know the value of eating your greens, but not get enough veggies into your kids? Do you rely on processed dinners a little too often? Maybe your crew snacks on empty calories rather than having healthier alternatives on hand. Once you identify a target area, you can start to see through the weeds and realize that improvements aren’t so tough to make. Make one change or try one new recipe per week. Here are a few simple ideas to remedy some of the trouble spots we listed above:

    • Start their day off with a tummy filling, warm, nourishing breakfast that requires very little morning time. Fill a slow cooker with steel cut oats the night before, and wake up to warm oatmeal everyone can scoop into a bowl and top with their favorite toppings.
    • Get a head start on your green veggie quotas by whipping up a green smoothie. It makes for a good breakfast accompaniment (or an entire breakfast if you add protein via soy milk, yogurt or tofu) or a refreshing mid-day snack.
    • Have a go-to dinner that can be deconstructed to fit the tastes of each family member. A burrito bowl/taco salad/taco/quesadilla does just that.  Set the ingredients on the table, and let everyone assemble their favorites. Pick from these: a pot of brown rice, chopped tomatoes, black beans, avocado, corn, cilantro, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, grilled onions and peppers, leftover chicken, and chopped romaine.

Have a plan.

Whether you shop for a week’s worth of groceries at once or make stops at the local market nearly daily, you’re guaranteed to make better choices (and save money) if you plan ahead and have a strategy. Take 20 minutes each Sunday to plan your meals for the week, and add them to your smartphone, so there’s no last minute scrambling to figure out what’s for dinner. Make sure you plan for breakfasts, lunches and snacks, too. If you’re heading out for a date night, prepare an alternative to ordering pizza and ask your babysitter to heat it up.

Try a free web app like Food On the Table, which simplifies life by helping you create weekly meal plans (with recipes) and grocery lists based on food your family likes, then hooks into your local grocery stores to find the best deals on your groceries. If you don’t need that level of meal assistance, try a printable grocery list that already has the staples filled in so you simply check off what you need to replenish each week and add other items in the designed blanks.

Be a better shopper.

This Top 10 List for a Whole Foods Approach to Shopping from Going Home to Roost compiled this list so well, we pinned it to our Favorite Tips for Parents Pinterest Board. Our favorites on the list: Shop the perimeter of the store – that’s where the good, fresh stuff is; and shop what’s in season – it simply tastes better and is better for you and the Planet. Be sure to check out all 10 tips – they really are good ones!

Do you have a few tips in your back pocket for feeding yourself and your family good food without stress? We’d love to hear from you!

Your Turn for Snack Duty!

Add up all the school classrooms and sport’s teams your children participate in and you’ll see that it’s likely you’ll be handed snack duty more than a few times.

Bringing a snack for the class or the team to enjoy at half-time is a chance to help out the teacher or coach, and to provide kids with a tasty pick-me-up.

Before you choose a snack to share, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Homemade is great for avoiding preservatives and other ingredients we either can’t pronounce or would rather not see our children consume, but your child’s school or team may have a policy against bringing homemade snacks. Some require snacks be store bought and pre-packaged. Make sure you check the rules.
  • If you’re bringing a half-time game snack, keep in mind your biggest objective is to keep the players hydrated and fueled. Water is key, as is avoiding overly sugary, salty or fatty foods.
  • Parents of kids with allergies often send a separate snack for their kids, but it’s nice to be considerate and not leave anyone out when choosing a group snack. Play it safe and ask parents if anyone has an allergy you should be aware of and check labels to accommodate them.
  • Younger siblings often attend their big brother or sister’s game, and love to join in on the snack. It’s nice to bring extras. Their parents will greatly appreciate not having to keep little ones away from the tasty temptations.
  • Keep it simple. Snacks are often eaten standing up and at lighting speed. Nothing fussy.

So what do you bring? Here’s a helpful round up of tasty, healthy food  to feed a crowd:

  • Save your wallet and the planet by foregoing juice boxes and bottles of water. Instead, bring a large jug of water or a healthy sports drink made from a mix, and don’t forget a stack of reusable cups.
  • Fresh fruit. Go beyond orange slices (although they are popular for a reason!). Think apples, Cuties, grapes and bananas, or make it fun by serving frozen fruit cubes or melon balls on skewers.
  • Yogurt sticks. Choose the ones without high fructose corn syrup and other nasty stuff, and freeze them to turn them into satisfying popsicles.
  • Air-popped popcorn served in brown paper bags.
  • String cheese sticks.
  • Individual serving bags of pretzels, Pirate Booty or Apple Chips.
  • Mini boxes or raisins or craisins.
  • Fruit leathers or twists made with 100 percent fruit.
  • Unsweetened applesauce in the pouches.
  • Jello cups.
  • Mini cinnamon raisin or whole-grain  bagels.
  • Popsicles – packed in a well-insulated cooler.
  • Healthy granola bars or other kid-sized energy bars.

Need a little extra help with snack duty? Hire a sitter to help at

Make a Commitment to Better Breakfasts

The new school year has begun, and there’s likely not one of us who is not committed to creating a less harried, more balanced, healthier daily life for our families.

You have to start somewhere, so why not let it be with breakfast? After all, research shows that kids who eat breakfast not only do better in school, but also tend to eat healthier the rest of the day, participate in more physical activities, and get their daily requirements of fiber, calcium and other important nutrients necessary for good health and growth.

Here are 5 Ways to Send Your Kids Off with Satisfying, Healthy Breakfasts that are just as yummy as they are quick and easy to make.

  • PB & J Burritos. Stock your freezer with peanut butter and jelly burritos to defrost  at a moment’s notice. Spread pb&j  (or almond butter and fruit preserves) on a whole wheat or rice tortilla, wrap tightly like a flute, and freeze. Microwave in the morning.
  • Pancake Roll Ups. Layer a frozen, heated pancake with peanut butter, top with sliced bananas and roll. Add a carton of milk or fresh juice to go with it and you have a good meal to eat on the run. Or, you can make your own pancake batter by mixing 4 c. flour, 3 tbsp. baking powder, 2 tsp. baking soda,  1 tsp. salt, 2 tbsp. sugar, 1 c. milk, 1 beaten egg and 1 tbsp. melted butter.
  • Smoothies. Keep on hand large cartons of non-fat plain (or Greek) yogurt, several packages of frozen fruit, bananas, quick cook oats and any kind of milk or juice to make speedy breakfast smoothies. In the morning, load the blender and let it sit and soften a bit while you get the kids ready so you avoid the dreadful roar of a blender tackling rock solid, frozen fruit. For one smoothie you need 1 sliced banana, 1 c. frozen fruit, 2 tbsp. yogurt, ¼ c. quick cook oats, a bit of sugar or Agave, and 1 c. milk or juice. Blend for a complete breakfast in a cup.
  • Yogurt Parfait. Whip up some parfaits by layering yogurt, fresh berries and granola in a pretty glass.
  • Breakfast Pizzas. Serve breakfast pizzas by spreading low-fat ricotta on a slice of a baguette, top with tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, and add a dash of salt and pepper. Broil only if you have the time.

Following these easy formulas and substituting with what you have on hand, makes preparing breakfast a breeze, and gives you the peace of mind of knowing you’ve started your day and theirs’ off just right.

12 Ways to Avoid the Summer Junk Food Trap

Summer gives us a chance as parents to loosen up, take a break from routines and schedules, and live a little more spontaneously with our kids. But, according to a study recently released from the University of Texas, the lack of routine, decrease in activities, and disruptions in the way we eat during the summer are to blame for our kids gaining weight 2-3 times faster than they do during the school year.

There are simple ways to keep your family’s health and nutrition on track and still enjoy the carefree spirit of summer living:

1. Keep a consistent meal schedule, much like you do during the school year. Kids should eat three square meals with two snacks in between, and they should know that mindless eating throughout the day isn’t smart.

2. Rather than giving into the ease of convenience snacks that are often processed and loaded with sugar, transform ordinary foods into special summery treats by freezing them. Try frozen grapes, cups or sticks of yogurt, homemade juice pops, and fruit smoothies.

3. Prepare and keep meals in the fridge for the sitter to feed your kids or for you to pull out instead of hitting the fast food drive-through on your way home from the pool. Having simple meals ready to go means you won’t have to cut a fun day short so you can rush home to make dinner.

4. Teach your kids about balance. It’s okay to have an ice cream sundae, as long as it’s balanced with healthier choices and plenty of exercise.

5. Limit sedentary activities like TV and electronics, and get everyone active with activities that take advantage of summertime weather. Get outside to ride bikes, go swimming, and for the little ones take the ride-ons and push toys for a spin.

6. Together, search your own kitchen for foods to make an easy, healthy picnic to take on a day-trip or eat in your own backyard. You can build a meal without turning on the stove or pushing buttons on the microwave.

7. Give everyone in your family a personalized water bottle to stay hydrated and stay away from the sugary juices, sodas and energy drinks. Research shows that even very active kids never need sports or energy drinks.

8. Sign your kids up for mini sports camps to stay active and have fun.

9. Get your kids involved with good food. Take them on a trip to the farmer’s market and use the outing as an opportunity to talk about healthy choices. Show them the beautiful array of local produce and let them choose some to try at home.

10. Start a garden – even a small container garden for the patio or windowsill – to get kids involved with growing and caring for fruits and vegetables.

11. Research proves kids are more likely to eat foods they help select and prepare. Let your kids help make a grocery list, find items in the store, and help prepare a meal by cleaning, prepping and cooking with you. Make the tasks age-appropriate so they don’t get injured or overwhelmed.

12. Find indoor activities to keep your family active when it’s too hot to head outside. Living room dance parties work just as well as indoor inflatable play centers, and are even more fun if friends are invited to join in on the fun!

Search & find sitters who will help cook healthy and nutritious meals for your children on UrbanSitter.

Summer Recipes for Kids

With summer just around the corner, kids will be pining for something new and different. Why not introduce them to the kitchen? Here are a few simple recipes that you or a trusted babysitter can tackle–just set up the ingredients before you leave the house!

Do-It-Yourself Pizza

This is a huge hit in my house. Buy the small Boboli pizza crusts, or if you’re really ambitious, roll and toss your own with pre-made dough at Trader Joe’s or your local pizza parlor, some tomato sauce (you can even use whatever pasta sauce you have on hand), and toppings galore. Some of our favorites include pepperoni, olives, broccoli, artichoke hearts, and bell peppers.

Line your table or counter with newspaper or use a plastic table cloth, and let the kids start by spreading the sauce with a spoon. Layer on the cheese and toppings and don’t stop them from making a mess–that’s part of the fun. A grown up should handle the oven part, but you’re sure to see plenty of smiles when the pizzas are done. Kids love to eat what they’ve created!


Whether you want to actually put up a stand is debatable, but making and tasting the lemonade is always fun. Depending on the number of children, you’ll need anywhere from four to 16 lemons. You can figure four per child. You’ll also need cold water, sugar, and a pitcher.

If you have a citrus squeezer, it’s much easier. Kids can do the squeezing on their own, though toddlers might need a little help. Once you’ve got an ample amount of juice in the pitcher, add some cold water and then start with spoonfuls of sugar. Have the kids taste the lemonade after each sugar addition. Note how much sugar it takes to make it palatable. (This could serve as a good lesson on the perils of juice in general.) Once it’s satisfactory, give everyone a cup full of ice, and enjoy the fruits of your labor! Lovely on a hot summer day.

Oatmeal Pancakes

More fun than ordinary pancakes–and healthier, too! Kids will love the pouring and mixing, and if you make enough to freeze, you’ll have a healthy breakfast on hand for those busy weekday mornings.

You’ll need:
1/3 cup quick oats
1/3 cup egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 mashed bananas or 1/3 cup pumpkin puree

1.Combine all ingredients and mix well.
2. Pour by 1/4 cupfuls into a skillet coated with non-stick cooking spray.
3. Flip after first side is firm.
4. Remove from skillet when ready, and experiment with toppings like nut butters, yogurt, cottage cheese, maple syrup, fruit.

Try UrbanSitter when you need a summer break! Connect with babysitters through people you know–and maybe even put your feet up for a while.

BOOK REVIEW: Tyler Florence — Start Fresh: Your Child’s Jump Start to Healthy Eating

Contributed by writer & mom of three Jessica Edelen for UrbanSitter.

Tyler Florence, Food Network star and best-selling cookbook author has debuted a new cookbook — Start Fresh: Your Child’s Jump Start to Healthy Eating. Filled with 60 delicious, user-friendly recipes, the book is about how to make healthy, nutritious food for babies, toddlers, and even the whole family.

As a mom of three young kids, I found the book quite engaging — the pictures are bright and inviting (and of course, make you hungry just gazing at them), and the recipes range from very easy (pureed spinach with bananas) to mildly complex (cauliflower gratin), but what I loved is that the recipes are in stages — 4-6 months, 6-8 months, 9-12 months, and 12 months and beyond. So there is truly something for everyone. Also included is a worksheet at the very beginning for new parents who want to keep track of which foods their babies are trying — in regard to allergies, etc. Enhanced by Tyler Florence’s wit and practical, easy-going voice, the book is one that I believe most parents will find valuable.

Here are two of my favorite recipes. You can find the book at Tyler’s downtown Mill Valley shop or online. Bon appetite!

Spinach and Banana Puree

Makes four 1/2 cup servings or two one cup servings

Tyler says: Bananas are an easy way to sneak super healthy nutrients into lots of dishes. This bright green puree is amazing — one of my favorites in the book.

You need:

12 oz. fresh spinach, well washed and tough stems removed

2 bananas

1/4 cup plain whole-fat yogurt

1/4 unfiltered apple juice

To do:

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth.

Cauliflower Gratin

Makes 6 to 8 servings for adults or kids

Tyler says: The unsung hero of the vegetable world finally takes a stand in this cheesy, comforting gratin. I love not only the flavor, but the way it fills the house with its savory, roasted aroma. Great pureed, mashed, or as a side dish your children will love for years to come.

You need:

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges

1 head cauliflower, leaves and stem left intact, coarsely chopped

2 sprigs thyme

1 tbsp. unbleached all purpose flour

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup whole milk

4 oz. fresh mozzarella, diced

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

To do:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a 12-inch ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion cook, stirring often, until the onion has browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the cauliflower and thyme and cook until the cauliflower has browned slightly, 8 to 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the flour and nutmeg over the cauliflower. Pour the milk in and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with mozzarella, then top with parmesan and panko. (The gratin can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.)

Bake the gratin uncovered on the middle rack of the oven until the cheese is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are toasted, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Divide the gratin into as many adult and child-friendly portions as needed. Transfer the child portions into a food processor and pulse until coarsely or finely chopped, as desired.