Tag Archives: kids dinners

We Tried SunBasket. Here’s My Review.

I’ve tried those meal-box kits in the past, when they made more sense, when we were four people for dinner, every day.

They don’t make as much sense when we’re now sometimes three people for dinner and sometimes just me, and when the children  have their favorites and thanks to divorce guilt I just want to make them their favorite stuff — chicken fried rice, spinach and black bean enchiladas, homemade pizza, grilled chicken “gyro” salad — rather than try new things for them. And for me, it’s easy enough to come home at dinnertime with children and go through the rehearsed motions of making something familiar.

It’s different when you’re making a meal that says it only takes 20 minutes but you have to be glued to the recipe the whole time to determine next steps, and the timing is more like 30-40 minutes and your children are hungry and the food is new and strange to them, and they’re tired, and so are you.

Thanks to a friend, I got a big discount to try SunBasket. We haven’t used one of these kind of meal kits in years, and I thought it was time to try again.

First week: Quick Chicken Chow Mein, Seared Salmon with Pearl Couscous and Salsa Fresca, Southwestern Steak with Roasted Poblanos and New Mexican Chile Salsa. I ordered the 2-person plan, not the family plan, figuring if the kids hated it, I’d have leftovers for lunch, and if they liked it, I could open a can of sardines or something for myself.

Monday: Quick Chicken Chow Mein

The box was arriving Monday. I was picking up the children from camp Monday after they’d been away for a week. Between transitions and the Monday-ness of Mondays, I’d planned to make the Quick Chicken Chow Mein (the quickest meal) that night.

On the drive home, the older boy asked if I could make chicken fried rice, one of their favorites, that night.

“Well, I am not really prepared to make that,” I said. “We’d have to stop at the store. I was going to make Chicken Chow Mein tonight.”

Same flavor profile, kind of, right?

“OK!” he said cheerfully.


The children were really hungry but the meal was fairly quick to make. And…kind of bland. I added soy sauce to mine. The children ate seconds but said they preferred my chicken fried rice and found this kind of flavorless.

Short review: It’s fast, full of veggies, they ate a lot of it, and it makes a lot of food. I’d call this a win if it were more flavorful.

Tuesday: Southwestern Steak with Roasted Poblanos and New Mexican Chile Salsa

I’d planned to make the salmon on Tuesday night, then hold the steak until Saturday (the kids would be back on Friday, but that’s Pizza Night). SunBasket recommends using the food up within five days, though, so I asked the kids what they wanted tonight: steak or salmon.


OK, then. I proceeded with that recipe, roasting sweet potatoes and red onion and poblanos. None of us really like sweet potatoes. The children don’t like red onion or any onion. They don’t like peppers, sweet or poblano or raw or roasted.

I wasn’t sure they’d enjoy having their steak rubbed all over with sweet paprika, so I left that out. I also left out the chile salsa, because they like their meat plain.

Honestly, it was too hot to have the oven at 400 degrees for that long.

Short review: Not a great summer meal unless you have AC. Not a fun meal for children (or me–I didn’t really like the veggie combo). Might be too zippy as a family meal. Meat was great quality. I would love to follow this recipe to the letter and try the steak with the paprika and the chile salsa).

Also Tuesday: Seared Salmon with Pearl Couscous and Salsa Fresca (minus the salsa fresca)

I also realized I wouldn’t have a chance to cook the salmon until Saturday (ugh), so I decided to cook that tonight, too, along with the couscous in case the kids needed a neutral side because we all hate sweet potatoes.

The salmon prep bag included a yellow pepper, a tomato, and a cucumber (and shallots, a lime, and honey) for the salsa fresca. I thought the salmon would be more interesting with the salsa fresca, but I knew the kids would be eating the steak, not the salmon, and I could use the veggies in their lunches tomorrow, so…I sprinkled the salmon with sesame oil and soy sauce instead.

The children ate all the steak. I ate some salmon. I ate the roasted veggies that went with the steak. The children did not like the couscous (MY CHILDREN DO NOT LIKE COUSCOUS, WHICH IS ANOTHER FORM OF PASTA, WHAT THE…).

Short review: Salmon was very fresh, excellent quality. Veggies for salsa fresca were very fresh (and will be great as crudites for the kids’ lunches tomorrow, because no way was I going to chop everything up just for myself). Maybe the kids would have eaten the couscous if I hadn’t put granulated garlic on it, but honestly they don’t mind garlic, so…I think we’re just not couscous eaters. I don’t love it, either.

In Short…

  1. I was pleased with the meal choices, variety, recipe layout, and quality of ingredients and packaging.
  2. I still suffer divorce guilt, and my kids are only here half-time, so when they are here, I will generally make them their favorites, which tend to have them eating a lot more vegetables than they ate tonight.
  3. I appreciate the chance to have them try new things, and it’s good for them, too.
  4. Getting out of our food rut was fantastic for a few meals.
  5. All in all (see “divorce guilt,” “favorite foods,” and “eat their veggies”), I can’t continue this.

SunBasket, you’re fine, but we’re not a great match at this time. Thanks for letting me try you at a discount.

Meal Planning? eMeals Saved the Day!

closeupIt is 5:30 p.m. You’ve just walked in the door with four grocery bags and two hungry children…at dinnertime. You hand each child a tiny snack, look at tonight’s menu, realize it’s not possible…and yet less than half an hour later you have a tasty meal on the table that your children actually eat and like.

That was me, tonight, thanks to eMeals. I’ve attempted (and failed at) meal planning in the past, having an approach much like the spontaneous Melanie in the Middle. Unfortunately, the pour-a-glass-of-wine-and-wing-it approach doesn’t work when my small children need dinner around 5:30 p.m. and I get home with them at 5:15.

Despite some posts that indicate the contrary, I don’t just throw frozen stuff into the microwave for them. First of all, they generally hate that stuff, even if it is organic and such. Second, I like to cook and want to make them (and us!) tasty meals.

Here’s a problem: I live in a wonderful neighborhood full of small children just the same ages as my children, and sometimes late in the afternoon, I’d rather my kids be outside playing with friends than indoors while I’m making dinner. Or we get home and see all their friends outside, across the street, and go over to play instead of going inside so I can cook dinner. It’s a trade-off, for sure, but I’d really rather they be outside, even if we end up in nightly dinner hell.

Anyway, I recently signed onto eMeals. eMeals is a meal-planning service that sends you a weekly menu, with recipes and shopping lists. The great thing about eMeals is they have several different meal plans: Classic, Clean Eating (what we do), Natural and Organic, Gluten Free, Paleo, Mediterranean, Simple Gourmet, Low Fat, and so on. You can also plug in the grocery store you normally shop at, and they can match a meal plan to the store. In addition, you can indicate whether you want meals for 1-2 people or 3-6 people. Our first week, I’d signed us up for 3-6 people. Way too much food for us (2 adults, 2 kids). This week, I’m shifting to the 1-2 person plan.

We get the Clean Eating meal plan. It’s sent to me on Wednesday, but I didn’t manage to print out the most recent one until the weekend. I spent a little time going over it. The plan includes seven meals plus side dishes. I knew we’d have leftovers one night and might want to use up a freezer meal another night. So I crossed off two meals that I thought my family would be less interested in.

Then I went through the included grocery list, crossing off any items that we already had or that we wouldn’t need (items for the meals I’d crossed off). The list and a pen went into some reusable grocery bags.

Could this get much easier?

Could this get much easier?

However, being our spontaneous selves, we ended up going apple-picking instead of grocery shopping. You know how it goes!

Tuesday I picked up Max from school, zoomed over to the grocery store, got everything on the list, wove through traffic to go get Ben, and got home. Naturally, all the neighbor kids were outside, so out stayed we…until 5:30, when we finally got in the door.

5:30, remember, is dinnertime.

Somewhere in those bags is the answer to, "Where's dinner?"

Somewhere in those bags is the answer to, “Where’s dinner?”

Did I panic? Actually, for a second I did. Then I went to my menu. Tonight was supposed to be Juicy Chicken Sliders, with a side of Parmesan Oven Fries. “Kid-Friendly,” it was noted. But the total time: 50 minutes. Too long! Pot roast? Nope — that’s a slow-cooker meal. Roasted Chicken: a 50-minute cook time. Penne? I’m sick of pasta — last week we went off our plan a little, in an attempt to clean out the cupboards, and ate a lot of pasta.

Taco Salad: “Super Fast,” it said. OK!

One problem: It called for ground round. Our ground beef was all frozen. But I had just brought home chicken breasts for the sliders that we wouldn’t be having tonight! I scanned the recipe and decided to go for it.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 11.42.41 AM

Taco Salad

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (I completely forgot to add the garlic!)
3/4 lb ground round (or sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast; fish or tofu would also be good!)
½ teaspoon chili powder
1/4  teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper
4 cups whole-grain tortilla chips
5 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
2 tablespoons low-fat plain Greek yogurt

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add garlic, ground round (or chicken), chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook 8 minutes or until beef (or chicken) is browned, stirring occasionally. Divide tortilla chips evenly among 2 plates; top with lettuce, ground beef mixture, Corn Salsa (see below) and yogurt.

Corn Salsa

3/4 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
2 plum tomatoes, chopped (I used grape tomatoes instead)
1 small jalapeño, minced (I omitted this on purpose)
1 clove garlic, minced (forgot again! sprinkled garlic powder [not garlic salt] on instead]
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine corn, tomatoes, jalapeño, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl; chill until ready to serve. (I also threw some leftover edamame into the corn salsa, because why not?)

To serve it, I put things in separate piles on the kids’ plates, because they are ages three and five, and sometimes it is best if things don’t touch each other. They ate the chicken and asked for more. Then Max noticed how my plate was one big mixed-up salad, and he wanted his that way. So of course then Ben wanted his that way, too. So we all ended up with these big mixed-up taco salads on our plates, and Max loved it. Ben preferred to fly his alien spaceship tomato-and-cucumber combo. But he did eat all his chicken and some of the corn salsa.


Remember those grocery bags at 5:30? Yeah. I could have been done with dinner even sooner, but I decided to slice up some cucumbers and tomatoes, too. And clear the breakfast dishes off the table because….you know.


Who feels like a rock star? I do.


My plate. Blurry but tasty.

What’s awesome is that we had a great new meal (I never make taco salad!!) on the table fast, and we all enjoyed it. Plus, thanks to the grocery list and the quick shopping trip, I now have the ingredients in my fridge for the rest of this week’s meals, and now I know how long the others will take, so I can plan those nights.

Want to try it? Here’s a discount code for 15% off: DINNER15. Considering that the plan is pretty inexpensive even without the code, and the grocery savings are nice, and the knowing what’s for dinner is priceless, the extra 15% off is icing on the cake! Click the link (image) below to sign up!

Disclosure: I am a member of the eMeals blogger network program and am also in the eMeals affiliate program. I was not compensated for this post, and all opinions are mine.

Kale Pesto and Smug Salad: Beyond Kale Chips

Tonight I had one of those “Oh crap, what can I make for dinner??” moments…long after the time I should have already started cooking dinner.

I am meal planning these days and have been using Six O’Clock Scramble but recently switched to eMeals (review coming soon!!), but even so, this week things fell apart. Last night I made boxed mac-and-cheese (Annie’s, at least) for the kids. I NEVER make them boxed mac-and-cheese. It’s absolute emergency food, in my opinion. My special snowflakes only eat wholesome fresh dinners made from organic scratch.

Except, you know, last night.

And then my husband, when he got home, suggested that he go pick up burritos or maybe order from our favorite Szechuan place, and I pointed out that now that we’re sending one child to private school, I’m going to be the budget bitch. I pointed to the can of Trader Joe’s Turkey Chili on the counter.

Granted, they could really brighten up their label. It’s dismal, black and dark red, like something you only eat if you hate yourself and it’s raining out and you’re in a sad motel room alone with a plastic spoon. He promised to keep our Szechuan order in check, but I got too hungry to wait and opened that can.

The chili, once heated, was pretty good. I added the kids’ leftover frozen-but-heated-now-cooled veggies (sorry, at this point are you wondering why I ever claimed to be a locavore foodie or a one-time chef in a fancy restaurant? I promise, I am the former and was the latter. It’s just that these days, sometimes I just have to cope, like last night).

Tonight, though, I rocked it so hard in the spontaneous dinner department. Once again, the afternoon got away from us, so I left the kids out in the yard* and went up to cook.

I took some kale, put it into the blender with plenty of olive oil, added raw pumpkin seeds and some nutritional yeast, garlic, and salt, and blended away. The resulting kale pesto was spectacular.


I ate this for lunch today, spread on bread.


Then, I was determined to cook out of our cabinets (since it was way past dinnertime and I had to think fast and there was no time to thaw anything) and ended up making food that the kids loved. Why have I bothered with “fancy” recipes for tomato ragu (“I hate this pasta! I want spaghetti, not fettuccine!”) or lemon chicken and couscous with spinach, feta, and pine nuts (“What is this gross stuff?? Get it off my plate!”**) when I could have been tossing hot dogs at them all week?

Meanwhile, I cooked whole-wheat shells, adding frozen peas and corn near the end. I drained it, added canned salmon and olive oil and grated Parmesan, and served it, holding my breath.


They loved it so much Ben ate it for lunch today, too…as did I.

They LOVED it.

As Max asked for his third plateful, he said, “Mom, you know what would be really good with this? That green sauce.” He meant standard basil pesto but I offered him some kale pesto. Unfortunately, he got a big chunk of raw garlic (“too spicy!!”), so I offered him basil pesto instead.

Ben wanted both kinds of pesto and ended up eating the kale pesto with his hands (this is how the child gets away with everything–because if you are willing to eat raw kale pesto by the handful, child, you are the winner).

I, of course, doused my plateful of pasta with the kale pesto and later ate some remaining kale pesto with a spoon. WHAT??

So here is the basic rule: If you have kale, you need olive oil and some salt. Cooked, raw, roasted, whatever– with those three ingredients, you rule the world.

We get olive oil in big jugs. I really think we should buy the gallon cans, except I worry about BPA.

We get olive oil in big jugs. I really think we should buy the gallon cans, except I worry about BPA.

I also made what I’m calling Smug Salad: raw kale, half a red onion, the old red cabbage from the lower left produce drawer (chopped), sliced scallions (because don’t you just feel smug using kale and the tired veggies from your fridge…plus nutritional yeast??). Massage chopped kale leaves with olive oil. Add the other stuff. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast and sea salt and raw pumpkin seeds. Spritz with fresh lemon juice and serve, knowing you are an acai berry and some pomegranate away from Utter Superfood Salad.

kale cabbage

[One other confession: This kale was from a bag. Whole Foods sells these 16-oz. bags of washed, torn kale. It’s awesome if you haven’t made it to the farmer’s market in a while and you want kale in a hurry and you just can’t deal with washing it because your sink is full of dishes.]

Why didn’t I take a picture of the finished salad? I don’t know! But it is beautiful.

*This is kind of a huge deal if you live in the city and your yard isn’t fenced. But I could hear them the whole time and occasionally popped down for surprise checks. They, as directed, stayed in the backyard and did not kill or blind each other with sticks. And I got to make dinner. Win-win-win!!

**Oh yes, that got sent him away from the table IMMEDIATELY.