It’s true that food prep makes life easier for parents but, when you’re parenting a child with any chronic condition or special need, food prep is a necessity.
It is officially Summer, which means that parents all over the United States are coming together in unison to complain about their children eating them out of house and home. With some simple meal prepping, summer snacking doesn’t have to be an issue in your house. You will be able to keep your summer food budget, and the temper tantrums, at a minimum.
And, the truth is, it’s a slightly different world when you’re parenting a child with special needs. Learned through experience, I’m now in more control of the chaos related to last-minute doctor appointments, long car rides and extended visits with specialists when I have meals and snacks ready at all times. It also helps me feel prepared for the worst.
My youngest son has Tuberous Sclerosis, which means he’s prone to seizures and this sometimes results in unplanned, lengthy hospital stays. There have been more times than I care to count that we’ve been rushed off in an ambulance. It’s reassuring to know that my kids will always have healthy and nutritious options available to them even if I have to be away to care for their younger brother. This is also easier if you have an emergency and can tell someone, “There is breakfast/lunch/dinner in the fridge and snacks on the counter. Please bring me something to the hospital.” Hospital food can get pricey if you have a long stay or come unprepared without money for the cafeteria or vending machine.
I spend roughly two hours per week and less than $100 prepping food for all five of us using these six staples:
1. 1 dozen hard boiled eggs
2. Cut 3-4 apples and store with lemon water
3. Cut 2-3 veggies for lunches or snacks
4. 1 batch of muffins
5. Hummus or a dip for veggies
6. Batch of granola or waffles
Each ingredient is extremely helpful when creating quick and simple snacks and meals.
Hard-boiled eggs are a great pre-made food to have on hand for breakfasts on-the-go, lunches or quick protein-filled snacks. I make one dozen hard-boiled eggs every week for our family. These are perfect to chop and sprinkle on avocado toast for breakfast, turn into an egg salad sandwich for lunch, or you can cut them in half and serve alongside your main dish at dinnertime for some quick extra protein.
I have found that when I pre-cut veggies on the weekend, I will serve them more during the week which makes my kids actually eat more vegetables. One way I use pre-cut veggies is when I am rushing to get dinner served and the kids are begging for a snack and “just can’t wait.” I will set the veggies out with a homemade healthy dip and – voila – it’s a great way to sneak more veggies into their diet and, at the same time, it stops the complaining. My non-verbal four-year-old often starts wandering around the kitchen table when he is hungry. I make sure to always keep veggies out so that he is able to snack healthily, and it also serves as a cue that he is hungry and ready for a meal.
Between breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, my kids go through a lot of fruit during the week. My goal is to prep as much fruit for them on the weekend as possible to cut down on the number of times I have to get out the cutting board and slice them up an apple. A trick to making sliced apples last longer is to store them in a Tupperware container with lemon juice. You can serve them chopped with cottage cheese for breakfast, or pair with a side of peanut butter (dipped or spread) for a snack … you can also add to a chopped salad with spinach, shredded chicken, and walnuts for dinner. Yum!
Granola + Muffins
I love to keep healthy carbs on-hand for nights when the kids beg for dessert but don’t need any sugar, for outings as a family where they need to refuel, and for yummy treats when a guest plans to visit on short notice. I always keep extra baked good in the freezer. Granola is fantastic sprinkled over yogurt for breakfast, protein-packed mini muffins make great car-ride snacks, and granola served in a bowl with warm almond milk and chopped peaches make a great before-bed dessert.
Hummus + Dip
My youngest has sensory issues, and sometimes getting him to sit down and eat is a real chore. I’ve found that since he likes to “paint” with his food, he will happily make a mess and put his fingers in his mouth with some almond and vanilla butter while my other kids have it spread on toast for breakfast. If I make a green pea “hummus” for a snack, my other children will dip crackers in it, and he will dip his finger and eat it repeatedly. I like to keep yogurt readily available as a dip for fruit, too. A little parenting trick – if I call hummus/pureed vegetables a “dip,” my kids are more inclined to eat it.
Spend some time prepping quick nutritious meals, and you’ll be thankful that you did. And if you can’t find the time to get some snacks and meals prepped, you’re still doing an amazing job as a parent. Never forget that.
I’d love to hear your feedback. Do you have any go-to snacks that keep your kids nutritionally satisfied? Comment below or join in on a discussion at The UpBeat Facebook group, a closed community for families impacted by childhood chronic illness.
MEET OUR COLUMNIST, GRACE
Grace’s unique journey has inspired her to speak from the heart, sharing her struggles and strengths. She is a domestic violence survivor and single mom of four, her youngest living with Tuberous Sclerosis. Despite these hardships, Grace always manages to find positivity and humor in life’s everyday challenges. When she’s not writing engaging and oh-so-relatable columns for The UpBeat, you can find her snuggling with her babies or constructing something fabulous with either a sewing machine or massive amounts of dough and a pie pan.