Ok, these aren’t recipes, so much as assembly instructions, so I’ve decided to do a whole days worth of meal ideas. My husband travels a lot for work, so I’m a part-time lone parent, and therefore the only chef. Some days I need quick, but healthy meals that require little-to-no brain power. Here’s what a day after my husband has been gone for a week or two looks like in my house.
Breakfast: porridge (Americans call it oatmeal)
- 1 or 2 packets of plain/original/no flavour instant microwave porridge/oatmeal
- 1 banana
- 1 level tsp brown sugar or maple syrup
- 6-10 fresh or frozen blueberries
- 1 to 2 cups milk
Some people are against microwaves; I’m not one of them. Instant oats are awesome and can be made so many ways. I go for original so I can control the sugar. You can also use apple sauce instead of the banana, cinnamon apple sauce if the kids like it, and even jam or raisins. I don’t use the blueberries if I don’t have them on hand, but the banana is omnipresent.
Use a microwave-safe bowl that’s nice and deep, and depending on if you’re using 1 or 2 packets of oatmeal, use half or the whole banana.
Smash the banana with a fork until mostly smooth. Sprinkle or pour in the sugar or syrup and give it a quick stir.
Add in the dry oats and cover with cold milk.
Drop in fresh or frozen blueberries (or raisins), but a few will go far.
Give it all a final stir and cover with kitchen roll/paper towel in the microwave.
Cook on high for 1.5 min and then stir the mixture. If it’s already getting dry, add another splash of milk or water. Stick it back in the microwave for 1-2 minutes more, depending on whether you’ve used fresh or frozen berries.
Give the mixture a stir and try to squish a berry on the side of the bowl. It should explode easily and mix in pretty purple swirls. Let it rest for about 5 minutes.
Check the temperature; if it’s still too hot, feel free to add another slash of cold milk to cool it if the kids can’t wait.
If I use 2 packets, this will feed all three of us, easily. It’s an easy way to add fibre and potassium, vitamins and calcium to a one-bowl breakfast. And it’s something you can experiment with – use fruit you love!
Lunch: quesadilla and grapes
- 4 or 6 flour tortillas
- 4 cups Red Leicester or Double Gloucester cheese, grated
- Two handfuls of seedless grapes
Some people go for grilled/toasted cheese and soup as a lunchtime comfort meal. I grew up with quesadilla and grapes. The tortillas are lighter than bread, and you don’t need butter to toast it up. I lived in England long enough to know that Red Leicester and Double Gloucester cheeses are the creamier, less oil-producing cheeses perfect for this job. Trust me: ditch the cheddar just this once. And who doesn’t like cheese and grapes? The red seedless are my kids absolute favourite.
First things first, you can buy pre-shredded cheese, or grate your own, but be sure to grate straight from the fridge so it doesn’t smudge all over the grater.
Put a griddle or wide pan on to warm on a medium-low heat. No butter or oil necessary.
Put one tortilla onto the flat surface and pile shredded cheese onto the center.
Lightly spread the cheese towards the edges but don’t worry too much, it’ll spread as it melts.
Top it with a second tortilla and let it be for about a minute. Squish the top onto the bottom by pressing with your hand or a spatula, and then bravely flip the lot. It sounds scary, but using your hands isn’t crazy, because you can pinch the edges together and quickly flip the whole thing before it’s too hot. I pull it up, slide it towards me and then over backwards, reaching to the far side of the pan in a sort of wrist motion.
The cheese will start to melt nicely and the top tortilla can be pushed a bit to spread it, if you like. All in all, it shouldn’t take more than 3 or 4 minutes to have crispy outside and gooey inside.
Remove the quesadilla onto a cutting board and start again at the griddle for 1 or 2 more. Once slightly cooled, cut like a pizza into triangles and serve.
Give your grapes a wash and pat dry and serve along with the quesadilla. Serve with pressed juice watered down, and guacamole (if I can be bothered). I’ve also been known to spread a thin layer of refried beans onto the bottom tortilla; it adds protein and fibre, and helps the cheese stick for the first flip. I tend to keep a tin in the cupboard, and literally pop it open, stir a bit with a butter knife, and spread on like peanut butter. It may not look appetising, but it’ll add flavour and a bit of veg. You can use the rest of the tin to make chilli or burritos (watch this space for those recipes)!
Dinner: fish fillets, beans and mash
- 3-6 frozen fish fillets (fish fingers just don’t have enough fish for my liking – these still have crunch but more of the good stuff)
- 1 medium sweet potato
- Knob of butter
- Heaping tsp of soured cream
- Tin of baked beans
- Salt and pepper
My kids routinely eat every morsel of sweet potato mash, but leave white mash on the plate. This ‘recipe’ is a great introduction to how naturally sweet these beauties can be.
Preheat the oven to the temperature recommended on the packet of fish (usually around 200c/390f).
Rinse your sweet potato and poke it in a few places, then put it in the microwave for about 3 minutes. You don’t want to cook it through – just get it started.
Spread your fish fillets onto the baking tray and into the oven once heated to temp.
Place a piece of aluminium foil onto the oven rack and the potato onto that. This will finish the sweet potato in time with the fish, and allows natural sugars to caramelise.
While the fish and potato bake, get your baked beans going on the stove (or microwave with a cover), to warm through. I used to add a tiny bit of brown sugar or maple syrup to baked beans in the UK, because I’m used to southern style beans, but use whatever tastes good to you.
Once you’ve removed the fish as per their instructions, check if the sweet potato is leaking juices – good stuff! The foil now comes in handy to save your oven from juices, and to help your oven mitt as you grab it out.
Let the fish cool and slice open the potato. Scoop it out of the skin and into a deep cereal bowl.
Add the butter and stir to smooth big lumps out of the potato.
Add the soured cream and stir well. You can add a splash of milk if you want a creamier mash; it usually depends on the potato itself.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Plate up the baked beans, cut the fish into bite-size pieces, add a scoop of mash, and Bob’s your uncle!
Mash is great ‘glue’ for beginner eaters. And the virtuous sweet potato has more vitamins and fewer carbs than white potato. Something we can all enjoy!
I’m not saying it’s the most creative menu, but it’s full of little cheats that keep me away from fast food. There’s a way to moderate the sugar and salt, get some nutrients into them, and it’s food I know they’ll eat. Sometimes that enough!