One pandemic and another child later, it is a miracle that we don't eat Kix for dinner every night. I am perpetually exhausted, so cooking has shifted from a hobby to a chore made all the more challenging by two adorable but very picky young eaters. Have you ever spent an hour cooking an agreed-upon meal, only to have a young human refuse to eat the very food he'd demanded a mere hour prior? It's like toiling at the world's most demanding restaurant, where you are the chef and server and runner and dishwasher and custodian—and your mercurial boss is prone to throwing food at you if he deems your efforts inadequate. Oh, and you don't get paid, and the patrons return three times a day like dissatisfied yet hungry zombies.
Earlier this year, I decided to stop beating myself up for not being the cook I once was. Instead, I adopted a "food as fuel" attitude. If I could lean on some things that would make cooking easier and faster, maybe I would become less susceptible to the lure of PB&J for every meal. Here's what I've tried and how these kitchen shortcuts fared.
Last year, a woman in my Facebook moms group (and yes, I know how cool that sounds) excitedly posted about her picky children gobbling down Goodles. Goodles, as I learned, are the protein- and prebiotics-packed version of Kraft mac and cheese, made with broccoli extract and other healthy-sounding ingredients. Truthfully, I was less invested in the nutritional content and more hopeful that finally, I might have found something quick and easy that my boys would eat. I smashed ADD TO CART without thinking twice. While waiting for the box to arrive, I learned that Goodles is founded by the Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot, herself a mother of three. It gave me a modicum of comfort to imagine that Gadot, too, is a thankless home restaurateur with a trio of perpetually dissatisfied young customers.
You know how boxed mac and cheese cooks up; same concept here. As I plopped the piping-hot mac into bowls, I tried to play it nonchalant, as though I wasn't silently praying that the children would eat it. To my surprise and delight, both of my children—who'd previously given the thumbs down to Annie's mac and cheese—gobbled the stuff up and asked for seconds. My husband was not a fan, but the Goodles are cheesy and just salty enough to satisfy me. These days, my three-year-old won't eat them any more because he is one stubborn customer, but they've become a reliable packed-lunch staple for my 6-year-old. And now you can just buy the plain Goodles, too, which is nice when I crave pasta but want something a touch more filling. Gal Gadot, take my money!
Mild anemia and I go way back, nearly as long as my diet's flimsy relationship with the B vitamins. Unsurprisingly, I lack energy almost as much as I lack the discipline to take vitamins every day. It's not hard, I know, but it's just another thing on a to-do list that never stops growing. But one thing I do like is chocolate, so when I read about Sourse supplements, I decided to give the vitamin-packed chocolates a try. You can get me to do anything if you put it in chocolate form.
Sourse is co-founded by the actress Sarah Hyland, and because I never watched Modern Family, I was as unfamiliar with her oeuvre as she is with mine. (A news headline says that "Sarah Hyland's Booty Is Straight ? In A Thong Bikini," so we do have that in common.) Anyway, I tried the Glow Bites, which are made with dark chocolate, plant-based collagen, and spirulina for color. I also got into the Hype Bites, which deliver 500 mcg of vitamin B12. The bites taste neither like a gourmet treat nor a bitter vitamin, but like an M&M who has a daily meditation practice and eats at Cafe Gratitude. They're just sweet enough to satisfy my post-dinner chocolate cravings, but not so addictive that I'm tempted to snarf the entire bag at once. Crucially, my children also accept one Sourse nibble as a full dessert, and this helps them get more vitamin B12, so… Sarah Hyland, you may also take my money.
In the last decade, I've had one or two glasses of soda. It's just not my thing. With that said, I have spent a small fortune on kombucha because I like its sour tang and I choose to believe that the probiotics are Doing Something. Poppi is somewhere between the two beverages. It's a soda made with apple cider vinegar and prebiotics, and unlike most sodas, it's relatively low in sugar—5g or less, as compared to 39g in a can of Coke. (Surprisingly, Poppi has less sugar than an equal amount of my go-to kombucha, GT Dave's Gingerade.)
Initially, Poppi's Raspberry Rose variety was pleasantly fizzy but, to my palate, still more soda-esque than I like. And yet, I took one sip after another, drinking greedily when my taste buds picked up on a hint of ACV. During a heat wave, it was refreshing and light in a way that syrupy soda is not. While I don't see myself becoming a regular soda drinker, I would 100 percent serve this at a party because it's sparkling and pretty, which would trick guests into thinking that I like to have fun. (NB: I didn't share it with my children because they live under my tyranny of "water or almond milk?" What a FUN-HATER.)
There was a time when I would make truffles and fancy, Guittard-based brownies from scratch. I remember carefully melting the chocolate in a bain-marie. I'm sorry, but if anyone is going to enjoy a long and luxurious warm bath these days, it is not going to be a hunk of unsweetened chocolate. This is why I said, YEP, when Stellar Eats offered to send me a sampling of their grain-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, dairy-free baking mixes. To make their fudge brownies, I added oil and water, popped it into the oven, and happily devoured the chocolaty results once they'd cooled. Pretty good and not sickly-sweet, which I appreciate. Did the kids eat them? Obviously. I like homemade brownies but I am also okay with a mix that gets brownies on my plate faster. Jacques Torres can do the elaborate chocolate thing.
My husband and I consistently feed our sons. They may complain about meals, but there's always a meal on the table. As for our own eating, well, let's just say that neither of us is maxing out on calories. We're typically scrambling to work while the kids are in school, so we often skip lunch or pick at the kids' breakfast leftovers like scavenger birds. Perhaps my mother-in-law noticed our shrinking waistlines, because one day, a big box of meals from Mosaic showed up on our front door.
Mosaic is one of many companies that ship frozen meals. Sadly, I'd been freezer burned in the past by unappetizing slop and limited vegetarian options, so I had written the whole concept off. Mosaic, however, is plant-based with pretty decent options: large meals for dinner and one-off smaller meals for lunch. I don't love that the mini-meals come in a plastic-lined box that's meant to be microwaved; ingesting hot microplastics is not my thing, so I thaw my Miso Tempeh Bowl meal and then put it in Pyrex before microwaving, and no I've never been told that I'm anal retentive, why do you ask? The kids would not even try any of the meals if you're keeping score. Not even a bite.
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