Help me come up with four meals for difficult circumstances
July 13, 2017 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for four kid-friendly, picky-eater friendly, allergy-friendly meals that also require super-human standards for preparation. Instant Pot available!

I want to come up with four fail-proof, easy supper meals that fit my family's unique circumstances AND provide enough for lunch. I have an Instant Pot arriving today, but I haven't even tried water in it yet.

I am hoping for things that make 6-9 servings, so that I can set us up for lunch.

Things my kids like:

- butter chicken
- Pad Thai
- Shepherd's Pie or Pate Chinois (sometimes)
- mac and cheese
- tacos, sometimes
- potatoes, potato skins
- fake perogy casserole (which is feeling too hard, given all the steps)
- mashed potatoes
- bacon
- one likes chicken strips, sometimes, and the other hates chicken
- no cabbage, kale or anything from those famiies, although broccoli is okay
- they hate mushrooms, shrimp, tomatoes and sometimes chicken and sometimes meatballs and meatloaf
- one hates pizza and tomato sauce
- nothing that needs more than a plastic knife or fork to chop or cut
- no beans, corn, quinoa, legumes, oats <-- really important
- no gluten or oats - gf tamari is okay <-- really important
- no artificial colours or sweeteners and we try not to load up on sugar
- requires minimal preparation or effort
- makes enough for more than one meal
- avoids use of oven, if possible, but could be managed
- not knives or sharp objects <-- really important
- does not involve pots or pans or frying pan <-- really important
- if possible, does not involve opening a can <-- really important
- does not require me to have a ton of storage space in fridge or freezer (I have only a fridge freezer)

Bonus points if I could one day get my kids to gain the skills to help with this, with support.

Available: microwave, toaster, dishwasher, Instant Pot, oven/broiler, cookie sheets, plates

Then I need to fine tune to know what I have to keep on hand at all times.

posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If throwing some money at this is an option, you can buy most veggies precut at fancier grocery stores. Look over by where they keep the little clamshells of fresh herbs.

Take those precut veggies and whatever protein you like (or not), toss them with some salt, pepper, olive oil, and whatever flavoring you want to add (I drizzle a little honey and sriracha, but you could do garlic or herbs or whatever), and roast it all on a cookie sheet in your oven at probably around 400 degrees (less for more fragile veggies, more for tougher ones) until they're soft with yummy carmelized bits on the edges.

Make some rice in your instant pot and serve the veggies/protein over the rice. I usually also throw together a quick sauce (more honey and sriracha, in my case), but it's not necessary.

If you want to make it extra delicious (or if you didn't cook a protein and still want protein in your meal), cook some eggs in whatever manner is easiest for you to get eggs with a runny yolk (not sure if you can fry; you could soft boil them in the instant pot) and put that on top of the whole mess. So good!

The whole thing is pretty versatile in that you can use whatever seasonings/veggies/proteins you like. For leftovers, store all of the components separately and recombine ideally right before reheating, but you could just make up individual servings in the morning if you have to. I'd still pack the sauce separately if you use one. Good luck!
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:26 PM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can your family eat gluten-free (all-buckwheat) soba noodles? Soba noodles in peanut sauce are great for hard-to-feed groups, since you can make a big batch, put it in bowls, and let each family member stir in whichever protein and vegetables they like. Good stuff to add: chicken, avocado, shredded carrots (you could get those bags of pre-shredded ones), broccoli, edamame and mushrooms if there are some members of your family who can have those things, those weird but tasty blocks of pre-baked tofu you can get in the refrigerated produce section of your favorite yuppie grocery. Lazy peanut sauce: just whisk tamari, nut butter, vinegar, and sesame oil. Good hot or cold.

If you can spring for gluten-free tortillas, then wraps with avocado or cream cheese as a base and whatever proteins and vegetables people want to add are another easy and flexible option. I don't know why, but man, if you roll the wraps, cut them into little sushi-sized slices, and stick toothpicks in them, kids are 99% more likely to eat them than they would be otherwise.
posted by xylothek at 12:30 PM on July 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh, I just saw that you'd like to limit using your oven. Sorry. I'm not sure if my suggestion can avoid it, but if the veggies are on the smaller side, you can probably be in and out of the oven in under 30 minutes. And you can do that part whenever is convenient and then reheat in the microwave. If your oven is big enough, you could even do a couple of different versions at the sane time and get it all done in one fell swoop.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:31 PM on July 13, 2017

If mixed food is ok (pad thai makes me hope it is) your family may like a big pot of rice with yummy stuff - inspired by things like fried rice or risotto but a lot more pragmatic.

Ingredients: Rice, any veg, bacon bits, any other protein (if you like, not essential)

Frozen vegetables may be cheaper than the fresh chopped kind. Even better if you can find some mixed frozen veg that contains things everybody will eat.

Normally, I'd sautee the bacon with some onion and the rice and then add the other bits and the liquid. But at the most basic level you could just dump it all in the instant pot and add some vegetable stock (cubes, granulated,powder) and water or just water and seasoning and cook according to the instructions for cooking rice. If using stock I'd go easy on any other seasoning. You can always add more when it's all cooked.

Not having an instant pot I imagine that frozen veg would increase cooking time due to temperature difference. But at the same time frozen veg normally take less long to cook. As the only risk here is cooking too long/mushyfying the dish I'd err on the side of less cooking time, not more.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:56 PM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Quorn might be what you want, if you can get it. It's based on mycoprotein, which comes from mushrooms, but it looks and tastes nothing like mushrooms. I think most Quorn is bound together with egg (white, I think), but there is a vegan version. You'll want to check individual products, especially if soy oil is a problem, but I think it will work for you.

It's a bit expensive, but it tastes really good, and you can prepare a "roast" or two ahead of time, then slice when needed. For kids, a small serving of Quorn with a side vegetable -- how are they with squash? Spinach? Sweet potatoes? -- and some starchy/cracker/pasta thing could be a good meal.

So... how about you buy a Quorn roast, cut it up into slices or cubes, and make a pasta casserole out of it? Larger pieces will make the food more attractive, but the "hot dish" format of a casserole will assure you of large quantities of food.

I'd suggest cooking your pasta separately (however you're doing your macaroni), laying them in a buttered pan (this has to taste good), laying the quorn chunks on there, then adding some nicely cut up broccoli. Pour on some fairly concentrated vegetable broth _or_ creamy soup-from-a-box. You can cook all components separately in the microwave if you want, and the Quorn roast is in a plastic casing -- I'm not sure, but you could probably get it open with a fork or with your teeth. For fancy, you might sprinkle some paprika on top.

Serve with a side of carrots and celery (celery will mandate flossing later, but it freshens breath too).

* Can you guys eat nuts, like cashews? If so, that might be a good protein to explore; just throwing a few in will make food go a lot farther, because they're so filling.

One other thought: I'd love to see what the host of The Splendid Table could do with your constraints. I hope you e-mail them!
posted by amtho at 1:22 PM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are the "foods your kids like" list dishes which you already frequently cook? I make shepherd pie in the crockpot, and instantpot would be equivalent; also very possible to cook it without chopping. I can't find the recipe I'm looking for - this recipe uses chunks of beef but serves as a proof of principle for not browning the meat first (you totally don't have to). When I use ground beef, I just pull it into little 1" meatball blobs (helps make sure it all gets seasoned and cooked) and mix with frozen onions, carrots, and peas - and whatever frozen veg your family will eat, frozen is a great thing that doesn't involve knives. Refer to your favorite recipe for seasonings, just make sure there's not much liquid. Then make up instant potato flakes to spread on top. (note, if there's too much liquid, my fix is to scoop some out with a measuring cup and use it to make the potatoes)
posted by aimedwander at 1:31 PM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Instant Pot makes stewed meat dishes really easy.

Pork shoulder + a jar of salsa verde + 45 minutes in the Instant Pot = pork chili verde (approximately)
Pork shoulder + BBQ sauce or vinegar/tamari/ketchup + 45 minutes IP = pulled pork
Chicken thighs (one hates chicken but is maybe ok with butter chicken?) + enchilada sauce + 15 minutes Instant Pot = pulled chicken

...and so forth. Serve on salad greens with cheese and raw vegetables for minimal prep.

Instant Pot won't give you the texture and depth of flavor of something you've simmered for hours, but it can be a reasonable approximation. Also, you'll need to add ~15 minutes cool-off/venting time to Instant Pot cook times.
posted by adiabatic at 1:33 PM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your IP will sauté for you, so no need for a frying pan on the stovetop. Join the FB instant pot community- over 30K members and lots and lots of recipe files to search through. It's a treasure trove of IP information!

Mac and cheese is super easy in the instant pot but may not work for you as GF pasta tends to get gummy in the IP. If you end up working in a chest freezer, you can even freeze some cheese in portioned bags so it's always on hand. Evaporated milk is shelf stable and essential to rockin' Mac.

Tacos will be super easy for you- put a frozen block of ground beef in the IP (I don't remember how long, but have don't it before with good results, check google). Once the beef is done, drain some of the water from the pot, add in your taco seasoning and use a spatula to break the beef apart on the sauté setting.

Since they do Pad Thai, might they do a mild beef curry? In the IP sauté onions and curry paste for a few minutes, add in beef strips (cut at the butcher shop?) and baby carrots and a can of coconut milk. Cook on high pressure for 5 minutes or until beef is almost done. Quick Release. Add some frozen pepper strips and frozen broccoli and sauté/simmer for a few more minutes until veg is hot and beef is cooked through. Serve with rice. Make extra rice and freeze in portion bags.

Mashed potatoes are super easy in the IP- which leads me to...

Night 1 Make a pot roast in the IP, make a huuuuge batch of mashed potatoes and S team some carrots in the IP
Night 2 Cook a couple pounds of ground beef. Make half into taco meat.

Meal 1 is fork tender pot roast with mashed and carrots
Meal 2 is beef tacos (in mini taco boat shells- so much fun) IP sauté some frozen tricolor peppers and onions if you've got the energy.
Meal 3 is pot roast sandwiches with au jus on GF rolls and a frozen veg (leftover tri color peppers and onions might be nice on the sandwiches)
Meal 4 is Shepard's Pie (I'd use carrots) which was assembled on night 2

Hard boiled eggs are super easy in the IP- shells pop right off so if they are willing to try egg salad sandwiches they can be made up quickly. HB eggs keep a long time too, so you'd always have a little protein around.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:38 PM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

We make mac & cheese in the Instant Pot and it works really well. We start with this recipe but leave out the mustard & hot sauce and just add a bunch of whatever cheese happens to be in the fridge. You could replace the evaporated milk (comes in a can) with regular milk or half and half.
posted by belladonna at 1:39 PM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have made this instant pot Saag paneer recipe a number of times. My kids really like it. I usually double it and use 2 packages of frozen spinach + 2 packages kale (defrosted somewhat in the microwave). I saw kale was out; she says you can use all spinach but you might want to thicken it a bit with some potato starch at the end. Can you get pre-chopped onions? it's better if you can use an immersion blender (or ordinary blender if you have one) at the end to puree it. I use cubed tofu instead of paneer (marinated using this serious eats marinade , but I saw ovens are out).

I've made her Dal Makhani recipe and it's also very good (but legumes are out, so that's no good). But I wouldn't hesitate to try others of her recipes.

Not sure what the issue with cans is (I use a lot of canned tomatoes) but if it's problems with sharp edges, we have this oxo safety opener and it works very well and doesn't leave any sharp edges.
posted by leahwrenn at 2:44 PM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just jumping in to say no squash, no spinach.

That safety opener is cool.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:52 PM on July 13, 2017

This is my go-to Instant pot mac and cheese, but doing it with GF pasta may take a little workshopping, since GF pasta wants different timing. However, maybe not so hard since I always end up doing a little bit of sautéing at the end to get the right sauce consistency anyway with traditional pasta.

Offering different mix-in vegetables and meats with mac and cheese is really fun at our house.

We love Baked Potato Night at our house and you could do Loaded Mashed Potato Night with the potatoes cooked in the IP for ease of preparation.

I understand from experience that "you'll eat it and like it" is an inefficient way to get people to eat food, and kids are people, so.
posted by padraigin at 9:05 PM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Speaking of Mac and Cheese, my new go-to Mac and cheese is this recipe by Kenji Lopez-Alt.

You cover your package (12 -16 oz) of elbow macaroni just barely with water, boil it, stirring constantly until basically the water has disappeared and you're just left with a starchy goo. At this point the pasta should be not quite done, still a little too crunchy. Then you put in your can of evaporated milk (which I always open with a churchkey, is that too pointy for your constraints? Or the safety can opener?) and bring it back to a boil. Then put in as much pre-shredded cheese as you feel like. (He wants you to put in a pound of cheese for a pound of pasta. I do not choose to use so much cheese, at $8/lb for pre-shredded cheese.) Stir until it's all brought together.

I don't know if GF pasta has the same starch-making characteristics as semolina pasta. But my guess would be yes. And the nice thing about this is it basically takes only as long as it takes to cook the pasta, and you don't even have to deal with draining the pasta. And it's only one pot. And I don't see why you couldn't boil the pasta just as easily in the instant pot (I'd start with saute/more) as on the stove.

(And I successfully made this recipe with, I think, 3 packages of noodles, for a potluck at my kid's school. (I cooked it and then put it in a slow-cooker to keep warm.)
posted by leahwrenn at 3:41 PM on July 16, 2017

Risotto? Here's an guide on how to make it in a pressure cooker. I used it to make this Bacon and Pea risotto, and it was excellent. Bacon in risotto greatly reduces the need for cheese. I realise that you can't do peas, but I imagine frozen carrots would be a perfectly ok substitute. Or serve microwave steamed frozen veg as a side.

Dehydrated vegetables are worth looking into, given your lack of knives and freezer space. Dehydrated onions would greatly increase the amount of recipes you can make, and would work well in the IP, I think. Celery and carrots would also be good to add to shepherds pie.

Chowder? This recipe could work for you, if you precooked the potato (whole) in the microwave, let it cool, peeled and chopped (with plastic knife, now it's cooked), and then tossed it in at the end. Bacon is an amazingly good addition to chowder, you could just cook it in the microwave, and toss it in at the end.

You can cook an entire chicken in the instant pot, and then dissect it without knives and make gravy from the juices (I realise you said it was sometimes ok, freeze the leftovers when it isn't). Then serve with quinoa (super easy in the Instant Pot) and what ever veges they will eat steamed in the microwave. Or make into a salad or bowl of some sort ("bowl" is just an unmixed salad, as far as I can tell).

If beef is OK, and you can get it precut, Beef and Broccoli seems to be a pretty popular IP recipe.
posted by kjs4 at 9:26 PM on July 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

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