What do you feed all the kids while they are at Grandma Camp? Kid friendly meals, of course! PLEASE learn from my experience! I’m begging you! Don’t do this:
Imagine you prepare a fancy meal, that took hours and hours of planning, shopping and testing. You want it to be Pinterest perfect so it will “WOW” your guests. The day arrives and you serve this meal with all the fancy fixins. Your guests are seated, and. . .
Everyone just digs in!
There is no moment of admiring the presentation of the food or savoring the well-balanced flavors. Nope! Just scarfing down or worse yet. . .the one who turns up their nose and asks if you have any mac-n-cheese!!!
That was what happened at the first Camp NanaPapa (our Grandma Camp). I went out of my way to research THE best food to cook for a crowd. (Because, let’s face it. . .I cook for an army when all the Littles are here!) So, I fussed over making fancy meals so our camp would be perfect. But. . .what really did I expect was going to happen? It’s kids and food!
To help you so you don’t make the same mistakes I did that first time, let’s talk about making some kid friendly meals for your Grandma Camp. Well. . .it could be for camp or just any time you have all the grandkids over for a meal.
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How Do I Plan Kid Friendly Meals for Grandma Camp?
Keep Things Simple
The first thing to understand when cooking for a crowd is to keep things simple! Kids don’t require fancy foods. As a matter of fact, they most often prefer a simpler menu.
Balanced Food Groups
Try to balance your food groups. It can be tricky to get all the food groups into each meal, but if you put a bit of thought into it, you can find ways to put, at least, a little bit of each food group in a meal that kids will eat.
When planning kid friendly meals, my go-to are all-in-one meals. I love to find recipes that combine most of the food groups into one, easy to prepare, dish. One such meal is Hawaiian Haystacks. This little beauty combines grains, meat, vegetables, fruit and dairy all in one!! It also helps with picky eaters because you can pick and choose what you put on your haystack.
Let the Kids Help
A great way to make sure you are planning kid friendly meals is to let the kids help plan! When in doubt, the kids will definitely tell you what they do and don’t like.
Enlist Parental Help
It will go a long way for you to ask the parents what their kids are used to and will eat. While we are on the subject, it will also help the budget if you ask the parents to donate some food or even help do some pre-prep some of the meals. Why not? After all, you are feeding THEIR children.
Homemade or Store-bought
My advice for deciding between making kid friendly meals from scratch or from more ready-made ingredients comes down to time and money. If you need to save money, go with cooking more from scratch. If you’re short on time, ready-made meals or ingredients will be a life saver!
How Do I Make Kid Friendly Meals on a Budget?
Make a Plan
When I say, make a plan, I mean plan time to research and find deals or make time to do more homemade cooking. So, sit down a month or two ahead of time and plan out the meals and the ingredients you need. This way, you can watch for those things to be on special at the grocery store.
Shop Early & Shop Sales
You can buy non-perishables and things you can freeze when you find good deals at the grocery store. The perishables will have to wait until closer to camp time. But especially watch for deals around holiday times. (If you are in the United States and you are holding your Grandma Camp during the summer, watch for all the grocery deals around Memorial Day and July 4th.)
There are a few things that I do to find the good pricing:
- Free Newspapers & Mail Flyers – I get a lot of freebie newspapers and inserts in the mail. When I’m not looking, I just toss these, but around camp time, you can bet I scour them. I just take a few minutes to open up and circle the deals on food I’m buying. It only takes a few minutes but can yield some big savings!
- Ibotta – If you haven’t heard of this app, well. . .you should! It’s a way to get a little cash back on things you buy at popular stores – like Walmart, Walgreens, Target, Smith’s, etc. For the record, it’s not just groceries. You can get cash back at places like Best Buy, Joann’s, and yes. . .even Amazon! It’s free to join and super easy to use! And don’t worry, it’s totally legit. It’s not scammy or anything like that. I’ve been using it now for about 6 months, and I’ve gotten back about $150 through cash back and little incentives that they give you. Hey, that’s better than a poke in the eye (as my Daddy used to say)! That’s enough money to pay for the food for Grandma Camp! It’s like someone handing you actual cash when you walk out of the store. I don’t know about you, but that’s never happened to me before. If you want to check it out, go here to Ibotta and see what you think.
- Coupons – Of course, you can always look for and use coupons. They are everywhere! I don’t think I need to tell you how to use these. Just remember that it’s not a deal if it’s not the brand you buy or if the store brand is just as good but cheaper.
The beauty of making a meal plan ahead of time is so you can create meals that have similar ingredients. For instance, I like to do the Hawaiian Haystacks (from above) on the same day that I do Omelets in a bag. They use many of the same ingredients and I can buy and prepare in bulk – see, saves time and money!
So, right after you plan out the meals, get your shopping list created. That way, you’ll be ready each time you find a deal or scan the newspaper.
It kind of goes without saying that when you plan kid friendly meals, make sure you are using fruits and vegetables that the kids actually like. However, try to combine what the kids like with what is in season. Fruits and vegetables are sometimes a LOT more expensive if it’s not the right time of year for that particular produce. Luckily, most fruits and vegetables are the most abundant in the good weather months which is when most people plan their Grandma Camps.
Avoid Specialty Ingredients
Earlier, I mentioned that you should keep things simple. I can’t emphasize that enough when it comes to the ingredients that you use. Nothing can shoot that grocery bill up more than specialty ingredients. Try to stick to simple and easy to use items to make the meals.
How Do I Make Kid Friendly Meals for Picky Eaters?
Aha! So you have picky eaters too?? We have an abundance of those at our house! If I thought my own kids were picky, these grandkids win the prize for turning their noses up! So, over the past 13 years, I’ve learned a thing or two about feeding these Littles who seem to hate everything except. . .SUGAR!
Let Them Get Hungry
This is something that I think parents must be afraid to do – at least my kids seem to be afraid of it. Kids won’t die if they get a little bit hungry. In other words, DON’T LET THEM GRAZE! If they are picky at mealtime, it might be because they’re thinking about the more yummy snacks they get just before or just after their meal regardless of whether they eat actual food.
However, if you create just a bit of scarcity, they will see mealtime as an opportunity not a “have to.” At our house, Papa and I don’t allow the kids to snack a lot between meals – especially breakfast and lunch. It worked for my kids and it works for my grandkids. . .um, when their parents are not around. 😉
Kids tummies are not that big so they eat just a little at mealtime but they seem to be ready to eat again just after you finish cleaning up the meal. Let’s talk about this for a minute.
First off, if you keep the kids busy with activities, they are less likely to whine for snacks. A lot of snacking comes from boredom.
Second, if you do have a snack, make it something healthy not sugary. They are more likely to eat more of the sugar-filled snacks and ruin the upcoming meal. However, a healthy snack can satisfy the hunger without eating a ton of it and likely not ruin the meal.
And, lastly: water, water, water! Only allow them to drink water between meals. Again, think about the sugar thing.
Plan Pick and Choose Meals
I talked earlier about balancing meals and planning meals that have similar ingredients. The example I used was the Hawaiian Haystacks. So, let’s keep with that. With the Hawaiian Haystacks, there are so many choices. They may not like all the choices, but the kids are sure to find SOMETHING they like. It gives them a sense of freedom to choose and takes some of the pressure off you to make sure they eat at all.
Create a Rainbow of Colors & Get Creative
There are so many colors you can use on the table. Your kid friendly meals will delight even the pickiest of eaters when it looks really appetizing. Purple grapes. Yellow bananas. Orange. . .well, oranges. Red strawberries. Green kiwi. Dark brown raisins.
This goes for the veges too! Orange carrots. Yellow peppers. Red tomatoes. Green broccoli. Black olives. We have a Pinterest board called Feeding Grandkids where we curate great ideas of how to get creative with food for the Littles.
Even these little Cookie Bites are more healthy than most snacks as they are made with a bit of honey. But the little mini M&Ms give them superb color (and the kids don’t know it’s healthy)! 😉
Serve up less food than you think they will eat. This is a great strategy as the kids aren’t so overwhelmed and they may even ask for seconds if they like it. It really beats fighting with them, and having them ask how many more bites they HAVE to take before they can get down from the table.
Let Them Help
Allowing the kids to take some ownership in making the food will often (not always) give them a greater excitement about eating the food they helped make. If you can, make helping in the kitchen fun!
At Camp NanaPapa, we have a schedule for the kids to be kitchen helpers – some cook and set the table, others are on clean up duty. They all get at least one turn to do all the jobs or we would have mutiny! They get sooooo excited to help in the kitchen!! What’s the secret to these happy helpers?? They get to wear the “Kitchen Helper” badge!!! Oooo, aaaah! (I know, I know, but it works!)
What About Kids with Allergies?
I felt like I could address this, because we deal with this in our family. One of my grandsons has 32 food allergies!!! Yes, it’s almost a shorter list of what he CAN have. So, I have become quite adept at learning how to work around this. Here are my suggestions:
Knowledge is King
Make sure you know exactly what the allergies are and how the child reacts when exposed. This can help determine exactly how careful you need to be. No one likes an allergic reaction, but a small itchy spot on the arm is a far cry from not being able to breathe, right? In my case, I’m allergic to bananas (it’s a cryin’ shame!). But I can still eat food that has been prepared right next to a banana. The reality is that if I actually eat a small bit of banana, I won’t even react. However, if I ate an entire banana, I would throw up for about 24 hours. Yuk!! So, know what you’re dealing with. Talk to the parents even if you think you know.
Learn to read ingredient labels on EVERYTHING! Also, learn which ingredients may have hidden stuff that you should know about. One example of this is when I was cooking for a camp of teenage girls. One of the girls had an allergy to sulphites. It’s a good thing I checked with the mom while I was preparing, because I found out that the frozen hashbrowns I wanted to use had lemon juice as a preservative. What’s wrong with lemon juice?? Well. . .you guessed it! It has sulphites in it! Who knew??
Homemade is Safer
While it’s not full-proof, making things from scratch can eliminate some of the worries about what’s hidden inside the pre-made food from the store. You still have to check labels, but there are a lot of things that you DON’T have to worry about – preservatives, which spices were used, natural flavorings (for those of you familiar with gluten free, you may understand this), etc.
Have the Parents Provide Food
This may be the easiest way to handle feeding a grandchild with allergies. It is in our case for sure! While I can handle some stuff, I can’t plan and prepare two different meals every time we eat. So, plan your menu early and give it to the parent of the child with the allergies. Let them look it over and they can advise or provide food alternatives for their child.
So, are you ready to plan some kid friendly meals for Grandma Camp? Let’s go! Remember to keep things simple. That is RULE #1! You will find that keeping things simple and easy will take a lot of the stress and headache out of planning food for a large group and creating those kid friendly meals.
Cookies & Milk for Everyone!