~ Miranda Hobbes, Sex and the City
As much as I'd like to pretend I'm the kind of mom that makes lunch from scratch every day, full of nutritional and organic ingredients, I would be lying if I said my freezer didn't contain a section dedicated to frozen dinners and snacks. Obviously, with a three year old in the house, we consistently have chicken tenders and pizzas on hand. But on the days when we don't have leftovers to eat for lunch, and the mere mention of a sandwich results in a meltdown (because of COURSE that means I'm a terrible mother and should be shot on sight), I tend to reach for a frozen dinner for us to share. If I add something healthy like carrot sticks and fruit to her plate, I can give myself the illusion that I'm not damaging her forever, and I get a break from eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches (not that there's anything wrong with that).
I certainly admit that while frozen dinners are not the peak of culinary genius, I have found a few that warrant freezer space on a regular basis. The criteria for making the short list is pretty basic - appeal to a 34 year old woman AND a three year old. Simple in theory, yet oddly elusive in reality. Now, in no certain order, I present the winners:
Stouffer's Philly-Style Steak & Cheese Toasted Sub
This thing is goooood. Criminally good. The crisping tray gives the buttery bread a crunch just like a toasted sub, and it is a large sandwich, perfect for sharing. I typically add a slice of provolone after it's done cooking, because more cheese makes everything better. The grilled peppers and onions actually do taste grilled, the steak doesn't have that weird chewy texture so often found in frozen dinners, and it's just a damn yummy sandwich. Enough said.
Lean Cuisine Sesame Chicken
This is one of the first table foods Merrill ever ate. I have been eating this for years, and one day she crawled to me with her mouth open like a baby bird as I sat shoveling it in as fast as I could, hoping to finish before she reached the potted plant just within her reach. On a whim, I spooned some into her mouth, and she kept coming back for more...and more. I'll often make one of these for her in the mornings she goes to school, chop the chicken and noodles into manageable pieces and put it in her thermos container for lunch. Her teacher commented one day on the fancy lunch I'd prepared, and I didn't confess. (Hey, I'll take it where I can get it.) The chicken is tender while still having some crispness to the batter, the vegetables give me the illusion it's healthier than it probably is, and the noodles draped in the sweet sauce are light yet filling. I usually have a salad with this, because Merrill inevitably eats 75% of it.
Lean Cuisine Enchiladas Suiza
When we make this, I usually eat the majority of the enchiladas while she commandeers the rice (this kid LOVES rice, and can put grown men to shame with how much she can consume in a sitting). She finds the enchilada sauce a touch spicy for her taste, but it's pleasant for me to find it's not bland like some others I've tried. She usually eats applesauce or yogurt with hers (it helps cut the spice), and we share chips and salsa.
These are not gourmet meals, but they are fast (a necessity when a toddler is in charge) and tasty (a necessity when a food-obsessed mom is in charge).