Divorced Dad Cooking: Categorize your way to quick and nutritious meals

“As a divorced dad you probably fall on the cooking spectrum somewhere between the mastery of Gordon Ramsey and the guy that the fire department knows by first name.”

Food. Apparently we need to give our kids some when they are with us. If your crew is like my crew, then they would be happy eating out every night. And if your wallet is like my wallet, then eating out every night, although easier, would make other purchases, like toilet paper and heat, prohibitive. 

So into the kitchen we must. As a divorced dad you probably fall on the cooking spectrum somewhere between the mastery of Gordon Ramsey and the guy that the fire department knows by first name. As a former 80s latchkey kid who was trained in the “you better get it ready before I get home from work” kitchen of my Polish mother, I do know a few things about cooking. One of my goals with Divorced Dad 101 is to provide meal ideas that will help divorced dads feed their kids at home.


One way that I approach thinking about meals is by categories. Listed below are some of the categories that I use when thinking about laying out the week of meals. I am a big believer in feeding our kids food that is as fresh as possible, so my food advice will focus on using as little processed food items as possible. On future posts I will dive deeper into actual food prep advice.

Category #1 – Pasta
So this needs to be listed first because if your kids are like most of the kids I have come across, then without starch they wouldn’t last long. But more than that pasta is relatively inexpensive and the combinations are limitless. Pasta meals are good for weekend lunches and for weekday dinners. If you do not have a lot of time, then pouring some cold pasta sauce from a jar (Newman’s Own is the one I typically buy) on top of hot pasta does the job. But I typically spice up the pre-made sauces with fresh veges and/or deli meats to add some extra nutrition and flavor.

Category #2 – Soups
I live in the Northeast. Cold falls, winters and springs make hot soup an ideal meal option for kids who hate to actually bundle up, and then wonder why they are cold. Again the options for soups are limitless. Ultimately they are nothing more than water mixed with the soulless husks of veges and meats that gave their nutritional goodness up for the benefit of your kids. The time involved in making soup is mostly in the prep work, so if you know how to cut, you can learn to make soup.

Category #3 – Meat (protein), vege, starch
Ultimately these are the three main types of food that you should be feeding your kids. Obviously there is a lot out there about the proper proportions, but in general I believe in moderation when it comes to meat and starch, and veges will never kill anyone…despite what your kids keep telling you at the dinner table. I do a lot of sautéing, and vary the sauces that go into the protein and the vegetables. Like soups, much of the time input when you sauté is the prep work, but the combinations are limitless.

Category #4 – “Tacos”
In truth this is really a subset of category #3, but the assembly required aspect of the meal engages kids, and it really is a very quick meal to put together. Tacos are probably the thing that my kids ask for the most when I ask them what they want for dinner. These can be done with meat (because of my son’s avian tendencies we typically use ground turkey meat), or vegetarian with beans. And I strongly urge you to get away from the “dinner kits” that are out there. They don’t taste as good as salsa (fresh made if you have the time, but again I tend to go with Newman’s Own salsa), and are mostly salt and flavorings.

Category #5 – Salads
I know. Kids. Salad. What am I thinking? The discussion of how to get your kids eating more than just Mac and Cheese is for another day. Salads are quick, and divorced dads often need quick. I usually put a protein like grilled chicken or shrimp on top of the salad to spice it up a bit. Other additions like cranberries, or nuts, can also add some textures to an otherwise boring salad. And did I also mention how quick a salad can be made? I will post ideas on salads in the coming days.

So that’s a start. I didn’t even get to desserts. But ultimately the key to feeding our kids when we are working and single is to combine speed with nutrition. Thinking in categories can help you plan out what to buy at the market, and also how to whip something up from the ingredients that you have in the house. More to come.

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