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Cheap and Quick for kids!

I volunteer with an after school program for kids whose fathers are incarcerated. One of the main thrusts of the program is to provide a sense of family and basic life skills. We all cook together (volunteers, kids, and moms) and then sit down to a meal. Its a whole lot of fun, but with problems like lack of funding and not knowing how many people are going to show up. Sometimes we get 2 people and sometimes its 15-20.

I need your help! the stuff i'm making has been taking too long and is too "gourmet" for the head of the program (i'm told). She wants me to pare it down even more...

I'm looking for any and all recipe suggestions to fit within our very tiny budget (no fixed limit, just as cheap as you can get). It would be nice if these recipes had elements that kids could participate in (often they help making salad, breaking string beans, etc), and also be meals that dont take too long so that we can get a head count before we start cooking and still eat at a reasonable hour.

Thanks!

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    1. When my sister and I were little, my mom used to make us what I called "nunu and hot dogs". It's egg noodles tossed in butter, parsley and parm with browned, sliced hot dogs thrown in. We used to help her by slicing the hot dogs, tearing the parsley etc. My sister and I still make it to this day :)

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      1. re: krisrishere

        Campbells has some decent recipes on their labels for easy-chicken-bake type of stuff.
        I bet their website is a good source for such quick and easy.

        Also, try Bisquik. They have pizza bake and quick pot pie type stuff on the box, so again, i bet the web site would be a good resource.

      2. Pizza! Kids and moms all love pizza. You can prepare the dough beforehand or purchase small rounds of dough. (if your program is long enough, you can even make the dough together). The kids can prepare the toppings- grating the cheese, slicing peppers, mushrooms, and onions, chopping olives, setting out pepperoni. It's cost effective, fun to make, and everyone can customize their own. If you have time, you can even make a basic sauce with the families.

        Another idea along the same line- a taco/burrito bar. Everyone pitches in to prepare the toppings and then everyone makes their own dinner. Lots of veggies and lean meat or chicken makes it a healthy meal.

        Make sure you or another leader divides the taks- you don't want the kids fighting. Provide plastic knives for the littlest kids, or let them take part in something that doesn't require a knife. Teach the kids to work together. Mom can slice the avocado, while the her kiddies mash and add lime.

        Send home a printout of the basic recipe. If you budget allows, provide each mom with a looseleaf binder and an inexpensive 3hole puncher. Each mom can create her own cookbook and have memories of the program.

        BTW- really great program that you're a part of!!

        1. Quiche using crumb crust is quick. Crushing crackers, stale bread, and unsweetened dry cereal is something the kids could have fun doing, with the contents in ziploc baggies. Little kids could stomp on the bags, then the older ones use cans or bottles as rolling pins to even out the crumb size. Mix with melted butter and press into pie tins. The filling WILL soak through the crumbs but everything solidifies in baking, so it slices neatly.

          1. I sense that you're trying to introduce some new tastes to your participants as well as basic cooking techniques. Wishing you success. Not knowing what they find familiar and comforting, nor what their ages are, here are a few suggestions.

            Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup (kids can help assemble sandwiches and spread butter), served with baby carrots and Ranch dressing to dip (maybe individual small containers that the kids could fill?)

            Breakfast for dinner. Pancakes and sausage links or dippy eggs and toast and bacon, served with fruit (kids can wash grapes, cut bananas with plastic spoons, even cut up peeled and seeded cantaloupe wedges into bite-size pieces).

            Eggs are cheap protein, so if quiche is too gourmet, how about egg salad? It only takes a few minutes to bring the eggs to boil, let them sit for 10-12 minutes. If you plan it right and have older eggs, they'll be easy to peel and the kids can help. Using a pastry cutter, they can take turns chopping the eggs. Make sandwiches or serve in lettuce cups with cherry tomatoes (kids can wash and pick off stems) on the side.

            For mains that need mostly adult attention, the kids could be making rice krispie treats or chocolate chip cookies. Make the CC dough ahead of time if possible, and the kids just scoop with a spoon or a cookie portioner if you have one. They take 9-11 minutes to bake. Rice krispie treats can be free-form blobs or packed into a pan.

            Also consider the potato. Soup now while it's still chilly, baked with cheddar-broccoli sauce (not too heavy on the cheese, use canned evap milk to stretch it), potato salad in the summer.