Say Goodbye to Drive-Thru Dinners

Surviving supper as a Single Working Mom

In an earlier blog post I wrote about Single Mom Success  after a local newspaper story on single Moms and their life challenges. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges logistically, as a single Mom, working Mom or for that matter – working parent of either gender – is managing meals.

I work from home now but I am still occasionally out & about right at the juncture between the end of the workday and suppertime, and I see you; waiting patiently in line at the drive-thru for another quick pick-up of supper for you and your kids. You’re probably getting a salad and chicken nuggets if your kids are little, or a meal in a box or cartooned-bag. If you have older kids, it may be burger-time.

We’ve all been there – and it seems that it’s getting worse!  I worked hard to keep my kids from being over-scheduled, but that chore seems to be logarithmically worse today (my kids are out of college now).

After school activities, sports, HOMEWORK, art shows, music lessons, tutoring, and did I mention SPORTS?

I feel tired just remembering that pace, and the exhaustion I felt having to go into work 2 hours early once or twice a week so I could make it to the after-school scrimmage, or pick up someone from school and get them to their part-time job. Run-run-run, DINNER, laundry, homework, exercise (did someone say exercise?!), back-packs, settling the bath time/bedtime sibling wars, and keeping the house in some sort of order that prevents the health department (or your mother) from showing up and pronouncing it an unfit habitation.

Whew – thank HEAVENS for the drive thru, right?! drivethru1

Thank heavens indeed, until you read a magazine article at work, or hear a news clip about how AWFUL fast food is for your waistline, the kids’ brains and everyone’s future health: pink slime, e coli, trans fats.  You know you should keep those trips in line to a minimum, but when you look at the magazines for those “quick supper recipes”, all you see is a laundry list of things to chop, mince, grill and stir and you’re thinking, “yeah, THAT’s gonna happen in between the work I brought home and promised my boss would be done by tomorrow morning, the soccer game, homework and laundry. LAUNDRY!? Crap, I have to go to the grocery store anyway – we’re all out of underwear and I’m out of laundry detergent!

Then you read about (or remember from your own childhood) that having some sort of regular dinner where you sit down around the table , unplug from the TV and other electronics and actually TALK to each other is so important, …how can you even begin to make this happen?

Single moms are short on a lot of things, and TIME is at the top of that list.

My kids liked to call me “Mrs. Stouffer” when they were in middle/high school. I think it was a sarcastic term of endearment. I was working full-time, and going to college (undergraduate initially – then graduate) and looking back – I’m not sure how we did it. I made it to just about every game, tournament, debate, concert and other school activity and somehow at the end of the night, didn’t have what it took to set up the crockpot, BUT we didn’t live in the drive through line, either. This series (Say Goodbye to Drive Thru Dinners) is dedicated to single Moms (or overworked moms regardless of marital status) who may be looking for that middle ground.

The intent of this series is not to help you eat gluten-free, organic, or local. This is the no-man’s land between June Cleaver who cooked all day in an apron and high heels, and the drive-thru-diva’s who go so often that the clown head at the ordering post asks, “your usual tonight, ma’am?”

You can “health up” or “health down” most of these options – that’s your choice. If you’re reading this from a particular food bias, please remember that when you’re exhausted, and have kids to feed and a limited budget…you do the best that you can, and most of the time, it’s not going to appear in a glossy magazine spread.

– – – – – – –

The combinations that follow tend to align with the brands that I grew up with and are available in W. Pennsylvania / E. Ohio.  My use of particular brands, unless otherwise noted, is sheer convenience (notable exception: Heinz Ketchup – is there really any other ketchup?!) so feel free to grab the can or frozen bag that is in your grocery store of choice.

Basic Meal #1

We’ve passed the Autumnal Equinox here in the northern hemisphere so my thoughts at supper time turn to Chili! There are MANY canned chili varieties on the market today which make this meal preparation simple, quick and filling for even the most persnickety kid.


  • 1-can of chili
  • 1-can of mixed vegetables
  • 1 small box of pasta (I like to use shells or rotini for this, but it doesn’t matter)

On a chilly Autumn evening, a can of chili, heated through and “garnished” with 1/3 to 1/2 can of mixed vegetables and served over pasta can fill the hungriest tummies. I add the partial can of vegetables because I know my kids (and grandkids) would wrinkle their noses if I served a side of cooked vegetables, but I also know they need them. Disguised in the chili, they eat ’em up, and while some kids will pick around them, they’ll STILL end up eating some additional veggies.

For example, the Stagg brand of canned chili comes in a number of appealing varieties that include Chicken, Turkey, Steakhouse, and even Garden Vegetable. Stagg Chili

Depending on the size of your family, this meal may leave leftovers that you can take to work the next day, or that can be on the menu for Leftover Night (whenever you choose to do that – major money-saver if you have enough leftover during the week).

The pasta choice can be any pasta that your kids will eat. Ziti, Rotini, Medium Shells, or even spaghetti. For my kids, I used different pasta for this meal than I did for spaghetti and meatballs because they would complain “we’ve had spaghetti twice this week”.


Moms who are successful at suppertime often have to be sneaky, which brings me to the canned vegetable routine.

I find it humorous that my grown son now eats Vegetable Steamers for lunch, because when he was a kid, his nose wrinkled first when vegetables were served. My grandson never met a vegetable he liked, so sneaky is the order of the day around here! Mixed Veggies (canned)

I suggest initially using 1/3 of a can to see if they’ll react. If not, you can up this amount to 1/2 can and see if that works. The texture should remain stable and the taste of the chili should camouflage the abundance of vegetables sufficiently enough to get some of them down the hatch.

Prep time: Boil water and get your pasta cooking. In the meantime, open the chili and pour into microwave safe bowl or stove-top pan. Stir the mixed vegetables into the chili so the vegetables can take on the taste of the chili as it is being warmed.

Tell the kids to clear off and set the table and in less than 30 minutes from arriving in the kitchen, you can be sitting down to a hearty, EASY dinner.

Meal #1 Variations

For Moms who are on a budget, these ingredients are all available in discount or store-brands at a reduced cost. I’ve been known to paw through the cart of marked down canned foods at the grocery store, even today – you can often find some great deals there.

Your local Dollar Store is also a goldmine of lower-priced canned goods, and if you can get a Sunday paper once a week (or check your mail for the coupon flyers), there are often coupons for canned goods that can net you some additional money off of your purchases.

For moms who want to “lean organic“, I suggest looking at Amy’s brands where you can find a lot of specialty nutrition that is easy to prepare.

To “health” up this meal, use whole wheat pasta, an organic brand (like Amy’s), and even farm-fresh vegetables (will require some chopping/shredding).


I grew up in a home where there was always a dessert served at the end of the meal. If you like to serve a little something sweet at the end of the meal, it’s hard to beat a gelatin snack (Jell-O) to cleanse the palate after chili. These are often featured in coupons, too.

It’s OK not to love cooking and to dread supper prep. As a single, working Mom you have a LOT to juggle. I hope this helps you view suppertime with a little less trepidation and a lot less guilt.

Coming next: There *IS* soup for you!

2 thoughts on “Say Goodbye to Drive-Thru Dinners

  1. Patti B says:

    My defense against fast food has always been to cook a lot over the weekend and freeze quantities. This works for nearly everything: burgers (ziploc them individually), cooked ground beef for tacos, nachos, sloppy joes, chicken for stir fry or as a side with anything, pasta (cook two pounds of ziti, freeze one pound) and pasta sauce, just to name a few. By cooking multiple meal staples at the same time, not only do you save money and time later in the week in meal prep, but also in cleanup. The week begins with meals prepared over the weekend and progresses from the freezer. This might work especially well for someone who knows that there will be more month left at the end of the money. It is also practical for singles because it may be difficult to motivate yourself to cook for one each night, but once a week, it’s pretty practical and much healthier!

  2. SmarttChick says:

    I agree with you,… if this approach is possible. As a single parent, who at times has worked 1 FT job, and 1 or 2 part time jobs…this wasn’t even an option, most of the time.

    There are a lot of people working multiple jobs just to keep the roof over their family’s head, so while I would rank your option as preferable and perhaps even ideal, for people who have slim-to-no free time, the canned-food option is still better than fast-food-frequent-flying 🙂

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