Brainstorming meals that my girls will enjoy has been quite the journey over the past several years. Both of gone through very picky eater stages (we’re currently in the picky eater trenches with Evie (2) now and I forgot how terrible it can be), but just like everything else in parenthood–we just keep trucking along.
As a provider of food I have a few personal rules that I try to stick with when it comes to dinner time. We didn’t start eating dinner as a family until Elle was one, but ever since then family dinnertime has been a given at our house. It’s not always easy…and sometimes it’s downright painful (see note above about Evie and the terrible twos), but having dinner together is something that is important to me and I hope to make it work for as long as possible. We decided that if we start now while the kids are young, dinner will continue to get easier and easier as our lives get more and more complicated (insert maniacal laugh here as I know I can be idealistic and delusional).
Dinner has been an evolution over the past few years as we’ve learned what works and doesn’t work. Below are a few things that we try to be really consistent about at dinner time and I think it is paying off.
Eight Dinner Tips for Eating with Young Kids
Always try to have at least two items on the plate that the kids will like. Sometimes this means my little one will only eat rice and green peas and ignore the main dish, but at least I know there is (usually) something that someone will eat on each plate.
Kids eat the same thing that mom and dad eat. This has meant a few things over the years–often it means that we are not quite as adventurous as we once were with our cooking. We still eat a lot of variety, but our dishes tend to fall in the “comfort” category. Other times it means that I use a “fork in the road” method (Thanks Katie Workman for the term!)–I’ll plate up the girls an earlier version of dinner but perhaps without the spice or the sauce that the adults eat. There are very very few times when I’ll make something completely separate for the girls (these Dragon Noodles are one exception).
I don’t cook anything that I personally won’t choose to eat. This means that our kids rarely have fish sticks, chicken nuggets, corn dogs or other kid staples. I do made breaded chicken tenders, and I’m not necessarily opposed to the others, but I’m not going to make something that I’m not thrilled about eating. The exception is when Scott cooks spam and beans (yes really) which the girls devour. I silently eat my cereal on these nights.
At least one bite of everything on the plate must be taken. The exception is that I cannot force Evie to try everything at this point unless I pry her little mouth open (trust me, I’ve been tempted on occasion!), but Elle (4.5) must try everything. I don’t always expect her to like what I ask her to try, but it’s the principle. Plus I hate when she says “I don’t like this” before she’s even tried it. Many times this is followed up with “Oh I do like this!” and I’ll mockingly tell her “I told you so!”
Yes you must eat your vegetables. While I don’t make the girls eat anything (other than that one bite), I do stress the importance of vegetables and always serve them with dinner. Corn on the cob is a favorite in the summer and green peas are always a hit. Last night Elle devoured all of her broccoli before she even touched her ravioli. I don’t hide vegetables in food–they are front and center on the plate. Ok, I might add some vegetables to dishes, but never as a way to sneak them into my kids’ diet.
Limit the negative talk about not liking a food. While this mostly applies to not letting the girls go on and on about how much they hate a certain food, especially when we are dining at someone else’s house, I’m also careful about how I talk about food. I try not to make a big deal about a failed dinner that could have turned out better–the kids pick up on this and it sticks like glue.
Eat dinner as a family as often as possible and together at the table. We are very blessed that both Scott and I get home at a decent enough time that we can all eat dinner together. Though, I know that if we are pushing the time too late, we will likely enter meltdown city and dinnertime happiness is hard to salvage. If we are have a late start, I try to prepare something more quickly or simply. On the weekends, Elle is sometimes allowed to watch a movie while eating dinner, but during the week everyone sits up to the table for family meal. If your family has a tough time eating together on the weeknights due to activities or work, try to find other times that you can eat together–maybe special dinners on the weekends or breakfasts instead.
Keep trying. Some days I want to throw up my hands and just serve noodles with sauce every night or pull out a box of Mac and Cheese. Some nights dinner is a total failure and the girls rebel and don’t want to eat anything. Not every night is a winner. Not every night is easy. We focus on what is working and try to correct or amend what obviously isn’t working. But we keep on trying.
What tips and tricks and rules do you have for dinner time?
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Every weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking. “Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.” Hope you’ll join the fun!