Let the Kids Plan the Week's Dinners

by Maria on December 10, 2013

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Last week I let my kids plan the dinners. My only requests were that the meals be somewhat healthy and nutritionally balanced–meaning they should not consist of dessert foods and that they should include at least a vegetable, a grain, and a protein.

To add to the fun, I let them each come up with one dessert. My 5-year old was beyond excited about the prospect of choosing any dessert he wanted. (We typically alternate between fruit and ice cream nights.) He decided on chocolate cake. My 7-year old knew exactly what he wanted: ice cream sundaes.

Here is the menu they came up with:

Monday – Chicken Tenders (Bell & Evans*), Couscous, Salad. Dessert: Chocolate cake!

Tuesday – Homemade Veggie & Pepperoni Pizzas, Carrots, Cucumbers. Dessert: Fresh fruit.

Wednesday – Pasta and Peas, Broccoli. Dessert: Leftover chocolate cake.

Thursday – Chicken Noodle Soup & Baguette. Dessert: Mini peppermint ice cream sundaes.

Friday – Pan-Fried Fish, Rice, Green Beans. Dessert: Fresh fruit.

*These are the healthiest, best-tasting frozen chicken tenders that we have found and are great to have on hand for when you don’t have time to make your own.

How did the week go?

It was wonderful. No complaints or whining at dinner and instead pure excitement upon the announcement that dinner was ready.

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Would I do this every week? Of course not, kids have to be exposed to a variety of foods and encouraged to try new ones. But it was a reminder to me to make sure that their favorites make a regular appearance on the menu. And even more importantly, to see how enjoyable dinner can be when there is no complaining from the kids AND no nagging from the parents. (I admit, I have a hard time keeping quiet when my kids complain about what is for dinner.)

Another realization was that maybe I should take the longer, slower route to getting my kids to eat more variety. Rather than presenting them with a completely new dish all the time (as I am known to do, since I am always trying out new recipes), tweaking their favorites is a softer way to ease into variety. For example, adding some lentils or baby kale to their favorite chicken noodle soup or serving them a cashew crusted fish instead of a panko coated one.

All kids are different when it comes to food. How they respond to food and their willingness to try new foods is very individual. Their behavior surrounding food is also very much affected by the foods we present them with and our own behavior surrounding food and mealtimes. I am a firm believer that much like getting your child to sleep through the night, there is no one right way to approach food and mealtimes, rather you have to find what works for you and your child.    

My own goal is to be patient and persistent. I strive to be like my mom, who (aside from cooking amazing dinners every night) always encouraged my sisters and I try to all our foods, but never forced us to eat anything we didn’t want and never nagged us. I of course don’t remember my behavior or dinner manners at the age of five, but I remember being very excited when she cooked up my favorites, such as pasta bolgonese, korv stroganoff, and yes, like my Elliott, pan-fried fish. I also remember eating other meals such as fisherman’s stew (a meat and potato stew), and feeling more neutral about the food—it was ok, but not something I longed for.

I guess this is something else I am working to teach my kids—that even though not every dinner will be your favorite, unless you really don't like it, you still need to eat it, or at least give it your best try. I always try to have at least one thing on the table that I know my kids like, even if it’s just bread. That way, while I don’t make alternative meals, I know they will always have something in their belly to go with the two bites of tofu stir-fry that they tried. 


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