With picky eaters, parents often decide early on that they just aren't up for the battle. You manage to get them to school on time, with name labels in all their clothing, shoes, and school supplies, and honestly that just seems like it should qualify us for Parent of the Year sometimes. But family dinner is one routine we often hear we "should" do that we really can do. It helps expose children to a wide range of foods, develops family relationships, and helps develop good eating habits.
Here are a few tips on how to make that family dinner dream come true.
1. Compromise on time
We all want our children (and us!) to get enough sleep, but that's no reason to move dinner to 5:30. If two parents are working, they're hard pressed to get a proper meal prepared, served, and done by 5:30. Evening routines are important for some children, but have a look at yours and see what can be changed so that your dinner isn't ruled by the scheduling needs of a 5-year-old. Nightly bath? Not necessary for children. Cut it to a few times a week with sponge baths in between, and have regular baths occur earlier.
2. Involve kids in the menu and learn to cook veg
Serving plain steamed broccoli or canned peas is not the only way to expose kids to vegetables. By learning to cook a few vegetable-based mains, you'll expand everyone's horizons and develop a taste for healthful foods. Children often refuse food just because they want to be independent, but they respond to being involved in creating a meal. Plus, they like food with funny names. How about green pancakes for dinner? Cut steamed broccoli into small bits, mix with herbs, cheese, egg, lemon zest, and enough flour to get the mixture to stick together. Fry in butter. Everyone wins.
3. Don't offer too many choices
Remember that you are the parent. If you regularly offer five choices that all fall into the "kids' menu" category, you'll set up a habit that will be hard to break. Offer no more than two choices and figure out how to make your own versions of their favorites.
4. Pick your battles
Incorporate your child's needs into how you cook a proper dinner. If your child likes chicken, but hates it "with spots", ie herbs, roast pieces very simply and create a separate sauce. That way, you and your partner can enjoy your beloved Dijon mustard-tarragon chicken, while your child gets a spot-free meal.
If you think about what your child eats in terms of a weekly intake, rather than day to day, the task of developing broad tastes and a healthful diet will seem more manageable. Some days it will be hard to get them to take a bite, but the next day it might be easy, so don't be too hard on yourself if Monday ends up being cheese sandwich night. With a little give-and-take, you can make a habit of family dinner. And between that and those cute name labels, you really will deserve Parent of the Year status.
- Do you have any tips that you would like to share?
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