How I stopped short-order cooking for my kids

26 Apr

My daughters, Anna and Elise, are 4 1/2 years old, and have been pretty picky eaters since they gained enough independence to make decisions about what foods they like and don’t like — especially for dinner.

Maybe more than 2 years ago, for lunches, I introduced the “snack plate”, which was an ice cube tray that I filled with little bites and nibbles of a variety of foods: lunch meat, cheese, crackers or chips, raisins, nuts, cut-up fruits and vegetables — and very occasionally, a sweet treat.

But around that same time, for dinners, I found myself making a meal for the girls, and then a meal for Christopher and me. Sometimes, I would get brave and hopeful, and I would make something especially for them with hidden vegetables or beans — butternut squash mac ‘n’ cheese, spaghetti pie with garbanzo noodles, zucchini-turkey meatballs with marinara — and other times, I relied on the staples: chicken nuggets, (boxed) mac ‘n’ cheese, pizza, waffles or pancakes, and sandwiches.

Rejection after rejection left me feeling dejected and under-appreciated — by two little 3-year-olds! I was cooking food especially for them — delicious AND nutritious food — and they hated it…and thus, they hated me. (#overdramatic)

Fast forward to about 3 weeks ago: I joined a Facebook group run by two mamas of little ones, who also happen to be registered dietitians and have a lot of knowledge and first-hand experience with feeding children. The conversation among the women in that community was immediately inspiring.

Simultaneously, Christopher and I have been starting to prepare the girls for the next developmental stage: kindergarten. Anna and Elise are beyond ready, academically, and for the most part, socially and emotionally, but they still have some growing up to do…and one of those benchmarks is being able to eat a well-balanced meal, focus on eating and not talking or playing (because 20 minutes is all they will have for lunch in the cafeteria), and having good table manners.

So, a little more than 2 weeks ago, I decided the girls were going to eat the same dinner (or almost the same dinner) as Christopher and me. And it’s gone surprisingly well!
Here’s how I did it:

1. I involved the girls in the meal-planning process. I sat them in front of my Pinterest boards and my cookbooks, and I suggested recipes they might like, explaining the ingredients and flavors with familiar and positive words. I didn’t limit it to dinner, either; I let them select breakfast, lunch, and snack recipes, too, if things caught their interest.

2. I involved the girls in the cooking process, as much as possible, and when appropriate. They dumped ingredients into the mixing bowl when we made snack bars and muffins. They helped roll up lasagna noodles when we made spinach-ricotta lasagna rolls. They rolled meatballs when we made zucchini-turkey meatballs.

3. I purposely served our first family meal on a weekend night, when we all could eat together at the table. Christopher and I were both there to encourage the girls, as well as model good manners and good eating habits. We continue to eat together, at the table, whenever possible — most usually on the weekends.

20180418_170225

3a. I purposely deconstruct as much of the meal as possible. For example, we selected a spring vegetable and gnocchi skillet, and while Christopher and I had it all together in a bowl, the girls had their gnocchi, vegetables (corn, tomatoes, and zucchini), and kielbasa separate.

30623973_10105344284807468_3010133245355360256_n

4. I ask that they take at least one bite of anything new or different on their plate. Some parents don’t believe in making their children take a “no thank you” bite, and prefer to let their children make the decision about what and how much to eat. I disagree; I believe that even one small, apprehensive bite could lead to more and enthusiastic bites. Just the other night, Anna and Elise took nervous slurps of coconut carrot soup, only to finish their entire servings.

20180424_161153

5. I put at least one or two things on their plate that they will definitely eat. Most nights, the girls get some kind of fruit with dinner — applesauce, strawberries, or mandarin oranges. Sometimes, they get bread or crackers with cheese or hummus. For example, when we had that coconut-carrot soup, the girls had a piece of French bread with cream cheese, a hot dog, and a pickle with their small bowl of soup.

5a. I am not above hiding veggies in familiar snack foods. We’ve made roasted carrot-oat bars, and while the girls don’t like them plain — they prefer them with a simple cream cheese frosting — they still are eating a pretty nutritious snack. We’ve also made chocolate-avocado muffins, and the girls love them.

6. I incentivise the act of trying new foods. I did this shortly after preschool started this past fall, because the girls would come home and tell me what their snack was, but admit that they hadn’t taken even one bite of the fruit or vegetable, and I was tired of them a) not getting a well-balanced snack and b) wasting food. We used a sticker chart: The girls received a sticker every time they tried something new, and they could pick a small toy from the dollar store after they earned five stickers. It was very motivating for them, and since then, the girls have grown to love grapes, oranges, and raspberries, and they have tried salsa. More recently, the incentive is a lot simpler: I tell the girls to think of how proud Daddy and I will be if they try (and better yet, finish) these new and different meals. And it works! Last night, the girls literally shouted when Christopher walked in the door, “Daddy! We had carrot soup!”

My method might not work for you and your children, but it might give you some ideas. And my method is nothing new or unusual, but it is comprised of tried-and-true strategies. I encourage you, if you are struggling, to just try one or two of these tactics. Maybe start with a sticker chart, or start by having your kids eat one meal a week the same as you and your partner. Maybe start with lunch, rather than dinner. Maybe take it a step further and let your kids (this works especially well for older children) pick a new fruit or vegetable at the store, and then help you decide how to prepare it for a meal.

I don’t know why we waited so long, but I guess the silver lining is the girls must have been ready, because this transition has gone really smoothly. And my stress level has gone way down.

The only tricky part is finding meals and recipes that fit this new normal…

Advertisements

5 Responses to “How I stopped short-order cooking for my kids”

  1. katielookingforward April 26, 2018 at 7:15 pm #

    I love this! And….you just had babies, how did you get 4 year olds?! time flies!

    • kaylabee18 April 27, 2018 at 3:00 pm #

      Thanks, hon! And yes, the time has flown by, hasn’t it??

  2. Mindy Nienhouse April 28, 2018 at 12:59 pm #

    OMG THEY ARE SO GROWN UP!

  3. Mavis Roesch April 28, 2018 at 5:44 pm #

    I like your approach, Kayla, and also how intelligently you express yourself!

    • kaylabee18 April 29, 2018 at 9:22 am #

      Thank you, Mrs. Roesch! That means a lot coming from you. I learned from some of the best. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: