Menu planning is easier said than done and even with the best intentions, all can go wrong. This is especially true when you have a family of starving yet picky eaters. A gourmet meal of shrimp fritters over a bed of arugula sounds fantastic, for my husband and I, but my kids wouldn’t go near it. Not even if I begged or bribed them with some sugar loaded dessert. We can’t let our kids dictate what we eat for dinner. If it was up to them we’d be eating processed mystery nuggets every night.
Therefore, without making completely separate menu plans, how can an exhausted parent win the never ending dinner time war?
Listed here are a few of the strategies that I try to use with my own family. Sometimes it works like a charm, sometimes I need to do a little more coaxing, and other times I throw my hands up and give them cereal or oatmeal. The one thing that’s always constant in our house is that we keep trying and that is all any good parent can do.
Start creating healthier versions of your favorite meals. It’s important to keep family favorites on the menu plan. Kids like routines and often times those meals give them a sense of comfort and security. Learn to give these meals a healthier twist. For example, if your family loves tacos, substitute ground beef with ground turkey breast. You can even make the change without telling them at first! If you think your family will reject ground turkey, then start slow and use ½ beef and ½ turkey. Another tip in making a meal healthier is good old fashion portion control. By reducing the portion size or eating an accurate portion you are, in effect, reducing calories. Instead of just pouring the salad dressing on before serving, use a tablespoon and add the correct serving size to individual salads. You will be happy to know that salad tastes just as good with less dressing. It’s actually pretty easy to create healthier versions of your favorite meals without your family even knowing the difference. As long as you don’t announce it, they may never find out!
Introduce new foods and meals gradually. Once you have healthier versions of your family’s meals mastered, start introducing new foods gradually. Lasting change takes time and most kids, as well as most grownups, run in the other direction when it comes to doing something different. Try adding one new meal a week to your menu plan. This will help you learn to cook new recipes as well as introduce your family to different meals. But again, work in phases. If your family never eats spinach then don’t make sautéed garlic spinach, plop it on their plate, and expect them to welcome it as they would a piece of their favorite pizza. Maybe start by sneaking it into a meal that is familiar to them like a salad, sandwich or a wrap. They may not even know the difference.
Get the family involved in preparing the menu plan and cooking. Every week I ask my husband and girls what they would like to eat for the next week. This gives them a say in what the family will eat. The more ownership they can have in the process, the more likely it will be that they eat the meals you create. If a meal your child suggested really hits the mark, just think how happy it could make them! If your child is old enough, you might even be able to suggest that they take over preparing and cooking that meal. Now that’s thinking like a skinny mom!
Pick your battles. Dinner time is a war of attrition. It’s not about winning every battle. I have one rule in my house and that is my kids have to actually try the meal before I will negotiate anything else. They must take at least one bite and swallow it. Touching it with the tip of their tongue then gagging like I just gave them frog lips does not count as a taste. This isn’t too much to ask so if they try it and still don’t like it, then I will give them something else. Because I’ve stuck to my guns, my kids have become more willing to try new foods. They trust me more now knowing that I’m not going to give them something they’ll hate. It has taken time to get to this point but it worked. I try to tell them I would never make them eat anything that was not good for them or did not taste fabulous. Sometimes they believe me and other times not so much. I really don’t like making different meals and I try to avoid it as much as possible. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get your kids to eat. Although, I am happy to say that these times are becoming less frequent the more they try different foods. Imagine that!
The best piece of advice I can give you in planning a healthy weekly menu is: don’t give up! It does get frustrating at times when you work so hard on a great meal only to have the kids refuse it or to just have your everyday busy life get in the way of a perfectly good dinner. Don’t give up because those healthy habits you worked so hard to instill in them will soon become natural. They will thank you for it later.
What challenges have you faced in the dinner time war? What are your tips in creating a healthy menu plan that the whole family can agree on?