Dinner’s On: How to Cook Once and Feed All Eaters
Easy on the Spices
You can always add oregano later. Sometimes that last dash of pepper or that unfamiliar tang of thyme can end it for a picky eater. Keep the spices minimal. And really, what does it matter if it’s not America’s Top Chef? You’re not worried about the taste profile right now. You’re just in it for the family time and independence at the dinnertable. My husband knows to grab the smoked paprika or seasoned salt for us and leave the kids’ plates alone. We’ve also convinced them to try a wider variety of spices by simply showing them that it’s what we like. Suddenly, the fact that it’s what the adults are doing, increases the incentive.
Consider all the Food Groups
There’s a reason kid plates are divided like they are with one big space and two smaller ones. Always try to aim to fill half the plate with fruit and vegetables, Va with grains, and Va with protein. Obviously, this is a goal, not a law. Some days all we want is a big bowl of macaroni and cheese with nary a broccoli spear in sight. Overall, though, balance is nice and fruits like blueberries or applesauce are easy to add in a pinch. The best way I’ve gotten my son to try new fruits is to dice them until they bear no resemblance their original selves and throw them in some yogurt. When in doubt, supplement with squeeze pouches or smoothies. But don’t stress. We do what we can and move on.
When you’re whipping up that huge vat of spaghetti and Bolognese sauce, consider your people. Can they use utensils? Would finger foods be better? Whatever goal you are working towards, make that part of the meal. My son is better with a fork than a spoon, so I’ll cut the noodles up into “fork-able” bits. Then, I’ll leave the meat crumbles for him to pick up separately with his fingers. If the goal here is autonomy so that everyone can sit and eat together, then you have to construct the meal in a way that makes that possible. Same food, different format.
It takes a while for kids to acclimate to a new taste. They need to try, and maybe reject, it 15-20 times before it becomes part of the norm. So, make extra and then a little more. Leftovers are a whole new chance to mix it up. Put the meat sauce in a tortilla. Serve those noodles with a side of peanut sauce for dipping. You want to come at each food from every angle. Like playing old-school Galaga, you want all rockets firing. And the more you make, the less you will have to do later. That’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Whatever approach you decide to take, please know, I hear you. I know how hard dinner can be. It can get better though. One day, you might just find yourself sitting down, at the table, with your family, eating that one meal you made while it’s still hot. And you will give thanks.
Jamie Sumner s a writer and author of the website, The Mom Gene (mom-gene.com) and the mother to a son with cerebral palsy and twins.