Meal planning. It is the dreaded job of many a parent. First, plan and shop for your meals, second, make a meal, third listen to and try to ignore the complaints, and fourth lose your mind over the ungrateful children in your house who clearly underappreciate your efforts.
Oh, the irony. I was once the pickiest kid ever. My parents’ methods of making me sit and stare at my cold congealed meal for hours, reminding me of the starving children in Africa and bribing me with desserts rarely worked. I’m still a bit of a picky eater, but I’ve improved over the years. Since becoming a Mom I have learned a few tricks that have worked for our family that make dinnertime significantly less painful:
- “When was the last time you pooped?” Yep, totally appropriate dinner conversation if a kid says he’s not hungry. Why? Because constipation has been a problem with certain kids in this house. It took a while for me to make the connection that my kid is not going to be hungry if he’s backed up. Now we stay on top of it with magnesium supplements, plenty of water and talking about poop at the dinner table.
- Keep a list of tried and true meals. I make at least one or two things a week from this list. Over the years as my kids’ tastes have expanded, this list has grown so we don’t get tired of any one thing. The upside of this list is that I can make these things in my sleep. It also means I get a night off from, “So, where did you get THIS recipe from, Mom?”
- Everyone is expected to take a thank-you bite of everything every time. Did you see me spend the last hour (or more) in the kitchen instead of playing with you? Great. Please acknowledge my hard work with your willingness to put one bite in your mouth. Not only do I want my kids to practice respectful behavior, I also know that tastes change frequently. Someone who gagged on something last month will tell me that, “I will want to have this recipe when I am an adult because it is the best thing ever.”
- I try one or two meals a week that I find on Pinterest. Because I do this weekly, my family is familiar with the drill: Try it. If you like it I will keep it on my board, if we don’t I delete it. I do not take it personally if everyone doesn’t love it because sometimes I think it was yucky too. If it is a winner then I have one more meal to add to my tried and true list.
- There is no Clean Plate Club at the Jensen home. Listen to your tummy. Eat when you are hungry; stop eating when you are full. If you don’t finish what is on your plate Dad or the older brothers will inhale it before you’ve left your seat.
- I keep a variety of fruits and veggies on hand at all times. The bigger the variety the more likely it is that someone will eat something. Most nights someone will not like what I made. They will not starve or be undernourished if they choose more veggies and fruit and less of the main meal.
- Some kids have bigger appetites than others and it can change with activity level and growth spurts. My two high school kids are just finishing up swim season. They eat like it’s their job. My younger two not so much. I respect them when they say they aren’t that hungry and also when it is clear that they really are. We talk a lot about listening to our bodies in other areas, eating is no exception.
- There are no “good” or “bad” foods. Dessert isn’t a reward for eating something you don’t care for. If you eat nothing but apples (something that is “good” for you) you won’t be much healthier than if you ate nothing but ice cream. Both are awesome choices but only when you eat them with plenty of other kinds of food.
I want to be really clear here, we are by no means the model family of perfect eating. You will find chicken nuggets in the freezer next to the frozen spinach and a few boxes of sugary cereals next to the granola in the pantry. My goal is to teach my kids how to be open to new foods, enjoy healthy options and be okay if they occasionally choose something that is not so healthy. Meals can be fraught with guilt and other issues and I want none of that in my home.
I still get the occasional looks of disgust here and there at dinner, but it is much less frequent. And, I am always working toward the Holy Grail of meal preparation: nothing but the sound of forks scraping plates because everyone is too busy enjoying their meal to even talk or argue with one another.
It is rare.
But it does happen.