Two Picky Eaters, One Dinner Strategy

Editor’s Note: With the arrival of Clara, I’m taking a short maternity blogging break. I’m excited to welcome several guest writers, beginning today with my friend Annie of PhD in Parenting. Welcome, Annie!

My kids both have a list of foods they’ll eat and foods they won’t eat. Pretty normal, right? The problem, however, is that I can count the foods they’ll both eat on one hand.

She won’t eat meat (except sometimes burgers or bacon), hates most sauces, isn’t a big fan of starches, and doesn’t like anything mashed or pureed. He won’t eat any legume or fruit or vegetable (except potatoes) unless it has been pureed or cooked into something else that masks its texture. What is left that they both like? Not much more than eggs, pancakes with maple syrup, cheese, bread and chocolate.

Cooking a meal that both kids like can be extremely challenging. While the advice to just keep trying and just get them to taste one bite has its place, that approach can also wear on you after a while. It isn’t a lot of fun hearing “I don’t like it” day-in and day-out.

So at our house, I like to balance putting new foods on the table with some strategies for pleasing everyone and providing balanced nutrition without cooking separate meals for each family member. Here’s how I do it.

1. Multiple Side-Dishes

I’ll often plan a main course and two or three side-dishes, so that each child will have something that they like and the adults get a balanced mix of a few different things. One of my favourite meals is homemade beef and spinach sliders (the beef masks the spinach) served with a salad and sweet potato wedges.

My daughter will (usually) have a slider and some salad. My son will have a slider and sweet potato wedges. My partner and I have sliders, salad and sweet potato wedges.

2. Staged Preparation

My partner and I love a nice curry or stir fry, but the kids don’t. Instead of making a separate meal for them, I take out ingredients they like at different stages of preparation, so that they have a meal they like out of the same ingredients I’m using for our meal.

If I’m making beef and broccoli, I’ll put some raw broccoli aside for my daughter, who likes her vegetables crunchy. I’ll stir fry the beef first, then put it aside and take some out for my son, before tossing the broccoli into the wok. If I’m making pasta with roasted vegetables and tomato sauce, I’ll put some vegetables aside before roasting for my daughter and I’ll puree some of the roasted vegetables into the sauce to hide the texture from my son.

3. Quick Stand-Ins

I always have a variety of quick stand-ins in my fridge and cupboard to help balance out a meal. Things like apple sauce, hard boiled eggs, chick peas, or nuts are great quick stand-ins to fill a nutritional gap.

I always have a variety of different chopped up vegetables in my fridge and can toss a few in a bowl and put that on the table too.  Some healthy bread is always great too as a filler if one of my picky eaters isn’t likely to fill upon what is being served.

4. Make Your Own

Having a make-your-own sandwich lunch or a make-your-own pizza dinner is a great way to get the kids involved in food preparation and also ensure that everyone finds something that they like. I like to mix it up and include a mix of more traditional safe ingredients and some fun or new ones that they may consider trying.

An alternative is a mini-buffet with lots of different options for finger foods or smaller portions — this is especially great on “clean out the fridge” weekends, when we’re trying to get rid of small amounts of many different foods.

5. Catch Up at Dessert

No one can resist a great dessert. If your kids aren’t getting balanced nutrition at dinner time, you can catch up by enticing their sweet tooth. Black bean brownies, apple berry crisp, or zucchini cupcakes are delicious ways to sneak in some extra protein, fruits or vegetables.

Use One Strategy or Use Several

Using these different strategies have become second nature for me. Sometimes (like when I make breakfast for dinner), I don’t need any of them at all, but other times, I may rely on several of them to get a meal off without a hitch.

Today at lunch, we had grilled cheese (a bit hit with everyone), along with Casear salad, chopped up vegetables, and a side of apple sauce for my son.

Ultimately, I aim for a balance of easy, limited complaining, and nutritious. Some days their meal looks like a meal and other days it is just a bunch of random but somewhat balanced foods on a plate.

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