Are you embarrassed to admit how often you fall back on frozen pizza, chicken nuggets or frozen fish sticks to pass as dinner for your family? (I know I fall in this category!) It’s a parenting fact that dinner with kids is a struggle.
“Almost every parent has heard the advice not to become a short-order cook for their children,” says Brianne Kellogg, MS RDN. “However, most of us are tempted to find ways for our children to eat nutritious foods, even if it means making concessions at mealtime.”
Whether you have a picky eater or make different meals for each person, don’t give up hope! The good news is it’s never too late to start trying to make mealtime a success. We consulted dietitians and nutrition experts for ways to get healthy, family-friendly meals onto your dinner table that everybody will enjoy.
Get meal planning
The number one thing to do is make a food schedule and stick to it! Children thrive on schedules and routine, and mealtime is no different, says Brianne Kellogg, nutrition coordinator at Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry. By creating regularly scheduled meals and snacks, you are providing your children with a routine they need.Involve your child in meal planning and shopping because kids love the opportunity to help their parents plan family meals. It helps the child feel they have some control over what they eat. When meal planning for the week, the parent can give the child five choices for possible meals and the child can then choose two to three meals from that list.
Recipe suggestion: Veggie Fried Rice, courtesy of Weelicious
This recipe is a full meal with whole grains, vegetables and protein from eggs. It’s even tastier if you use cold, leftover takeout rice because it makes a nice, crunchy rice.
- 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. oil, peanut or vegetable
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 Tbsp. scallions, diced
- 1 tsp. ginger, minced
- 2 Tbsp. red bell pepper, chopped ½ cup peas
- 1 cup cooked brown rice½ tsp. sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce
Heat 2 tsp. of oil in a wok or non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the eggs and coat the entire pan with it. Scramble for 1-2 minutes or until cooked through. Place the eggs on a plate. Cut into bite size pieces. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in the same skillet over medium high heat and saute the scallions, ginger and red bell pepper for 2 minutes. Add the peas and rice and continue to stir and cook 1 minute. Add the eggs, sesame oil, soy sauce and cook another minute or until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Serve.
Pick family favorite meals
Rather than asking kids what they want to eat, parents need to be the gatekeeper of food, says Lara Field, MS RDN and owner of FEED Nutrition Consulting. By reducing their options, they learn to choose what is offered. Sit down as a family and make a list of 10 meal options that everyone enjoys. This makes menu planning easier and also gets the necessary buy-in from the kids.
Additionally, I think it is very important to have two to three meal options that can be made quickly when you are in a rush.
Some ideas are 100 percent whole grain pasta tossed with protein-packed Tuscan beans, omelets with frozen veggies such as spinach or bell peppers or a quick stir fry with brown rice, edamame and veggies.
Recipe suggestion: Hidden Veggie Meatballs
These meatballs are great because they add some hidden vitamin-filled veggies and can be prepped ahead of time for a busy weeknight meal.
- 1 lb. ground beef (90% lean), turkey or chicken (breast meat)
- 1 cup baby spinach, finely chopped, or zucchini, shredded
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated¼ cup dry whole wheat bread crumbs 1 large egg
- 1 clove garlic, minced½ tsp. salt
- Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place wire rack on top of prepared baking sheet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Combine ground meat of your choice and remaining ingredients. Shape mixture into 2-inch rounds. Place on prepared rack. Bake at 425˚for 12 to 15 minutes or until meatballs register 160˚F on instant read thermometer. Serve with whole wheat pasta or spiralized veggies.
Separate components to give choices
Cooking for your family can feel like trying to figure out how to be a magician in the kitchen. Something that I have practiced with my family is making one meal, but making the components separate, says Katisha Nielsen, RD, LDN, MPH, owner of Nutrition for All Inc.
If I make pasta, I’ll do the pasta and the sauce separate and veggie separate and I let the kids compile their own pasta dish with the ingredients I have on hand. This also works great with tacos, where we let each member be creative and choose from what you have on the table. My rule is that everybody has to at least try one thing that they choose from the table. When meal planning, an easy way to start is to make sure you have a protein base, fruit and vegetable and a carbohydrate for each dinner you can make. Your list can be based on what you have in the kitchen or what you need to get from the store and go from there. Pinterest has tons of food ideas even for those who are not used to cooking or don’t prefer to cook.
Recipe suggestion: Pan-Seared Chicken
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 4 chicken breasts, sliced in half and pounded thin
- Salt and pepper
- 2 shallots or ½ cup red onion, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, minced½ cup chicken broth
Melt 1 Tbsp. butter and heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and brown on both sides in the skillet. Cover, and continue cooking 10 minutes, or until chicken juices run clear. Set aside and keep warm. Mix shallots and garlic into skillet over medium heat and cook until tender. Stir in broth, and continue cooking 5 minutes, or until reduced and slightly thickened. Mix in the remaining butter until melted. Serve the sauce over the chicken along with a side vegetable.
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.