It's dinner time. Everyone is seated at the table. The entrée this evening is grilled chicken, wild rice and delicious, fresh mixed veggies. You've been slaving in the kitchen for who knows how long to make sure dinner is delicious, healthy and pleasing to the eye. And your kids want nothing to do with it. Depending on your parenting style, there are a few ways the rest of the scenario plays out: bargaining, force-feeding, table dismissal or downright pleading with your kids so they'll get a little fat on their bones. Sound familiar?
If you're tired of the evening (or morning or afternoon) battle of the wills over what's on the table, perhaps it's time for a different approach. Anyone who has ever observed a child knows that they cooperate much better when they have a say in the matter. This is especially true with food. Children, like all humans, need to feel valued and most are eager to share their opinions when someone asks. So, rather than bearing the burden yourself, get some help from the kids and they'll be much more likely to devour what you prepare.
Make a menu
Making a menu is a really fun way for your kids to be involved in meal planning. This may be something that you do already, but involving your kids can turn a mundane task into a fun learning opportunity. Little kids, especially can use this as a fun craft time and create their own restaurant-style menu so they can visualize their choices and feel more involved. Sit down at the table together and brainstorm. What are your favorite meals? What are theirs? Maybe your kids love to eat squash but you rarely buy it or maybe they'd be more willing to eat corn if it was served with mashed potatoes instead of the rice that usually goes with it.
This will be a great time to research new recipes together and try out something new. Listening to each other is key so you'll know exactly what healthy foods they enjoy. This doesn't mean that you have to only eat what they want, but why not let them plan an entire meal once a week? If it's not as healthy as you want it to be, so what, that's what the rest of the week is for. A little give goes a long way.
This requires some patience. Depending on the size of your offspring, their level of involvement can range from pouring some stuff into a bowl, to full preparation of a side dish. Not only does this give you some fun bonding time together, but they'll also be learning. This is a good time to practice reading and fractions. Not to mention the fact that cooking is an extremely valuable skill that all people should master before leaving the nest. Most kids take pride in things they've made and are eager to share it with others; food is no exception. Just prepare yourself before you start - this will probably not go as quickly or as cleanly as you would like. But it will all be worth it when they dig into their special dish and you don't have to nag about eating "just one more bite."
Grow your own
Not only do kids like to cook their own food, but they like to grow their own food. Nurturing a seed into a delicious, healthy vegetable provides a sense of pride and accomplishment. They'll be excited to see the whole cycle of seed to food. Not only that, but fresh produce usually tastes so much better than food that has been trucked in from hundreds of miles away. That boost in flavor alone might just whet your children's' appetite for more greens. If growing outside isn't possible, research indoor growing at the library together. Or take them grocery shopping and give them their own list of items to hunt for. This is a great time to teach them about smart shopping and staying within a budget. Learning opportunities abound when kids are included in household decisions.
Whether it's a short trip to the grocery store or a fun, menu-making craft at the table, getting kids involved in family meals is a snap. Not only will it be a learning opportunity for them but it can be a great stress-reducer for you when they eagerly eat the meal that they helped to prepare. They might not devour peas and onions just yet, but with time, I'm sure you'll notice a change in attitude at the family table.