Too often, meals with kids can be a stressful experience, with the willingness of kids to eat a range of different foods not meeting the expectations of parents. And with this mismatch between expectation and reality often comes parental pressure for kids to eat foods that they declare are disgusting/gross/revolting (yep, I've been there too!). And, if we're honest, how often does this approach work anyway? Kids can be pretty stubborn when it comes to food and is the fight to eat just one more mouthful of [insert their most hated vegetable here] really worth it?
So, what if we did it all differently? What if, instead of pressuring our kids to eat a particular food, we just set a variety of food out on the table and let them pick and choose what they want to eat? What if, instead of insisting they try something new, we just exposed them to a variety of food and role-modelled eating new and different foods ourselves? What if we all just RELAXED?
I've been trying this more relaxed approach with my own tribe for a while now, and I can tell you mealtimes are way less stressful now. And research shows that the more relaxed a child is, the more likely they'll be to try something new. In fact, my youngest insisted I buy broccoli while we were grocery shopping today because she has now decided she likes it- not because I pressured her into eating some, but because it is often one of a variety of foods offered at dinnertime, she saw me eating it and she wanted to have some too. So my best advice to parents facing the daily struggle around mealtimes is just relax.
One way to introduce this more relaxed approach to family meals is what i call interactive family meals, where everyone makes their own version of the same basic dish. It's a fun way to prepare and eat together as a family and kids that love to help in the kitchen especially love it. But it's not just fun for the kids- it's also a great option for a casual get-together with friends.
I've put together a list of family-friendly interactive meals for you to try- put out a variety of ingredients and let the kids get creative and chose their own ingredients (without any pressure to choose what you want them to choose). By making it a fun and relaxed experience and they might just surprise you and try something new!
Grab some taco shells or burritos and let them fill them up themselves from some of these suggested fillings:
Friday night is pizza night at our place and I usually make the bases myself. Roll out individual sized ones for the kids, or you can pita bread too, put on some pizza sauce and get creative with these suggested toppings:
Semi dried tomatoes
Roasted sweet potato
Bake some washed and unpeeled potatoes in foil in the oven until soft, then fill with any of the following:
Chopped chives/spring onion
Whisk up some eggs, and let the kids choose what they want to put in before you cook it up. Suggestions for fillings include:
Tomatoes (fresh or semi dried)
Rice paper rolls
Soak some rice paper rolls in some water and let the kids do the rolling! Provide a dipping sauce as well (eg. sweet chilli sauce, satay sauce). Some suggestions to include are:
Place a tortilla on one plate and let the kids chose what ingredients to add, then place a second tortilla on the top and place in a sandwich press until cooked through. Yummy fillings include:
Mashed kidney beans