One of the biggest things that makes it hard to eat well consistently is dealing with picky kids.
It feels like there’s no point in meal prepping for yourself when you then have to cook even more food for your kids anyway (this may apply to your spouse too). You end up making separate meals for everyone, and it’s exhausting.
Here are a few ideas that may help:
1) Get the kids involved in meal planning.
This one is key. When you’re doing your meal planning for the week, ask your kids to help you pick ingredients and recipes they’d be willing to try. This might be more time consuming at the beginning, but if you stick with it, they may surprise you.
This doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Just picking one or two dishes or ingredients a week is a good start.
Kids can start with this as soon as they’re able to communicate. Even a two year old can point to her favorite fruits and veggies in a store circular, or packages of food from your kitchen.
2) Get them involved in meal preparation.
When my daughter was about 18 months old, we started to give her fruits and vegetables with a small amount of water and a rag while we were cooking meals.
This gave her something to do, as well as giving her some ownership in the meal.
As she’s gotten older, we’ve given her her own children’s choppers, knives, a peeler, and an apple cutter. These items have gone a long way to help her feel invested in our meals, and excited to eat them.
This can be a challenge when you’re in a rush, so choose times wisely, choose tasks strategically, and remember to be patient.
3) Think of your meals as components that can fit together in different combinations.
I know one pot meals seem easy to make, but they have the potential to make things even harder for you when you’re dealing with picky eaters. If your kids don’t like that one thing, it can make dinner time pretty unpleasant.
Instead, go back to the old school “square meal” approach where you have your protein, a starch and a veggie or two for each meal. Healthy fats weren’t a big focus when I was growing up, but that’s something you’ll want to add in too.
This way, you can prep all of your meals for the week with the four components, then mix and match for your other family members as needed. Better yet, if they’re old enough they can mix and match on their own.
My family had kidney bean curry, string beans, corn, and quinoa for dinner the other day. My five year old claimed she didn’t like kidney bean curry (even though she ate it up the last time we made it), so she didn’t eat that part of the meal.
We typically allow her to take whatever she likes from the meal we’re eating, as well as any leftovers from the fridge or pantry items if she wants them.
We won’t cook something new from scratch, but we do always make sure there’s at least one item she likes at all meals which saves everyone’s sanity.
That meal wasn’t as balanced as usual, but she made up for it at other meals so it all worked out.
4) Have at least one or two items you know they like and will always eat prepped and on hand.
As I mentioned above, this is a key part of our strategy.
Instead of making completely new dishes for them at every meal, keep something you know they like – and that you’re comfortable with – on hand at all times. Serve them the meal you made and if you need to pull something out of the fridge or freezer and reheat it, so be it.
5) Don’t worry too much.
Young kids still have a lot of inherent wisdom about what and how much they need to eat, and their stomachs are only the size of their little fists. Sometimes, we think they need more food than they really do and get so worried that they haven’t eaten enough.
Most of the time, they’re hard wired to eat when they’re hungry (even if that doesn’t match up with your planned meal times).
Make a variety of healthy foods available, at least one or two items that you know they like at each meal, and try not to worry about it beyond that. Easier said than done, I know!
Mealtime struggles are to be expected with kids that are learning their likes and dislikes and asserting their will. Just like everything else, it’s a journey, and we have to give our kids – and ourselves – a lot of grace along the way.
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