Let The Kids Decide What's For Dinner

Kids love to give their opinion and to be the boss so let them, sometimes.  Dinner can be tricky with toddlers and siblings and distractions.  It’s hard to tear them away from a game or task to come to the table.  Admit it, if you were in the middle of writing an email or playing with Lego's and someone made you get up in the middle of it for dinner you may be have a tantrum too. We need to be gentle with kids, they live in a whole other world of make believe and play, they may be in the room but their minds can be elsewhere. A warning 10 minutes before dinner can make a huge difference in getting them to the table with sanity!  If that trick fails then for sure involve them in the dinner planning to start their engines. 
Kids want to be involved, feel independent and be a part of the group. Get them involved in dinner, planning so they know what to expect.

Start small by stocking your fridge with healthy brightly colored veggies, and proteins. Keep a well stocked pantry full of whole grains and rice and beans.
When it comes time to plan dinner have your kids help choose a veggie, a protein and a starch.  Let them know that plain pasta just will not give them the energy they need to play for hours. (remember eating a rainbow is the way to grow) Letting your child understand choices gives them confidence and good decision making skills. Set them up for success by starting with simple choices.

Pick Your Toppings Pasta Night

Once they decide on the 3 or 4 ingredients,  cook them up and, put them in separate dishes and let them “mix” their own bowl for dinner. Feel free to offer a sauce on the side like olive oil or Alfredo and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. We like to have a bunch of sauces and spices on the table so everyone can tailor the meal to their liking.  Get them used to seeing different foods arrive each night.  Give them some guidelines, for instance, only add ingredients one spoonful at a time, it is easier to add than take away.  and they have to try everything they have chosen to mix in. Give lots of praise even if it tastes bland and boring. Try to avoid saying something tastes bad in front of a child, being negative around food will quickly create a picky eater. This is about building self-esteem around eating not necessarily what they end up eating. The point here is you are putting them in the driver seat, put on your seat belt and get ready to take a ride.

Grown-ups can go heavy on the veggies to model meals for the kids.  Adding nuts is a great way to get protein too!

Choose wisely like trying whole-wheat pasta vs. white pasta, shredded zucchini vs. sausage, white beans and grilled chicken instead of ground beef. 
Use ingredients like bacon and some meat as seasonings or flavorings instead of using them as the star of a dish.  

For do-it-yourself pasta night here are a 2 ingredient suggestions, using the same pan, sauté one after another.  
To sauté, heat a large shallow pan on medium heat, add 1- 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add your first ingredient, continuing adding until everything is cooked.

Chicken-ish Pasta Dish 
Chicken apple sausage, cut in rounds and sautéed
Sautéed zucchini rounds
Cooked whole-wheat rigatoni or elbows
Shredded green apples, raw to add on top
Olive oil, salt and pepper

Gobble It Up Turkey Sauté
Ground turkey, sautéed
Broccoli florets, steamed
Shredded Cheddar cheese
Quinoa or Brown rice, cooked

Taco Night
The ever-popular taco night, another great way to get your kids experimenting! Put out bowls of ingredients and let the kids add what they like. Smearing re-fried beans in the bottom of the taco can help the ingredients stick, thus preventing ingredient spillage! Cutting the ingredients into small bits makes it easier for little mouths. Use soft or crunchy taco shells and lots of healthy ingredients like:


Corn tortillas, soft or crunchy
Ground beef or turkey or a mixture (cooked with taco seasoning and crumbled)
Shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese
Shredded lettuce
Green or black olives, sliced
Avocado, sliced
Red or green salsa, mild
Re fried beans, organic, warmed
Diced tomato
small amounts of sour cream
corn off the cob
caramelized onions (raw onion can be too harsh for kids)

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kids tops said...

Letting kids to decide would help them to be independent or making decisions on their own. But, the parent have to guide them, and give them advice.

Jennifer Carden said...

Thant goes without saying, yes you have to guide them steering them towards the "right" choices.

Jennifer said...

I am a feeding therapist who works with cautious and clinically picky eaters. This is a fantastic way to allow for them to feel in control but also gives room for them to try new things in a safe, non threatening environment. I shared with my followers at Therapy and Learning Services, Inc here on FB. You can find my suggestions for picky eaters at www.therapyandlearningservices.com under SpeechladyJen. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a parent who's child has sensory issues and there is no way that what you have provided will work for a child with cronic food issues. our child has never been force feed or anything like that that post people jump into thinking when I say, when he looks at a new food he will sick up and cant stop. all that he has tollerated on pasta is cheese. he eats 5 different things including spread

Jennifer Carden said...

Dear Anonymous, I am sorry you have struggled with your child's eating. I am not nor have ever stated that I am in anyway a therapist or expert. I am a chef who uses creative ideas to get parents and children interested in food and cooking. Although I have helped countless parents and kids, to my credit.
You may need more help from a professional for chronic food issues I am certainly not that person.
This blog is a creative outlet only.
If you are looking for fun ideas then this is the place. Sorry you feel I am misrepresenting.
The Jennifer who left the previous comment is not me (thanks Jennifer nice comment by the way)

Jennifer said...

Anonymous...you are exactly right that this suggestion would not have your child eating right away. As a licensed, feeding therapist I know that therapy for clinically picky eaters is a LONG process. This activity however, encourages the child to have control, feel less anxious, explore new foods in a fun manner etc...it helps create FUN around food instead of stress which so often happens, as you WELL know, with our picky eaters. I am so sorry that you are dealing with sensory issues and feeding issues. It is truly a difficult journey. I hope that you have a good therapy team for your picky eater and feel like you have the support to help them. How fortunate we are to have people like Jennifer Carden to suggest such FUN activities with food to also assist you. Best of luck to you.