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meal planning for the whole family

Posted by on Sep 27, 2012 in Blog Posts | 6 comments

This salsa cranberry dish is a favorite of the grown-ups in the family. Not so much the child.  We had it the other night. It’s an easy, fast, delicious, one-pot dinner. We call it “salcranzobuck.” (salsa craisins, garbanzo beans, chicken-buck buck) When I make it with steak, it’s “salcranzomoo.” I know, pretty awful, but it floats our collective boats.

Anyhoo. We had this last night. As an aside, I omit the almonds (too fussy) and dump in a can or garbanzo beans (not in original recipe) for more heartiness and stretching the stew.  As I watched M pass on the stew, I thought of planning menus and how hard that can be for many families, hence the inspiration for this post. The good news is, many clients express relief when working on feeding, that they get to enjoy food they want to eat again!

So, I knew that M probably wouldn’t eat SCZB. Though she’s generally an adventurous eater, this one is a texture bonanza, we haven’t had it much, and it’s a little challenging with the sweet fruit and salsa. I also think her knowing the ingredients on this one doesn’t help. (The ingredient list sounded awful to me too, but it comes out like a tagine in a way…)

So, rather than make her macaroni and cheese, or an alternate main dish, I have the expectation that someday she will learn to like SCZB. I consider her tastes, and serve it with couscous and peas (a filling favorite) and plan a dessert she likes— fruit popsicle. M only ate peas and couscous,and her dessert, but she kept us company, enjoyed her meal, and I have faith that one day she is likely to enjoy SCZB, and until then…

Main tips:

  • Serve foods you want to eat. I love SCZB, I want to eat it, I cook it.
  • Be sure there is something everyone can satisfy their hunger with, even if it’s just the couscous and milk, or maybe another side dish.
  • Kids will never learn to like to eat foods they never see. It’s why family meals are so important. It’s why I am not a fan of kids eating “kid food” at the kitchen island while mom and dad eat real food after the kids are in bed… One client told me her kids didn’t like shrimp, and the Dad pointed out they had never had shrimp since moving into their house — five years ago, and three of the kids were under age five.
  • Think about what your child likes, but don’t limit the menu to only what the child likes. Challenge with new foods, but don’t be mean about it. (I wouldn’t for example serve SCZB with cottage cheese and bananas, or other foods M doesn’t generally like.)
  • Don’t remind, pressure or beg, even the “one-bite-rule” to try to get your child to like SCZB or any other food. Learning to like new foods is a process that is hard to speed up, and easy to slow down. (If you love the one-bite-rule, and it works great for all your kids who are happy eaters who enjoy variety and self-regulate, then go for it. if however, the OBR leads to a stand-off, it’s not helping…)
  • Not make her “kid” food as an out. It sends her the message that this is too hard for her, that she can’t learn to like it, and that there are kid and grown up foods.
  • Don’t tell them what you are thinking. For example, don’t say, “I know you won’t eat this, so I made you peas…” The meal-planning while helping them feel safe and get enough variety and quantity is not something they need to know about.

What do you think? Can you remain calm while your child passes on the main dish?

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  1. Emily from

    It is hard for me when my child passes on the main dish. I try really hard to stay calm though because I have noticed that if I don’t pressure her and just keep serving nutritious foods, eventually she’ll try it. I catch myself doing the “just one bite” trick too often and I’m trying to stop!

    • katja

      Emily, it is really hard to stay calm! If you’re not on FB, sometimes parents post their breakthroughs, and it’s a good place to get support! Sounds like the “just one bite” trick isn’t working for you and her, so it’s good to recognize that. Doesn’t mean it isn’t easy to resist! (Especially if you have another child in the family who generally likes something on the first try.) The temperament and psychology piece of it is so important!

  2. Heather

    I do feel able to be calm if my kid passes on part of the meal (I’m glad I read Child of Mine early and found your blog, Katja, because I don’t know if I would be as calm otherwise). I just make sure there are one or two ‘acceptable’ foods on the table and try to alternate more challenging meals one night with a known favorite (or at least tolerated) the next.

    The part that’s been getting me lately is when my son says “I’m hungry” sometime between dinner and bed. We have not had regularly scheduled snacks during that time, so I don’t know how to handle this. I’m not keen on the idea of him going to bed truly hungry, but I also don’t want him to get the idea that he can skip eating dinner if it’s not a favorite and get something ‘better’ later in the evening.

    • katja

      So glad that the book and blog are helping you be calm about it. I too know had I not found this work I would have been much more anxious, controlling and would have a child who eats less well… As for the “I’m hungry” before bed: It can help to look at the timing of meals and bedtime. if it’s been at least an hour and a half since dinner, no harm done in offering a bedtime snack. If it’s happening consistently, can you move dinner a little earlier and offer a snack, or move dinner back 20 minute or as needed. As you get into all of this, you will be able to tell when kids are really hungry vs playing you, or trying to stay up late. Sometimes during a growth spurt, I think there really is more need for food and hunger. You can offer an accepted but not favorite food. Maybe cereal or crackers, not dessert. You can either plan on offering a snack every night, or see how it goes. The more you work with the DOR and see successes, the more you can learn to trust on your intuition and find the right flexibility, solutions for your family. What do you think about that? Being sure the snack is not a “better” may help 🙂

  3. Twistie

    For a long time, I let Mr. Twistie’s food preference limitations limit me, too. All that happened was (a) Mr. Twistie didn’t learn anything about foods he hadn’t been introduced to or had never had cooked well, and (b) I started getting bored with and resentful of meals that followed a terribly limited script for my taste and included almost none of my favorites.

    When I stopped limiting myself to only things Mr. Twistie already liked, I felt free to break out dishes that I really wanted to eat. And when I let it be known that I was cooking what I was cooking and it was entirely up to him how much he ate and of what, it seemed to free him to experiment more with what he would accept.

    Now he’s getting excited about foods that he informed me were ‘yucky’ when we first met, and even ones he’d never heard of before I started cooking them.

    His palette will probably always be less adventurous than mine, but he feels certain now that he’ll get enough to eat and I won’t get huffy if he decides he’s not ready yet to give Brussels sprouts or cauliflower another try. I feel less deprived because I can cook things like quinoa and know I won’t hear a chorus of gagging at the thought. In fact, Mr. Twistie has discovered he really likes quinoa!

    I know when I was growing up, Mom had a lot to cope with between three hungry – and outspoken – kids with very different ideas of what constituted a good meal. She did insist we try things the first time they appeared on the table, but we all knew that once we tried it and found it inedible, we were off the hook, which gave us room to experiment without too much anxiety. Mom knew that if one of us passed on most of a meal that we wouldn’t starve to death, because the nest dinner could be tailored more to the tastes of the person who got the least food into them. And we all knew on pain of hideous death that getting snarky about the food others were enjoying was simply Not On.

    We learned early that we couldn’t always get what we wanted, but Mom would always make sure there was enough of what we needed. So I didn’t grumble when there were peas on the table, and the Medieval Historian learned to put up with spinach and Brussels sprouts, even though he never learned to love either one.

  4. Bobbini

    This just happened last night. I made a mushroom and barley dish in the slow cooker (with onions and chicken stock). We hadn’t had barley in quite a while and the kids were curious, but not willing to try it. They enjoyed asparagus, applesauce and bread for dinner, with milk. That’s fiber, carbohydrates, protein in the milk and fat in the butter they added to the bread. I’m good with that.