My friend offhandedly asked if I include my kids in my meal planning process. I immediately felt shame once I heard this because, of course I should include them in the process. The truth is, there is not much of a process. My kitchen table is the canvas, and I create with the best intentions and ability. The end product is abstract art, appreciated 50% of the time.
But such is life. I do want to give my kids agency over what they eat and cut out the shame. Nevertheless, even with my amateur-abstract-artist process, there is still pressuring, bribing, and cajoling at the table. I know the right things to say: “you don’t have to like it, you just have to try it,” “you’ll like it when you’re older,” etc. But sometimes I say what’s off the top of my head, especially at 5:30, when the weight of the day is bearing down on me.
Implement the process that’s right for your family.
Is it abstract art or Renaissance painting? Both processes work well if implemented in a digestible way.
Consider the fact that your kids WANT to eat well. Deep down, they know they should take care of their bodies, and they don’t want to eat something that makes them feel bad or sick. They look to you as their guide and their model.
What Works for Us Now
This is what I started this weekend. I got the approval from each member of my family, so I’m going for it. I’m concerned that its not super sustainable, but I’m holding onto it for dear life right now.
First, I brainstormed with my kids, I asked them about the meals they liked. I didn’t ask them too much, just what proteins they liked to eat. I also asked them what fruits and vegetables they wanted in their lunches. For us, lunch is for eating what they like. Dinner is more for trying new things, so my husband and I are there to guide them.
I then drafted a meal plan and had my eleven-year-old add a few things, like homemade snacks. I didn’t give them a choice for certain meals, like salmon on “Wild Fish Wednesdays.” I wasn’t met with too much resistance.
Also, for dinner this week, most of our meals will start with a pureed soup. I did this in the past, and it was a great way for everyone to eat more vegetables. If it’s not a very desirable soup, like beet, I usually just put a spoonful in a ramekin. The pressure is so low at that point I usually don’t get much resistance. If your kid doesn’t buy into that method, they might try a bit on their finger or a drop on a spoon. I’m rotating three different soups throughout the week. In this way, my kids see, smell and taste six different plant foods. They might even enjoy them. The cool thing about pureed soups is that you can make them a little chunkier if you want, and your kids will gradually eat a roasted version of that vegetable.
Fortify Yourself with the Right Products
If you’re pressed for time, most grocery stores sell fresh pureed soups. Pacific Foods or Amy’s have a nice variety. Investing in a baby food maker is another option, like the Beaba Baby Cook Baby Food Maker. I love ours and use most days. With this gadget, making pureed soups is a ton easier. If you want to try to make your own soups but don’t want to spend a fortune, an immersion blender is a must. Cusinart has a great one; much better than the more expensive brands out there.
So far so good. It took a lot of time to put together, and then there was the shopping list. I also scheduled all the “to-dos” in order to implement the meal plan in a timely manner, so that I could follow through with the agreed upon meal for the specific day.
The Meal Plan as a Baseline and a Springboard
In his way, the meal plan in a springboard for trying something new. I prepare my kids for days when a new food or meal is on the menu. The meal plan, shopping list, and to-dos are also saved on my computer, so that troubleshooting, editing, and making notes is easier. The same plan, shopping list and to-dos are there a few weeks later.
It makes my kids feel much more secure, knowing what meals we are going to have. It also protects us as parents, because if the kids add something to the table or ask for something else, it fortifies the “this is what we’re having” statement. I realize too that there are so much more the kids can help with in the kitchen. I’m also now inspired to start a dinner-setting rotation, where each kid has a day where they set the table. On their day, they pick the napkins and the music.
It’s cool because the digestive process actually starts when your brain is in the parasympathetic state, and you smell your food. All of the rituals of setting the table, cooking, and smelling our food are priming our digestive system for all the good food to come.