Putting the kids in charge of supper

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By: Jena Demerly

My daughter, like most 6-year-olds out there, is a supremely picky eater and there are times when nothing I suggest for dinner seems acceptable to her.

On nights when even the old standby macaroni and cheese is met with a disapproving glare are particularly frustrating. How do you make sure your obviously hungry (read unbelievably cranky) child is well-fed when he or she refuses all food suggestions beyond chips and ice cream? After many tear-filled nights of the supper struggle, I’ve reached the conclusion that sometimes you just have to let the kids be in charge.

Now, before you get too worried, I’m not talking about letting the kids gorge on junk food like it’s the apocalypse and Twinkies are the only option left. The real solution I’ve found is far healthier and yet oddly still remains kid-approved after several trials. The solution, my fellow parenting friends, is to encourage the kids to be an active part in the preparation of the meal.

For all you moms out there who are thinking, “Yeah, that’s just code for them making a huge mess that I will have to clean up!” don’t worry, I’ve got your back. I’m no fan of cooking a full meal to then be faced with the daunting task of cleaning up a kid-destroyed kitchen either. Which is why I’ve come up with a way of letting the kids help, but in a controlled and limited-mess way.

The best way to approach this is to think on an individual scale with each kid. Rather than have them help snap peas for the whole meal (which would likely become boring and overwhelming for them anyway), try having them only be responsible for their portion. Another version of this — and the preferable of the two on the finickier nights — would be to have already cooked and prepared elements of a meal in front of them, allowing them to assemble their own finished product.

One of the all-time favorite meals in our house is the basic burrito. But on a night when my 6-year-old is having an I-hate-everything-you-suggest sort of attitude, I refrain from offering to make them. Instead, I cook the seasoned hamburger, heat some refried and black beans, warm the tortillas, and chop the lettuce and tomato. I then place everything into a divided serving tray (I found mine at Dollar Tree for $1) and tell the kids it’s up to them to pick which items they want to put on their tortillas. This allows me to have control of what is offered but gives the kids the sensation of controlling how the meal is put together and what they put in their bodies. This affords them the precious opportunity to be in charge and to decide if they want meat and beans, or beans and cheese, or cheese and tomatoes, or if they want a single bite of each item but only if it’s on its own and not touching anything else.

As every parent knows, there are some nights when the kids just have to have the win when it comes to choosing supper. With this approach, go ahead and let ’em think they’ve had it. 272bf9dc-1393-4dca-96e4-4c49c3cf829e

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