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Help a mama out...remind me how to cook family dinners!


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Let's say you have one super picky kid and another that eats okay. Due to other circumstances, you have let dinners go - most often you fix foods that you know picky kid will eat (not healthy at all - frozen pizza, hot dogs, breaded chicken tenders, etc). Also, dh is gone more often than home, due to working out of town, which has allowed good family dinners to be less of a priority than they should be. Okay...that's the situation.

 

I would really like to make some changes regarding food in our house and start making regular family dinners. It has been such a long time since I've attempted regular dinners, that I'm not sure exactly how to start. Ds (the picky one) is 12 and I think may have some undiagnosed sensory issues, which may be causing his pickiness. He doesn't care for the type of meals I used to make (one pot meals or casserole type meals) so I really need some simple ideas.

 

Could you give me some simple meal ideas? Help remind me of what dinner time can look like with kids? I'm so tired of everyone eating their own thing.

 

Website or cookbook recommendations are welcome as well. Thanks so much!

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I planned the meals with input from the diners. The people that dont want mixed foods get their portion split out before mixing. So, if its stir fry, a portion of each component is set aside as its cooked and put on the plate, kept warm or micdowaved before dinner. That person can also sample the finished mixed product with sauce. Pasta dishes have naked noodles. Salads are build your own.

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We try to go for a simple plan of protein, starch, veggie, veggie/fruit. If you look in the old (pre 1980) Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, this is the basic meal plan they have at the front.  Course, theirs has weird things in it like Frankfurter Surprise and Carrot Gelatin Salad.  I'm not getting up 4 fancy dishes.  The easiest way to get everyone in my house to eat is to grill the protein.  I have a small indoor grill pan that I use and a handful of different seasonings for each one (garlic, salt, pepper, oregano - with olive oil, or basting the meat with one of two salad dressings: Italian or a homemade ginger/soy/orange combo.)

 

Pair with rice, pasta, bread, couscous, or potatoes.

 

This gets matched with two veggie sides, or a veggie and a fruit.  I stay away from anything in a can and most things frozen- my kids won't eat them.  Dh started doing lovely things with veggies like baking the asparagus under balsalmic/olive oil/parmesan or cooking fresh green beans to al dente, blanching them, and finishing them off in a pan with onions, salt, and a bit of olive oil.  He makes a gorgeous sweet potato, too.  Anyway, I've had to up my game and take a page from the French, cooking veggies 100 different ways, seeing what sticks, and keep tweaking recipes to get them to eat more variety. 

 

Once the meal is set, everyone gets a plate of the four portions, whether they eat them or not.  This means on some nights I'll have a kid eat just the cucumbers out of the salad, one push the pearl couscous away, and both eat the pork chops.
 

Start with writing out on different cards things your family will eat or that you cook already, and then start mixing and matching to find a good meal plan.  Slowly add in other dishes that use the same idea (like baked panko crusted chicken strips instead of chicken nuggets, or carrots with basil instead of boiled medallions) before branching off and adding ones they may not take to well.

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1. Thinking step: Early in the day pick a meat -- have a half dozen types of meat that you like. Buy frozen and kinda cycle through them, but not strictly. Go see if you have that meat, and begin thawing it if nessisary.

 

2. Thinking step: Decide how you want it cooked -- Spices? Sauces? Alone? Part of a skillet meal? On the BBQ? Check your ingredients, change your plan as needed.

 

Whenever possible cook it plain-ish or as your picky eater would be least likely to reject it. Plan to pull out his portion and then continue to dress the remainder up to however it appeals to you.

 

3. First cooking step: Decide on a starch (if desired) and start it first. Starch often takes the longest usually. Unless it's toast. Toast takes the shortest. Except for bread. Bread is quicker than toast.

 

4. Begin the meat cooking process to be done by the time the starch is done.

 

(This goes last. Phone being funny)

6. Get out 3 plates, 2 small leftover containers and one larger leftover container.

 

As things are completed, plate your picky eater's plain meat and invert another plate over it for warmth. Put another plain portion in a small leftover container. Finish the meat, plate 2 portions (in-invert the warmth plate) and store 2 for leftovers in the non-picky mixed container.

 

Put the starch (plain) in the other 'picky' leftover container, plus some in the large 'mixed' leftover container, and some on each plate.

 

Add veg to each plate, but don't bother making enough for leftovers. Just make veg again when you are serving the leftovers.

 

(Do this before plates and containers)

5. Choose 3 veggies -- stock your freezer with big bags of all kinds of single-types, not many blends. Also use fresh-for-cooking veggies, but don't hold yourself to fresh ones. Plus have some fresh-and-raw, or salading types whenever that's handy. Daily just pick any 3.

 

For cooking, pour any veg (fresh or frozen) into large-ish normal household bowls, add a splash of water and 'kid' with a plate -- then microwave them. Often 2 or 3 will fit st the same time (but take proportionately longer). Do this last. Add butter and salt, and possibly dry herbs or garnishes to each cooked veg.

 

7. Wait a day before serving leftovers -- first make ; veggies, then heat the 2 separated plain servings and the two-serving mixed leftover. Plate and serve.

 

8. Remember it's trial-and-error. Not everything will be liked. Don't press, but perhaps encourage. Do offer helper foods and substitutes... But not highly desirable substitutes, and model substituting from the same food group. (I sub bread for starch, microwaved egg for protein, and any easy veg -- usually cold carrots -- for any undesired veg. Don't offer pizza as a sub for the whole meal, and beware of the appeal of a peanut butter sandwich.)

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My picky kid prepares his own food.  Otherwise I'd go crazy.  So I cook for the three of us.  He is 14 now, but he did start doing this at around 12 with a bit of help, but he can do it completely on his own now.  It's just too difficult for me to prepare meals he'll eat so I don't.  Sometimes he will eat parts of what I make.  Usually that's something very plain, like a plain piece of cooked meat.  He eats very plain food overall.  Except he has a thing for hot sauce and curry powder so he uses that in his food a lot.

 

 

 

 

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Honestly, I'd start by just getting back on a daily schedule, picking up something frozen and easy (there IS frozen food that is actually pretty good and healthy -- if you have a Trader Joe's nearby, they have plenty to choose from!), but then serve a fresh vegetable on the side, and maybe fresh fruit for dessert (even a cut-up half-banana with milk and cinnamon, or applesauce).

 

Once you're on a schedule doing that, you can start to look at simple meals from scratch.

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Start by setting a schedule for meals so that everyone (who is home) eats at the same time.  At 12, your ds can make his own food.  I would start by making whatever you like for the rest of the family and give ds the option of preparing his own meal, all to be eaten together at the same time.  Maybe offer him a small portion of each meal to try if he wants.  He might find he likes things he didn't think he would if the pressure is off and he knows he can make his own thing.

 

The downfall of this, of course, is that perhaps your 8yo is not picky but would still prefer the frozen pizza your ds makes over the casserole you make.  In that case, you might have to get more creative.

 

I like the assemble-your-own approach where you prepare all of the ingredients but each person decides what and how much of each item to put in their meal.  This works for stir-fry, salads, pizza, burritos, baked potatoes, rice-and-beans, pretty much anything if you think about it.  I don't have any picky eaters but we do this a lot because it is easy for me and fun for everyone else.  I also like having the leftover bits of this and that to make into fun leftovers.  I can use the leftovers from baked potato bar as toppings for chili.  Leftovers from taco bar are great in omelets the next day.  I'm not above dumping just about anything into a tortilla and making one-of-a-kind wraps.

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I have a picky eater. It is pretty easy to accommodate if I simply do not make one pot meals.

Every  meal is modular: starch(es), meat or fish, vegetables, salad are separate dishes. Everybody eats only the dishes they want. That way, you can even accommodate vegetarians very easily.

 

Our family meal is lunch, because evenings don't work well with our schedules. I cook in my lunch break, call DH when the meal is 12 minutes from getting on the table, he walks in the door, I serve. After lunch, he and I go back to work.

 

If you cannot do weekdays, maybe you can have nice sit down meals in weekends.

For many years, our family meal was breakfast on weekdays; we'd all eat together.

Edited by regentrude
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This is my situation exactly. My oldest doesn't like one-pot meals, or any type of casserole. After I cook the meat, I set some aside for him before I add in everything else. So he gets the meat, a side of veggies, and some type of bread. Everyone else gets the full entree with the same sides.

 

Sent from my HTCD200LVW using Tapatalk

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Okay, I'm going to suggest cookbooks.  The first one is called "The Mom 100" by Katie Workman and it has everything including meal plans. I really wish this one had been around when I was a young mom - all very basic recipes and no weirdo ingredients.   I have made many of these recipes and they work every.single.time.  It's my go to cookbook of all time. She has another one called "Dinner Solved" and while I haven't used it as much, I am going to try more of the recipes this fall.

 

 "Dinner A Love Story" and "Dinner the Playbook" by Jenny Rosenstrach I also recommend.  I haven't cooked anything out of the Playbook one, but I am going to implement it for the first month when I have a bunch of kids at school for the first time.  I am in a food rut and desperately in need of new meal ideas.

 

The only other advice I would give would be have dinner planned for the week and maybe get your kids to help with the cooking - they may be less picky if they get to prepare it?  I get the picky eater thing though,  I had one kid (who is now 25) and he hated it when hot dog buns were "broken".  He also told me once that "I will eat it this time but not the next time" - I think he was 7 or 8.  UGH. Now that kid helps me make dinners when he comes to visit. :-)  Hope that helps. :-)

 

Hope that helps and give it time.

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My oldest who is now 13, has also always been picky.  I'm picky. 

 

Unfortunately, we're picky about different things.  He wouldn't eat what I made.  It took me a while to figure out that he likes some food, but it wasn't stuff I knew how to cook.  I had to learn how to cook very differently from what I normally did.  I normally make soups, stews, and casseroles and sometimes spaghetti.

 

My oldest was starting to gain too much weight from eating the chicken nuggest and fish sticks that he liked because he wouldn't eat the things I liked.  It was a problem.

 

After stumbing around for a long time, we have finally settled on a few meals that we can all stomach.  The meals aren't all the best, but they're better than the nuggets and fish sticks.

 

 

1.  Tacos.  At first the boys only wanted meat and cheese on them.  I am slowly having them add a little bit of lettuce, tomato, and onion on their tacos.  It takes time.  The first few times they were very upset, but now they're used to having some veg on their tacos. 

I eat my tacos as a taco salad with a lot of lettuce, tomato, and onion and only a little meat (I don't like meat.)

 

2.  Meatloaf and corn or carrots  (Those are the only veggies son will eat.)  Ok, for this one, I cook myself something I like on meatloaf night because I detest meatloaf.  But for the family, I put mushrooms in the meatloaf and soon I'll be adding another hidden veggie.  We will have mac and cheese as a side, but only a small amount.

 

3.  Baked chicken.  Again, I don't like large hunks of meat, and that includes chicken.  So I make the recipe "Engagement chicken" which has you make a little sauce from the chicken juice.  The boys eat just the chicken with rice and I eat the chicken and rice covered with the sauce, which is the only way I can stand it.  The sauce makes the hunk of chicken bearable.  Always: carrots or corn.

 

4.  Apricot chicken:  these are chicken breasts with a sauce of: apricot jam, bit of butter, dash of cider vinegar, dried mushroom, and green onions on top.  The boys don't like the topping, so I eat the chicken with the topping and they eat the hunks of chicken.  I really don't like this dish and so serve it only once in a while.  I really dislike hunks of chicken.

 

5.  Chinese Beef.  We had Chinese exchange students and they taught us this dish.  1 c. soy sauce, 4 TBLS sesame oil, 1 tsp sugar.  Chop up beef into bite sized pieces and let sit in sauce for 15 minutes.  Chop up 2 green peppers and an onion.  Stir fry the whole thing until the meat is done.  Serve over rice.  You can also slice up a little bit of ginger for flavor if you like.

 

6.  Pizza night.  We make homemade pizzas.  I'm slowly having them put onion and some mushroom on their pizzas, but mostly they want them with just plain cheese.  Youngest likes the onions and oldest is resigned to them. 

 

7.  Tilapia.  It's a light fish.  2 TBLS butter, 2 TBLS olive oil.  Diced onions.  Cook the fish and onions in the butter/oil in a frying pan for 3 minutes, flip and cook for another 2 minutes.  Rice, carrots or corn.  NOTE:  I just recently read articles that tilapia is good for you, but only if it's free caught in the Atlantic.  If it's from China it's pretty bad for you.  The fish farms feed the fish chicken poop and there isn't a lot of oversight.  We've been eating chicken-poop tilapia for a few months, but now I'm going to have to try to find non-poop tilapia.  Sigh.  Why is food so hard??

 

8.  Spaghetti night.  With meatballs.  Carrots or corn.

 

Dessert once a week.  They usually eat their "dessert" after church on Sunday morning when they get a donut as a treat. 

 

LUNCH:

They rotate among these meals:

 

1.  I cut up chicken breasts into tenders or bite sizes, put on a greased baking tray for the toaster oven, sprinkle liberally with breadcrumbs and fresh parm cheese and bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes (depending on how big the pieces are.)

Vanilla Greek Yogurt from Aldi, so the sugar is as low as I could get

1 cup V8 V-fusion, as each cup has a serving of veggies AND a serving of fruit (and a lot of sugar, but I try...I really try.)

 

2.  Leftovers or sauted shrimp.  (The youngest likes the stews and soups that I like, but the oldest won't touch them.  From time to time I'll make a big batch of a stew or soup and then freeze portions of it.  I defrost those portions for the youngest to eat as lunches over the next few weeks--oldest sautes himself some shrimp with seasoning in a pan---spray butter on the pan, not breaded.)

Greek Yogurt

1 cup V8 V-fusion

 

3.  On karate day when we're rushing: tv dinners for lunch.  Lean Cuisine type for the oldest, Hungry Man meals for the youngest.  That's all they'll eat.

Yogurt.

1 cup V8 V-fusion

 

4. Sometimes oldest will make a quesadilla with a tortilla shell, pizza sauce, cheese, chicken or shrimp. 

 

Breakfast:

The boys make this themselves and they need protein to start their day or they drag pretty early on.

 

2 sausages OR 2 strips of turkey bacon OR 2 hunks of ham (that I precut.)

1 egg

1/4 cup cheese

2 cups Milk (the oldest was drinking 7 cups of milk a day for a while there and then refusing to eat anything except junk.)

 

All other drinking is water only.  So, 2 cups milk, 1 cup V8, and then unlimited water.

 

 

 

I know these choices aren't the best things.  The oldest won't touch veggies.  I wish so much that I could make big salads and soups with fresh ingredients.  But it's a balancing act.  Right now, we're stable and it's the best I can do.  It really is.  As much as I know some of the dishes are questionable, I'm proud that we've come as far as we have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is my situation exactly. My oldest doesn't like one-pot meals, or any type of casserole. After I cook the meat, I set some aside for him before I add in everything else. So he gets the meat, a side of veggies, and some type of bread. Everyone else gets the full entree with the same sides.

 

Sent from my HTCD200LVW using Tapatalk

 

 

 

Hmmmm.  This is clever!   I'll have to see if I can pull this off at my house.  (Off to look over my recipes and see which ones this works for.)

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I'll just be reiterating what others have said. My youngest is my picky eater. She is a carnivore and also likes most breads that I can think to incorporate into dinner.As others said, separate foods work best--a meat, a veggie/fruit, bread for her even if the rest of us are eating rice or pasta. It's hard because she does not like some of the dishes that I have always loved (and I was a pretty picky child too--still a little picky). She does not eat pasta dishes with any sauce other than spaghetti with butter, parmesan, and bacon. I would never serve her any kind of casserole, soup, or stew. She won't eat salads, hates ranch dressing (which I thought all kids love), but will eat a few veggies raw. She'll eat some fruits. So dinners of separate items work best here. Grilled meat in the summer, cucumber or lettuce pieces, garlic bread, naan made in the toaster, flour tortillas. She even grumble on taco nights, though she'll eat a little meat and a flour tortilla (separate of course--I learned quickly not to put the meat in the tortilla). While I'm not eager for the empty nest, it will be nice to just cook for my most appreciative dinner companion (dh).

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Thank you so much for the wonderful suggestions!!! I am going to read through them several more times and think about how I could plan food in our house to meet everyone's needs.

 

A couple more things about my kiddos:

 

- ds (super picky) will only eat chicken (either grilled or breaded chicken tenders) or hot dogs.

- dd doesn't really like meat at all

- neither will eat ground beef, which is frustrating to me. Yet both will eat their school's spaghetti, which has ground beef in the sauce

- ds won't eat potatoes or rice

 

I'm thinking that I need to start slowly based on what the kids do like. For this week, I'm thinking:

 

-chicken parmesan with some pasta. Both kids like pasta, sauce and cheese. Normally ds dips his chicken in ketchup, but this shouldn't be too different for him.

 

-black bean and cheese quesadillas. Dd likes this and ds likes black Bean tacos. I thought I could serve raw veggies or fruit with this.

 

- grilled chicken salad. Kids like this okay. Well neither will put chicken on their salads, but they eat the separate parts well.

 

- I thought of trying a cheese plate, which is something I've seen mentioned here before, but never made. I looked up ideas online and I think I will get some crackers (probably just Ritz), some good deli turkey, some good cheese (probably cheddar and maybe babybell), fruit, and nuts (for me, neither kid will eat nuts). Just a nicer way to present these foods and another way we can all sit down to eat together.

 

Any thoughts or recommendations? Care to share your super-simple meals for your family? I need inspiration!!!

Edited by Just Kate
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Oh, will they eat breakfast foods? I used to like to do that when dh wasn't going to be home for dinner. Usually french toast, bacon, and fruit. Then dh would come home all jealous that he missed french toast, so I still do breakfast-for-dinner every few weeks, but usually when he is home now!

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Good idea! Is there a good homemade recipe?

 

I'm sure there is, but even the regular stuff, although high in salt, isn't that bad. It would be better to use it with real chicken, then serve the frozen nuggetts. If you buy skinless chicken tenderloins they are just like chicken fingers 

 

Or you can bread chicken with breadcrumbs. I bet if you google homemade chicken fingers you'll get lots of ideas. 

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This is my situation exactly. My oldest doesn't like one-pot meals, or any type of casserole. After I cook the meat, I set some aside for him before I add in everything else. So he gets the meat, a side of veggies, and some type of bread. Everyone else gets the full entree with the same sides.

 

Sent from my HTCD200LVW using Tapatalk

I do that sometimes for me because my diet is more restricted. 

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If often serve the meal separated, meaning, noodles with sauce on the side.

 

If we're having fish, I make one portion of chicken at the same time for m pay child who will not eat fish, it's cooked th same way at the same time, so only extra effort on my part is opening another bag to get the chicken.

 

I will also cook a portion of the meat without sauce or seasonings if someone doesn't like those. For example, Garlic Lime Chicken- i will set aside a plain piece of chicken, but everybody will eat the ric and veggies.

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I would encourage you to look at what y'all like, then plan from there. Taco night, pizza night, soup and bread, grilled chicken and a salad, etc. Whatever you like, plan it and execute. I'm finding I like to menu plan for a few days, but not a whole week. I find if I plan a week I get distracted or bored and then have too much waste. Keep it simple. Enjoy the company!!!

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