(Or, how to sit down for dinner with your family without completely losing your mind)
It would be great if kids AND parents wanted boiled chicken and baby carrots every night for dinner. But, too bad, we picky parents want spicy, exotic, fun foods, and our kids want, well, sorta lame foods. Here's the solution: break it down. Serve the dish deconstructed, and let everyone put their own dish together at the table. Sort of like tapas, or smorgasbord, or tacos. Or how in some parts of China you get a bowl of rice, and everything else is in the middle of the table and you take what you want for your own little bowl of rice. That way everyone gets to eat what they want, parents don't have to nag their kids, and kids get to feels some ownership over their meals. Plus, kids get exposed to the look and taste of the foods you hope they will one day love. But it's not just tacos. You'll be amazed at what can be served with the Mothership Method.
Ten Tips to Get Through Dinner Without Having A Nervous Breakdown
1. Accept That Kids Are Picky. No need to freak out on your cooking ability, or look at your kids like there is something wrong with them. It's called "neo-phobia", and it's just how they are, especially from ages 3-6.
2. Serve Meals Broken Down. Even grown-up meals like coconut curry or linguine with clams can be served in their elements, making them more appealing to kids. Grown ups can assemble their own jumble of deliciousness at their own plate while kids take on the pared-down elements.
3. Push if it Works, But Don't Nag If It Doesn't. Some kids are okay with being expected to taste everything on their plate. Others aren't. I think it's okay to push kids -- but not if you're turning dinner into a battlefield.
4. Suggest a Smell. Smelling a new food is easier than tasting it, and can sometimes provide a kid with the information needed to take that scary first bite. But don't confine smelling to new foods. Smell favorites, too, and help them develop their sense of smell by making a game out of it.
5. Don't Ask "Do You Like It?" Instead, try, "What does this remind you of?" or, "Would your cousins like this?" or, "Does this taste salty or sweet?". Asking if they like it or not gives kids too much power and ends the conversation. Besides, we don't care if they like it! We just want them to keep tasting it until it is familiar.
6. Don't Get Frustrated. Imagine being in Taiwan, or Nairobi, or Rome for the first time. Would you eat everything on the local menu? New foods are scary and gross. Our kids need time to learn about the foods that we eat.
7. No SubstitutionsThis is family dinner, not a diner. You, in all your wisdom, have provided foods that are healthy and delicious and appropriate for your children. There is something on the table for them to eat. Period.
8. No Snacks Before Dinner. This can be the hardest with our hectic schedules and hungry kids. But children who come to the table hungry are more likely to eat than cause trouble.
9. Put Peer Pressure To Your Advantage. School children are more likely to accept new foods if the alpha girls in their group accept them. Swap healthy food ideas on playdates.
10. Involve Your Kids In Cooking, Shopping, and Gardening. The more experience kids have handling and preparing a variety of foods, the more likely they are to eventually accept the foods. (But don't get upset if they help you make a complicated wonderful meal, and then refuse to eat it.)
"The problems of children on hunger strikes are older and more prevalent than the problems of labor strikes, and the children's problems are more likely to persist." -- Hilda Sachs,"So Your Child Won't Eat (1951):
Where did this thing even come from? For all I know, my great-grandmother carried it across the frontier strapped to her back. I've had this glorious, humble workhorse for ever, and I probably always will. It is the pan I use the most, even more than my fancy thoroughbred All-Clads.
My KITCHENAID MIXER
It took years to get to this point in my life, but yes, I, too, can now make cookies or bread or cake while walking around the kitchen and talking on the phone. In fact, I could be making banana bread right now.
Awesome, ancient CARBON STEEL CHEF'S KNIFE an old man on my block gave me
My three -- yes three -- MORTARS AND PESTLES...
... especially the giant lava one my husband got in a Thai grocery store in Providence years before we even met (I spotted it in his kitchen early on in our dating life, and knew he was the man for me.)
It's chunky dirty salt from France. I love this stuff so much I sometimes just eat it, letting a thick grain dissolve on my tongue. It's millions of times better that white chemical-tasting table salt.
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