Getting kids to eat isn't always easy. Especially when you throw in everyone's preferences, Finn hates cheese (so weird, right?) and Lev loves it. Jack is sort of indifferent to cheese. And then add in the age differences. What is appealing or easy to eat for kids isn't always appealing for toddlers, or adults for that matter. I have tried a few different approaches. First, I thought I would just make one meal and if the kids didn't like it, so be it. That was what we were having, take it or leave it. Well, they left it. A lot. And I was left feeling guilty that the kids weren't getting a solid meal. So I turned into Mom's Diner. We've all been there, haven't we? You've got a few pots on the stove, so to speak. One person is getting grilled cheese, one person it getting chicken, just plain, and the rest of you are eating the main "real" meal. Three separate meals, no biggie, right? Oh then add me in, I don't (usually) eat meat. So that's another meal. Enter Make it Yourself Night, or, Customizable Meals for every eater. You take a base, and let everyone build on what they like. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is. AND you will most likely get them to actually eat MORE vegetables than if you were doing a one pot, one shot meal for everyone. Here are a few ideas to get you started...
First, start your week with fresh (preferably some local too) veggies. Chop them all up, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, olives, broccoli, these will all come into play with these recipes. Add in an avocado, an artichoke maybe, try something different that you only have to buy one of as a "try it out". Pretty much anything will work, so throw in some old favorites and try out something new.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Get some shells, or some soft tacos, a bunch of veggies to throw in and your choice of meat or meat alternative. Kids can grab and add whatever they want, sour cream, cheese, guacamole, whatever veggies they like.
This one couldn't be easier, and you can add in peas, carrots, mozzarella, leeks, whatever your little one is into. Again, the appeal comes in being able to not only do it themselves, but to make it special, just for them. Another great way to get kids into the customizing meal gig is to deconstruct a favorite recipe and let the kids put the ingredients together just to their liking. They can add as much or as little sauce as they want, eat it plain or try something different each time.
This is one of our family favorites, and it is also one of the most popular dishes in Korean cuisine. The word literally means “mixed rice” and it is served as a bowl of warm rice (we use brown rice) topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables (traditionally it uses spinach, cucumber, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, and lettuce) and a chili sauce (we just use sriracha separately when making it with the kids). A fried egg and sliced meat, usually chicken or beef are common additions, but the fun part is that you can top it with whatever your family is craving, we like to do a shrimp and tofu one at our house. We put out a little “Bibimbap bar” with all of the toppings on the table and then give everyone their own bowl of brown rice topped with a fried egg. Everyone can then customize their own Bibimbap bowls exactly the way they like them!
There are a bunch of different ways to prepare Bibimbap, here are a bunch of different recipes to try to find your family’s favorite:
- Martha Stewart’s vegetable Bibimbap
- A chicken Bibimbap recipe from the NY Times
- Gwynnie’s Bibimbap with a spicy miso sauce
- A tofu Bibimbap from the NY Times
Baked Potato Bar
You can take the humble baked potato and elevate it to your family's favorite customizable meal with a bunch of fun different options like chili, thick lentil soup, chopped broccoli, salsa, chives, sour cream or cottage cheese (or Greek yogurt), and ground black pepper. Try a sweet potato bar one night and put out some raisins, cinnamon, cottage cheese, chopped pecans and pineapple for a yummy twist.
Personal (leftover) Pizzas
We like to wait till the end of the week to make our own pizzas, and this is where the leftovers from any of the above dishes come into play. Roll out your doughs, set the toppings out and let kids create their own little pizzas. You'll use up any leftovers and might actually create a new favorite that you (and the kids) wouldn't have tried before.
Letting kids get creative with their meals will definitely get them interested in trying out new things, and if they can pick and choose how much or how little, odds are they might just try one. Our kids never ate mushrooms on ANYTHING until we did a customizable meal, and Finn reluctantly agreed to put one single, solitary mushroom on one corner of his pizza, and now he loves it. Plus, it takes out the dreaded "this isn't what I want" whine from kids at mealtime, because it is their very own creation. Try some out this week with your kiddos, bon appetit! xoxo