You spend an hour preparing a meal and serve it lovingly to your family. Your kids respond by barely taking a bite and announcing that they "don't like it." You think you are going to go mad but the worst part is knowing you have to do this every day until your kids are out of the house.
Planning, shopping, and preparing family meals is possibly the most thankless parenting job. And it's all too easy to sink into "woe is me" mode about it. But it is possible to take back dinnertime in a way that not only makes this job bearable, but rewarding. You'll need to change your mindset about it, though. And these 5 empowering steps will help you get there fast.
1. Simplify, simplify, simplify: The online world (especially Pinterest) wants you to believe more meal ideas is the answer. But let's be honest, all these choices do is make food decisions more complicated. How can you possibly choose meals for the week from what can feel like an endless collection of recipes? The problem is never a lack of ideas, it is not having a clear focus of what YOU want on your family's table.
Here's what you need to do. Go through each collected recipe, cookbook and e-newsletter and clean house. Pick out the meals that work for your family -- and the other select few you really want to make work -- and ditch the rest!
2. Create your meal vision: Now it's time to consider what's missing. Do you need a go-to lasagna recipe? Got enough vegetable sides? How about fish? List what you need and then find some recipes to try out.
Don't fall in the trap of giving up after one try though. Instead, modify ingredients and cooking methods until the recipe becomes your own. After all, you know your cooking style and what your family likes.
3. Rotate those pups! Once you have a good list of meals going, simply rotate them. You can try theme nights like Taco Tuesday for Mexican meals or just keep making the meals until you are done and start over. Whatever you decide, having a regular rotation will make dinner run smoothly while giving your kids the food exposure they need.
4.Serve meals family style (with a side strategy): Try serving dinner meals family style for a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. Basically, you place bowls of food in the center of the table and pass them around to each family member. Not only does it take the pressure off children, they really enjoy serving themselves.
The key to making sure everyone gets fed is to incorporate what I call a "side strategy." That means that one of the bowls of food contains something your child accepts. If you do themes, you can make the sides predictable like having tortillas and guacamole for Mexican night or bread when you serve Italian. Over time, children gradually add more and more food to their repertoire. But a side strategy brings peace to the table in the interim.
5. Incorporate family dinner rules: There's no reason one person should do all the work and then, on top of it, hear complaints. The answer is to have a set of family dinner rules that keep expectations and behavior in check. Try this downloadable list or make your own. The most important rule of all: no complaining allowed.
Enjoyable family dinners are available to anyone willing to shift their mindset and try a new, simplified approach to family meals.
Maryann Jacobsen details her step-by-step meal planning approach in her book: The Family Dinner Solution: How to Create a Rotation of Dinner Meals Your Familly Will Love.