In a perfect world, your children would love everything you serve. In real life, you know that just isn’t the case. One won’t touch anything green, the other is experimenting with being a vegetarian and the third cries over anything that isn’t chicken fingers.
Having a gang of picky eaters can be enough to drive any parent straight to the local drive-in, but with a few smart tricks, making healthy meals that everyone agrees on is easier than you think. Here’s how to cook for kids with different tastes without driving yourself crazy in the kitchen.
Plan Your Weekly Menu
Having your kids weigh in on the family dinner plans not only teaches them skills on building healthy meals, but it makes them feel as if you’re listening to their preferences. When one child gets to have her favorite roast chicken on Monday, she might be more open to trying her brother’s beloved veggie lasagna on Tuesday.
Posting the weekly menu ahead of time helps kids know what to expect. Sometimes, a little advance notice is all a picky eater needs to get used to the idea of eating sweet potatoes or spinach.
Find Your Healthy Go-To’s
Sometimes there’s no time to make a weekly plan—and you find yourself panicking at 6 p.m. on Tuesday about what to cook for dinner. To avoid scrambling for a crowd-pleaser, build a kid-approved list of simple, healthy meals you can turn to when time is tight.
On a weekend afternoon, gather 20 or so recipes you love and that are easy to make. Then round up the kids and discuss each dish. Have them vote for the recipes they like, saving the ones that get a resounding yes from everyone. Next time you’re not sure what to cook, all you have to do is turn to your list.
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Make More Mix-And-Match Meals
Instead of whipping up three completely different dinners, make meals that are easy for your gang to customize. For instance, tacos can be filled ground beef or black beans. Homemade pizzas can be topped with pepperoni or chopped olives.
Similarly, make more dishes that are easy to leave things out of. It’s pretty hard to pick broccoli florets out of a casserole once it’s cooked, but it’s easy to reserve a portion of plain cooked noodles before adding broccoli to a basic bow-tie pasta and veggie dish.
Promote Adventurous Eating
You can’t force children to eat something they don’t like. But you can encourage your kids to try new things before giving them the veto. Make it a family rule that everyone has to sample a food item at least once. If someone doesn’t like something, ask him or her to explain why. For instance, you might find out your child doesn’t actually hate butternut squash; she only hates butternut squash with cinnamon.
Make a policy that requires your kids to re-try disliked foods again after a few months. Often, kids just need time to get used to a new food or recipe and will start to like it once it feels more familiar.
Learning how to cook for kids with different tastes doesn’t have to be difficult. With a few simple moves, you can start making more healthy meals that everyone accepts.