From Ho-Hum To Yum

Consider these two basic facts: If you try to force feed kids, they will turn their heads and tell you, in no uncertain terms, to knock it off. And sometimes, kids like to be independent, which might be why they refuse food in the first place. So, how do you remind them that something worth eating is on their plates without squashing their independent spirits?

Mom and daughter cooking soup

Here are a few family dinner ideas and strategies to get through your family's main meal with minimal resistance and maximum fun!

It's all in the presentation

Make it pretty and easily accessible:

  • Dress up a salad by adding strawberries, mini oranges, nuts, cheese, cut-up meats or any treat they like.
  • Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes, or add food coloring to brighten things up a bit.
  • Pre-cut fruit and have it ready in the fridge. Fruit kabobs are a fun way to encourage your child to eat a variety of fruits.
  • Add a little peanut butter on carrot or celery sticks, some ranch dressing on the broccoli -- put something yummy on the icky thing.
  • Serve up foods such as cottage cheese, a nut and fruit mixture, tuna or yogurt in an ice cream cone. This is also a fast, easy trick for feeding an older kid on the run.

About face: reverse dinner

Kids love to do things that are different and special, so why not make them a favorite meal or breakfast at the end of the day? Serve whole-wheat pancakes, eggs and fresh fruit or something your family likes that you usually eat in the morning or at lunchtime. Typically, breakfast and lunch foods are easy to make, so on a night when you are in a hurry, this is an easy and fun option.

Eat backwards

Try starting with dessert and work back to the salad. (Don't make dessert too filling, though.)

Color-coordinate a meal

Have your kids help you plan a meal with foods that are all the same color -- for example, serve grapes with a new green veggie, or strawberries with red pepper slices. This also presents an opportunity to teach colors to the tots in the house.

Change locations

Shake dinnertime up a bit by having it in a different spot in the house. Have a formal dining room? How about a dinner of homemade pizza with candles and fine china for a change? Consider having a picnic on the floor or a barbecue in your backyard.

Make it a buffet or bar

Cater into your kids' desire for independence by making a buffet or bar-type dinner. Grill some hamburgers, boil some pasta or steam the rice and lay out all of the possible toppings. Make a baked potato or taco bar with hard and soft tortilla shells, lots of cheese and vegetable options.

If you want to make dinner fun, don't look at it as just another meal. Instead, see it as an opportunity to create family dinners that promote your child's sense of independence while starting new traditions they may even pass on to their kids.

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