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October 26, 2011

Let’s face it – dinner is hassle for busy parents!  Throw into the mix a picky eater, and you may even begin to dread those “bland” family dinners.  This week we decided to phone-in for reinforcements!  I am so excited about having our first GoodParentGoodChild “guest blogger!”  Welcome Jennifer Cowart ~ Blogger (TheWholeBagofChips), mother of 3, award-winning journalist, and fabulous cook!  


As new parents, we decided right off the bat that we did not want to make multiple meals, that we would attempt to make one dinner (or breakfast or lunch) that everyone could eat, whenever possible.

We found, like most parents, that our kids’ tastes were always changing, and they still are. Oftentimes something we thought they loved, no one likes anymore, and things that we didn’t think they liked, they suddenly love. They like to keep us on our toes!

We try to make everything from scratch as often as possible, and we don’t often eat out, due to budget constraints, so our meals are home-cooked almost every meal, every day. Our dinner meals range from something as simple as pasta with sauce and a salad, to something as complex as Beef Burgandy over brown rice with steamed broccoli. We started out early on making some exquisite dinners and good or bad, our kids have some exquisite taste! They’ve been known to request shrimp scampi or quesadillas more often than they request chicken nuggets or mac & cheese (and yes, we do make those things too!)

5 Tips & 1 Recipe for Easy Family Dinners

1.) Be consistent with your mealtime rules.
    Our kids know that for the most part dinner is dinner. We do our best to cook meals that everyone can eat, it’s their job to eat it. For example, if we are making quesadillas for dinner, we make a bunch that are plain cheese that anyone would like, we make some that are maybe chicken and cheese and maybe a set that are tomato, chicken and cheese so that there’s something there for our picky eaters as well as something there for our more adventurous eaters. We’re making one meal, we’re making the same amount of food no matter what, but we make sure we have something for everyone in that meal. We do the same thing when we make pizza: we’re making three pizzas no matter what, so we make a plain pizza, a bbq chicken/onion pizza, and a pineapple/ham pizza.

2.) Two thirds of the meal is good enough.
    If we know that there is one part of the meal that someone isn’t going to like, we always make sure that person likes the other two parts. For example, our youngest doesn’t love most meats, so we always make sure that she’ll be eating the starch and the vegetable that we’ve put out, and if necessary we’re always willing to make an additional vegetable if it means there’s one for everyone. Bread is not often served with our dinners because we know they will fill up on the bread and not eat the rest of the meal. So when we say two thirds of the meal, one third of that is not bread.

3.) Let the kids help.
    Sometimes it’s easier just to do it yourself, and I totally get that. I find myself falling into the trap of saying “No, I don’t need (or want) any help,” just because it’s faster and easier to do it myself when I’m cooking or baking, but whenever possible let them help. It’s good for them to know their way around a kitchen, to have cooking skills and to take ownership of making part of the meal or even choosing the meal. Pizza is a good one for helping out, and baking is another great way to let the kids help. I’ve never been more grateful for extra sets of hands as I am when I’ve got dozens of cookies to roll out at Christmas time. The kids are so proud to say they made part of the meal or that they chose the meal, and I really think it makes them want to eat it too!

4.) Dips are a great way to feed everyone.
    One of the best things I do for my after school snacks is make a dip and provide a wide variety of things to dip into it. I try to alternate between a ranch veggie dip and a fruit dip that the kids found in one of their own cookbooks. When I do the ranch dip, I try to put out at least one vegetable that each child likes, but they often overlap. My fresh veggies could include four or five of the following on any given day, depending what I have on hand: cucumbers, grape tomatoes, celery, baby carrots, black olives (and yes, I know those don’t count as a real vegetable but they love them,) and peppers of any color, just to name a few. It all depends what’s on hand. When I do my fruit dip (see recipe below) I again put out a wide variety of fruits that include something I know everyone loves and that might include: plums, pears, bananas, peaches, nectarines, apples, cherries, grapes (red or green.) I find my kids eat way more veggies and fruit when there’s a yummy dip to dip them in, than they would if I just told them to grab a piece of fruit after school.

5.) If all else fails, there’s cereal and there’s yogurt.
    In general, my kids can always find something they like in our meals and we do our best to make every effort to provide that for them. However, if all else fails, we try to always have things on hand like cereal, applesauce, fruit cups, yogurts, cheeses and peanut butter so that if need be they can have an additional snack after dinner or with their dinner. It doesn’t happen often, so we don’t really mind when it does, and in general their additional snacks are relatively healthy.
PS. It’s not like they if don’t like dinner, they’re having S’Mores instead! 
A recipe for you:
    Here’s my fruit dip recipe that I will put out for my kids every other week or so. It’s quick and easy, they could make it themselves if they wanted to, but I usually have it ready and waiting when they get in; they love coming in and seeing a good snack on the table. I have no idea just how healthy the dip itself is, but I know that the amount of fruit they consume when I put out this dip is well-worth how healthy or not, the dip is, in my personal opinion.
The kids found this dip in their cookbook called, “Silly Snacks: Family Fun in the Kitchen” and I got the book at a book fair in 2008. They recommend using watermelon to dip, and they called it Watermelon Dippers in the book, but I have used every fruit we have had and they’re all delicious.

Vanilla Sour Cream Dip
8 ounces sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and provide cut up fruit for dipping.

Good Luck!

Jennifer Cowart. Visit my blog: www.thewholebagofchips.wordpress.com

For more stories & recipes like this one visit TheWholeBagofChips, and click subscribe!  Please share your tips and recipes below!

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Rebecca Pressman

Rebecca Jackson is the CEO of GoodParentGoodChild®. She is the mother of both a toddler and a teenager, and is the co-author of Good Nights Now, Glue His Butt to the Chair! and Matilda & Maxwell™ Freaky Homework Fiasco!

Robert Pressman

Dr. Robert Pressman is an internationally known Board Certified Family Therapist & Pediatric Psychologistwho has been in practice for over 37 years. As Director of Research for the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, he is known for his landmark work in children’s ADHD and behavior problems.

Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman

Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, author, and lecturer. Her work with the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology earned international press.

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