In case you missed the first entry in our healthy meal-planning series, check out the initial post here. Let the four time-saving shopping and planning tips from the nutrition experts in our first post help make your family dinners come together easier than ever. Read on for tips five through seven.
So what about pleasing picky eaters? If this is one of your nightly challenges, here’s some helpful advice on how to keep dinner fun and relaxing without a lot of extra fuss.
Prepare one meal and let everyone serve themselves.
“One of my biggest struggles at mealtime is pleasing everyone at the table,” says Regan Jones, RD, founding editor of healthyaperture.com. “With two young sons, it takes a little strategy to ensure I don’t turn into a short-order cook. I’ve found the key to success is based on two principles. First, I prepare only one meal. My family now knows when they sit down to dinner, there’s no asking for something different from the kitchen. Second, I don’t plate everyone’s food. Everyone picks what they want from all the meal’s components. So for example: If I’m serving a spinach salad with feta, black olives, and strawberries, I bring all of those individually to the table. I’ve found that a child who will avoid a dish completely because it has olives in it just might eat everything else in the dish when served separately. Not only does this teach independence, but also avoids food waste.”
Serve new foods with familiar favorites.
With two “choosy” little girls (ages 4 and 2), Holley Grainger, RD, of Holley Grainger Nutrition, knows firsthand how challenging it can be to get young children to try new foods during mealtime. “For a long time, I only served the girls the foods I knew they liked. I have since made some adjustments to our meals by packing their lunch boxes with an assortment of new and familiar foods, focusing on protein sources, fruits, and vegetables. For dinner, I plan ahead for both new recipes along with family favorites. Each night I offer at least one ‘safe’ food like fruit, brown rice, or veggies and dip so that if they choose to not eat the meal I’ve prepared, they still will not leave the table starving. This has been a big adjustment but has helped to increase their willingness to expand their palates (while decreasing my stress level).”
Offer variety to satisfy differing food preferences.
When trying to satisfy meat eaters and vegetarians alike, media spokesperson Frances Largeman-Roth, MS, RD, advises prepping a variety of ingredients so that plates can be easily personalized. “My oldest daughter doesn’t eat much meat, but loves pasta and rice. My son is just the opposite! He loves steak, meatballs, sausage, shrimp, etc. The littlest daughter thankfully eats everything. This means that I’m always trying to create balanced meals that everyone can eat. So, that might be shrimp tacos with a black bean swap for my oldest daughter. Or I’ll make roasted salmon with brown rice and offer her edamame instead of the salmon. Family meals are so important. Make time to sit down with your family and share what happened that day. The meal doesn’t have to be fancy—it’s who is at the table that matters.”
On that same note, Liz Weiss, MS, RD, co-author of Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen, shares a similar dinnertime dilemma. “My husband is a seafood-eating ‘vegetarian’ but everyone else in my family, including my two teenage sons, eat meat,” says Liz. “Meal planning in my house means preparing one meal that’s meatless yet still appealing to everyone, like a hearty soup made with fiber-rich beans or lentils. Or I select recipes that provide everyone with meat and meat-free choices, like a make-your-own-pizza bar with an assortment of toppings like sausage, chicken, soy meatless, and veggies.”
As Frances and Liz attest above, meal planning for differing food preferences can be a challenge. If you need help, give the eMeals Vegetarian, Mediterranean, and Clean Eating plans a try. Each one offers a variety of fresh, healthy foods paired with meat, seafood, and meatless protein sources. Our subscribers love using the meal plans (each with seven recipes/week!) to customize a week’s worth of homemade dinners to suit their families’ varying tastes.
Want to remember all the tips? Here’s a handy infographic perfect for pinning!
We hope you enjoyed this series! If you missed the first post, check it out here, and don’t forget to share your tips in the comments below. Tag us on social media @eMeals to share what you’re cooking, and we’ll see you at the dinner table!
Andrea Kirkland is a Registered Dietitian and culinary expert on a quest to teach people how to make good-for-you food taste amazing. Her passion for healthy cooking began early in life while helping loved ones who followed special diets find ways to make delicious and satisfying meals. She develops weight-management and specialty-diet recipes as part of the eMeals team.
Mary Creel is a Registered Dietitian and four-time Ironman finisher. She caught the running bug in the 1970s, and hasn’t stopped since. When she isn’t biking, swimming, or pounding the pavement, she’s developing healthy and gluten-free recipes as part of the eMeals team.