A month or two ago, I started posting my kids’ dinners on Facebook and Instagram. I didn’t mean for it to become a “thing,” but I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who say it helps them plan their kids’ dinners, so I keep doing it, even though sometimes I feel a little funny about the steadily increasing amount of food pictures on my phone.
I really enjoy using my cute plates, arranging the food attractively, and the challenge of getting all the food groups on there. It’s a great feeling when I present my kids with a nice dinner, and it motivates me to keep trying at this whole dinner thing.
This is not an area of motherhood which comes easily to me. Most days, by dinnertime, I am ready to clock out. I’m tired, perhaps frazzled, and more interested in writing, music or reading then spending time in the kitchen. I used to just throw something together for the kids because they don’t eat that much anyways. I found it very frustrating to put a lot of effort into a dinner which remained largely untouched.
At some point I realized that I really did want/need to put more effort into 1) expanding their food choices beyond pizza and pasta 2) making sure they have a chance at getting the nutrients they need to grow and develop.
These may seem like no-brainer parenting values, but really, it’s taken me over four years of parenting to prioritize this. Taking pictures and posting them online is kind of my way of holding myself accountable, because I still would rather clock out for an hour around dinner time and let them fend for themselves. I would. But I can’t.
The downside of the online pictures thing is that I’ve noticed some misconceptions popping up:
1. I am doing exciting, well-balanced dinners every single night.
I don’t post every dinner I make, and that can give the impression that I’m doing gourmet dinners every night. I am not. Generally, I only post the pictures that I’m proud of, that look the best or the most interesting (to me). Taking a picture of cereal, processed cheese slices and apple wedges just doesn’t thrill me. It’s not pretty, but it’s real. It happens, and that’s okay.
2. My kids actually eat most or all of these dinners.
Sometimes they do.
But a lot of the times, they don’t.
So, for those of you that see my kids’ dinners and think that they are consistently eating well-rounded meals, let me be transparent about what’s really going on.
In the way of many toddlers and preschoolers, my children do not eat much. And they have preferences. None of this is abnormal, and so I try not to stress about it. I read somewhere that if children their age eat one good meal a day, that’s okay (maybe it’s even one good meal every couple days, I don’t remember). Anyways, their pediatrician is not concerned, so neither am I.
Over time I’ve learned to make sure that they have not snacked for at least two hours before dinner so that they have an appetite. Dinner is more or less served around the same time every night. Right before dinner is playtime, and the best is when they can run around for a few hours and build up that appetite. When I can, I sit at the table with them and keep them focused on eating (not forcing them to eat, but just keeping them at the table until they’re full). I really try to increase the odds of them eating, but you know what? I can’t control how they’re feeling.
My goal is to include a grain, a protein, a fruit and a veggie. I read in the Smithsonian’s food issue that some children need to be offered a new food at least nine times before they will even try it, sometimes. So I always include a vegetable even though I know 99% of the time it will be ignored or outright rejected. At least they know vegetables exist.
Because pictures can be so instructive, I took pictures of our dinner, both the before and the after shots, for five consecutive days. Even if it wasn’t pretty or interesting. It was a hectic week, and it was very tempting to “start over” on a week when I would have more time, but I wanted to be real about this. Not every week is a good week, and that’s okay. On a happy note, I feel that because I’ve raised the bar for myself, it allowed me to still create fairly healthy dinners on the fly. You know, it’s been like dinner-making resistance training, so even when I skip a day, so to speak, I still have somewhat developed dinner-making muscles. Neat.
(the left side is the “before” and the right the “after”)
The meatballs were taken from the freezer, the healthy “rice crispy” treat was leftover from Shabbos. I love Near East brand rice and couscous; they’re tasty and quick to make. Apple slices are also a staple for us, as they’re fairly quick to prep, even with peeling the apples. I knew they wouldn’t touch the radish, but I think maybe they licked it.
Pasta and cheese is one of the easiest dinners I make. I finely diced some vegetables in the hope they wouldn’t notice them, and thus eat them. Haha. Not at all. It may have also inhibited them from eating the actual pasta. Corn is from a can. Yogurt is an easy protein to include. As you can see, this dinner was largely untouched.
I took the leftover pasta from the previous night (’cause there was a lot of it), and mixed in some pasta sauce and farmer’s cheese. They still didn’t eat it, not really. So they had potato chips. On paper plates. Not my finest hour, but there it is.
In a desire to redeem myself somewhat from the previous night, I sautéed some ground beef and added pasta sauce. Near East rice again, apple wedges, and heart of palm slices. It was pretty successful, thankfully.
What was even going on this week? I don’t know. I fried some fish for dinner, since I had made couscous-crusted fish the previous week which my kids devoured. This fish, however, not so much. At least someone ate one piece. That’s a bagel with peanut butter (maybe jam, too, I don’t remember). The blueberries, which I thought would go over well, did not. Also, mayonnaise is apparently on the do-not-eat list. Duly noted.
If you have kids that really eat nicely, ENJOY! Please feel free to share any tips or tricks you’re learned about getting nutrients into little kids, or any meals that have been particularly successful. If your kids are of the picky persuasion, don’t despair! You can still give yourself 100% credit for trying even if the dinner you made wasn’t consumed. Seriously. Trying is hard when there’s so little “success” to show for it.
Also, I want to add that we do give them a daily multi-vitamin. We use Uncle Moishy jellies, and they LOVE them. LOVE! That’s very helpful if they’re not getting nutrients through actual food.
Here are some resources about little kids who may have little appetites:
- Children’s Health – Mayo Clinic
- How To Handle a Picky Eater – Baby Center
- Feeding a Picky Eater – WebMD
So the next time you see a picture of my kids’ dinner, I hope you’ll see it as a “you can do it!” instead of a “look at me!”