It can be a challenge to feed your family, especially when everyone wants something different! And it doesn’t seem to matter whether your kids are young or older. Toddlers are preferential and finicky by nature. Meanwhile Tweens and Teens are seeking out fast food and saying “Not THAT again!” Usually, when given a choice, everyone wants something different. It is human nature to want a choice in what is eaten, but this can make family meal planning a tough task.
Before we launch into tips on how to manage this, let’s cover some basics.
For children and teens, appetites fluctuate from day to day. In reality, typical, healthy children with adequate growth have internal feeding cues that will not let them starve. So one day they will eat EVERYTHING in sight and the next day, they might just pick at their food. So don’t feel compelled to short-order cook separate meals. Depending on the child’s age, offering 3 meals and 2-3 scheduled snacks (that are not too close to mealtime) will ensure there are plenty of opportunities to eat throughout the day.
All foods fit. It’s not “good” foods versus “bad” foods. It’s just food. Nutrition is more about the overall pattern of eating than about individual meals and snacks. Offer a variety of food at meals, making sure there are at least a few things each family member will eat.
How do you plan a meal that has something for everyone? Engage the whole family in meal planning, shopping, and preparing meals. And most of all, make it fun!
Here are some ideas to try:
- When meal planning, get family members’ input for the menu. Sit down together to plan. Or have everyone write their favorite meals on paper, put them in a jar, and select randomly from the jar.
- Have a mini-buffet! Include a variety of cooked ingredients, and allow family members to assemble their own plate based on what they like. For example, have a burrito bowl night by offering black beans, shredded chicken or ground beef, brown or white rice, tomato, onion, cilantro, greens, and cheese. Apply the same concept for pasta dishes, salads, baked potatoes, etc. Repurpose leftovers for lunches, soups, stews, and salads.
- Build your own. Kids of all ages love this! Provide a variety of toppings to choose from, and let each person top their own personal pizza. The same concept works for grilling skewers. Offer a variety of veggies and one or two protein options to skewer.
- Think outside the box. Often we get stuck in a rut and plan meals around what “goes together” or what time of day it is. It’s time to think outside the box. Serve “breakfast for dinner” by offering whole grain waffles or omelettes. Serve lunch for dinner with a BLT or other sandwich. And it’s ok to ditch traditional sides, like green beans and applesauce with pork chops. Instead, let family members each pick a side dish or veggie.
These concepts help foster food acceptance and independence while giving you a break from coming up with all the ideas on your own. With consistency and time, children and teens can become more accepting of a variety of foods. Mealtime challenges and struggles can (eventually) become a thing of the past!
Like these ideas to better feed your family?
Book an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians! We help families that have picky eaters, texture-related issues, autism, and more. The best thing is that insurance may cover 100%!