Feeding Kids

Dining room still life

Almost summer.All of us are ready, especially Wyatt, who's insanely jealous that Loretta's preschool ended May 23. 

And here's what snacksville summer will sound like:

Loretta: Mom, I'm hungry. What can I have?
Me: Fruit, yogurt, or a rice cake with peanut butter. Or a pickle.
Loretta: But what ELSE can I have? 
Me: What do you want?
Loretta (stomp of the foot): I didn't say I wanted a treat. Just what else can I have?
Me: You can't have crackers. You can have fruit or yogurt or a rice cake with peanut butter. Or a pickle.
Loretta (big sigh): Ooookaaay. I guess I'll have a banana. 

And, of course, I have reproduced for you one of the more successful conversations. Not the one where she waits till I'm on a conference call, waves fruit leather and animal crackers at me, I nod frantically, and emerge later to a pile of wrappers and sticky fingers.

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I could really fill up this post with BAD news about childhood obesity and diabetes and all the ailments lying in wait for consumers of the Western diet. There's plenty of information out there if that's what motivates you.

What motivates me is family dinner time, my unabashedly favorite hour of the day. I've got a few tips, tricks, and credos that have helped me in my 9 years (!!) of motherhood, and the advent of summer seems a good time to pass them on. Like always, take my pontifications with a rather large grain of salt. These are what work for me, but we all have to find our own way.

  1. Kids like interactive food. I have fabulous luck with serving things family style--lots of condiments, kids get to take the amount they want. Our latest thing is good old-fashioned salad bar. I've given several ideas at the end of this post. The best thing about this, of course, is that it's difficult to complain about something they've created! Genius.
  2. Something they'll go ape for twice a week. I try to make something they'll unequivocally love about twice a week. That way, when they complain, I"ll say, "I'm immune to your complaints. We had pizza last night." I actually say that. I am mean. And what do they love? Potstickers and rice, pizza, tuna melts, any kind of pasta, BLT's, teriyaki chicken, tortilla soup, rice and beans, burritos, tostadas, panini, anything with meat.
  3. Once a day treats. They get a treat after dinner (small dish of ice cream, piece of candy) only if they haven't had a treat already during the day. I am POSITIVE I don't know everything they've eaten and don't interrogate them, but if we've had something together earlier, they've been to a birthday party, etc., no after-dinner treat. 
  4. Exposure to everything. My kids love sushi, pho, ramen, Korean BBQ, Mexcian food, dim sum, curries. Maybe they just like the BBQ steam buns and chow mein at dim sum, but they can see Yancey and I eating everything and that's important to me. (No chicken feet for me, though.)
  5. Turtle shell. That describes me when they're complaining--impervious! Protected! Do I like to see them love my food? Of course. Do I take their tastes into account when menu planning? Of course. But I don't try to please them all the time and I don't take their complaints personally. Their abilities to adapt and be thankful are much more important.
  6. Parties are a free-for-all. Birthday parties, BBQ's, family reunions...who knows what they eat!! I'm having fun with adults. I'm positive Wyatt has found a bush to hide in and chugged four sodas. Better than having a soda every day. Childhood has got to have some of these stories, right?
  7. We don't eat meals in the car unless we are on a road trip. A few times a week, all four of us are home for dinner. But often, Yancey or I is at work, and it's just one of us with the kids. No matter what, whoever is here sits down and eats together. Quite leisurely, too. When Wyatt was in basketball this winter, we'd wait until the game or practice was over and often eat at 7:30 rather than get fast food or eat in the car. This takes planning, but it's worth it.
  8. I want to be able to take my kids anywhere. Practicing manners and patience at the dinner table is a perfect place to prepare kids for more formal situations. (And, it must be said, my kids aren't toddlers anymore! That's a whole different ball of wax.) They are very capable of sitting still and making conversation. Plus, it's cute conversation.

And here are some MK family interactive favorites:

  • Baked potato bar with roasted or stirfried broccoli, cheese, sunflower seeds, spinach, red pepper, cottage cheese, and bacon if we have it.
  • Good old rice and beans (black or pinto) with cheese, avocado, salsa, cilantro, crushed tortilla chips, spinach or kale.
  • Cobb salad bar with grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, tomato, feta or blue cheese, thinly sliced red onion, hard boiled eggs, and dijon vinaigrette
  • Greek salad bar with cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, feta, grilled chicken, and grilled pita wedges
  • Tostadas with refried beans, salsa, greens, cheese
  • Grilled teriyaki chicken with rice, thinly sliced cucmbers, and toasted seaweed
  • Whatever the *$# is in the fridge salad bar. Bacon helps the kids excited about anything if you have it.
  • Veggie roll ups with hummus, shredded carrots, diced cucumber, feta, sunflower seeds, julienned lettuce, yogurt
  • Spring rolls rice paper wrappers with rice noodles, peanuts, cilantro, julienned carrots, hoisin sauce
  • Make your own pizzas on naan or pita bread. Tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, thinly sliced peppers and onions

What are your no-fail family favorites?

Happy Summer, favorite readers.