Ready, Set, Cook?

by Cate on August 26, 2009

So tonight I want to turn the tables here at Sweetnicks.  I want to hear from you.  Specifically about meal planning.  Being a single mom brings a whole new set of challenges to the dinner table.  Heck, there is a whole new set of challenges to before the dinner table too!  But speaking specifically about deciding what to make for mealtime, I am all over the place lately.  I struggle with choosing something that will speak to everyone’s likes, be well-balanced and healthy, and keep the kitchen fuss and muss to a minimum.  Around here, as I’m sure in many of your own households too, 5-7 pm is like the extended “witching hour.”  Madeline is up and racing around, both kids are bouncing in and out of the kitchen, I’m tripping over toys, cats and a big dog, and I’m trying to concentrate on getting a meal on the table.  There isn’t a heckuva lot of quiet time.

Now when it comes to actual food, Madeline will eat just about anything, but not everything is necessarily practical when she’s working on fork and knife skills.  She doesn’t want help, yet some things are easier to eat than others for her.  Nick is a little pickier.  And there’s a whole slew of things that I like that I know Nick won’t touch.  Where does the compromise get made?  How best to keep everyone happy while keeping sanity in check as well?  Do I skip out on all the stuff I like if I know it’s not their cup of tea?  Forever give up mushrooms?  Oysters?  Asparagus?  Sniff, sniff.  Do I make separate meals?  Do I just eat my favorite stuff when the kids aren’t here?  For the most part, that’s what I’ve been doing.  I’m not a big fan of making everyone their own meal.  Did I mention the witching hour?  I want to keep things as easy as possible, yet still hit all the necessary key elements, so making multiple meals just isn’t practical.

So that’s my pickle.  I’d love to hear how you handle it in your own household.  What are your tricks for keeping the peace at the table but speaking to everyone’s palate?  How do you meal plan?  The floor is yours!

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

TEB August 26, 2009 at 11:14 pm

I add different toppings (mushrooms, asparagus, etc.) to my dishes than to my boyfriend’s (cheese, bacon, “acceptable” vegetables). So the main dish, whatever it is (think pasta, pizza, potato, chicken, steak, anything that might be a blank-ish canvas ) is the same, but the accoutrement are different.

Good luck!

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theungourmet August 27, 2009 at 1:19 am

The dinners that seem to work out the best are ones where I can build to suit. For instance, I can make a rice or pasta dish with meat and veggies involved and I will take a little bit of each ingredient that I know my son will go for and then I toss the rest together and finish preparing the meal for the rest of us. This way I don’t have to make two meals.

Does all of this make any sense? Sometimes it’s hard to type out my thoughts!

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leslie August 27, 2009 at 8:33 am

NO NO NO…DO NOT MAKE SEPERATE MEALS.
I am a huge believer if you cater to your kids taste at dinner, you will just raise picky eaters and cause yourself a much more stressfull situation.This is what I do, I cook what my husband and I like and also incorporate something the kids like. For example I will always have bread w/ dinner cause I know if the kids wont eat the main portion of the meal, they will at least eat the bread. Also my rule at the table is the HAVE to try everything. If they dont like it they dont have to eat it. But they still have to at least try it. And if they dont eat what I made they are going to bed hungry.
My sister whos daughter is the same age as mine is a VERY picky eater. Why? Because my sister only makes her things she likes(hotdogs, chicken nuggets, etc) She has serious fights when it comes to dinner time.
I know it might sound strick, but it works out in the long run..BELIEVE me!

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chris August 27, 2009 at 8:36 am

SIMPLE – im a single man and work at a place where there are a lot of good cooks. when they see what i have for lunch they feel sorry for me and bring me leftovers from there dinner and most times its
REAL GOOD> sometimes i have dinner made for me 3xs a week. the other times its a nice invention called the microwave. hahhaha care package anyone?

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Ali August 27, 2009 at 8:50 am

Since I stay at home with the kids, what I will normally do is once a week, maybe twice, make a meal that I like that I know no one else does, and I’ll eat that for lunch during the week. Something small, like an 8×8 pan of enchiladas. Which by the way, I’ll try to make on a weekend or sometime when it isn’t too busy, and freeze it for later use.

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Tyanne August 27, 2009 at 9:01 am

Hi Cate,

I will do a roast chicken in the crock pot with potatos and carrots and serve it with a salad. My son will eat all of it, as will I, and my daughter will eat the chicken and salad. That way we are all still getting something healthy and that we will all eat.

I have also started making casseroles once or so a month on days off or when the kids aren’t home. You can make several in one day and freezer them to use on busy days. Some of our favorites are turkey tetrazini and chicken rotel, I also usually serve these with a bagged salad from the store. Easy, Easy.

Hope this helps.

Tyanne

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FireMom August 27, 2009 at 9:35 am

We shop two weeks at a time (minus fresh produce at the farmer’s market, milk and bread which need to be purchased mid-cycle as well). I plan out the meals on Google Calendar with links to the recipes if they’re not family ones. I try two to three new recipes every two week span. I have one picky, one not picky. We don’t force him to eat if he doesn’t like a new recipe but he has to eat something else that comes with the meal that night.

We save SO much money going this route.

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Lee August 27, 2009 at 10:11 am

I believe in putting a meal on the table and they can eat it or not. If they choose to not eat it, they can be hungry. This will not kill them despite what they tell you when they want a bowl of cereal before bedtime. If you cater to only what they like to eat you will raise picky eaters.
I agree with previous posts that putting bread on the table ensures that they will eat something, and making them try everything is a good idea but making them eat all of something is not.

My husband used to get upset that I let my kids put CheezWhiz on broccoli. Hey, broccoli that they eat is more nutritious than broccoli they don’t eat. And they grew up to like broccoli without the CheezWhiz.. something I never learned to do.

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The Neighbor (Wife) August 27, 2009 at 10:41 am

Oh, a topic up my alley. I’m with Chris. But, when you have to cook. Keep it simple. Always have frozen options and pasta on hand. (Pizza, kids meals, chicken nuggets, pasta etc) And then throw in some vegs and a salad. I have the same problem because I come home so late. And don’t feel like cooking.

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carrie August 27, 2009 at 10:46 am

I’m with lots of others here. No separate meals. My girlfriend who has a nearly 3 year old and an 16 month old says her younger daughter eats everything and the 3 year old son is very picky, and she says it’s her fault because she got into the habit of giving him stuff he liked and he didn’t want to try anything else once he got into those habits.
We are just entering the table food phase (my twin boys are 10 months) but we always make sure there is something we know they like. That being said, they seem to be willing to try anything we give to them–my husband has been making fun of me for giving them gazpacho last week–but they’ve also had hummus and pieces of black olive in addition to easy things like pasta with tomato sauce and things of that nature. They also like pizza, and so I’m trying to make dough, bake it 3/4 of the way and freeze it, and when I make it later, load it with veggies so they get accustomed to eating it no other way. I’m also hoping that if they get started on wheat bread they won’t balk at it later in life. Maybe they develop a preference for white later on, maybe not.
I like the idea of cooking something that has familiar components but also some new things. Like for example, do a risotto that has cheese and a veggie they like, but then the next time you cook it, do a different veggie or protein. Also, from what I understand sometimes it takes a few tries for kids to like something.

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Susan August 27, 2009 at 10:58 am

It’s not easy, I know. Trying to please everyone just ain’t gonna happen. Luckily my daughter’s only 4 months old, so she’s happy with what I provide. My 3 year old on the other hand has become Mr Picky. I’ve resorted to, if you want fruit/pudding/cookie/dessert, you at least have to try what I put on your plate. *sigh* I don’t want to be that mom, but it’s what currently works. I make one meal and if he doesn’t eat it, then he doesn’t eat…okay, he may get some ham & cheese or some other sort of non-cooked item.

As for meal planning, I try to do it once a week and plan for about 4-5 days. I coordinate that with what’s on sale at the grocery stores and what I have in the pantry. I can usually hit up the grocery store once every 2 weeks, with an extra trip thrown in for something I’ve run out of, or something I don’t want to get too far ahead of time.

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mandy August 27, 2009 at 3:09 pm

We tend to do more cooking on the weekends or one night of the week when its quiet, make 4 or 5 different things — then either freeze it or stick it in the fridge and everyone just sort eats what they want through the course of the week.

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Ramona August 27, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Well it’s just me, the hubby and sometimes my brother. Lucky for me we all eat most anything and we all cook.

Our main problem is that by the time we get off work, fool with the horses. Feed horses, dogs, cats, chickens and clean stalls its already 7:30 to 8 pm. Sometimes we just eat junk food. Other times somebody volunteers to cook.

We plan a little and wing it a lot. That just works the best for us.

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Debbie August 27, 2009 at 7:43 pm

It’s diffifcult to make things that both your kids will enjoy and that is also appealing to you. Some nights things just don’t work out no matter what…..But, here are some standbys that may help. Have breakfast for dinner one night a week, alternate pancakes and bacon one week for eggs and bacon the next. Or a healthy cereal like Cherrios with fruit. I used to offer cereal when I wanted things easy with a “hidden” banana. You may laugh but that does work! Gets them very interested….I also make larges batches of tomato sauce with meatballs and freeze a ton of it so that is always on standby also. You may also assign your son one night a week to menu plan…..

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Susan August 27, 2009 at 9:46 pm

I cook for me and my Mom..so not sure I can help much..but here are a couple things:
1x or 2x a wekk I roast a pan of veggies…all kinds..cauliflo..brocc/tomotoes//onions..eggplant..etc..carrots…pick what you like..this way there are veggies done already..one thing off the list
You can also put a bunch in the food processor once cooked and add some canned stock..presto! instant soup..and delish!
I also roast a chicken or two..have that in fridge for dinners…sandwiches etc.

Also..maybe one night cook up a bunch of ground meat..this way you could do tacos a couple nights..have all the toppings prepared…the kids will love to help prep that
Baked pasta casserole is always a hit to have in freezer
Maybe make a deal w/ a friend or sister to come over once a month and just cook for your freezer..this way you both walk away w/ a bunch of meals and the kids can all play while you do it.
You can even have someone babysit for a few hours( a friend or relative) and tell them you will be making them a casserole as a thanks for babysitting..and then you have the few hours to cook.
Most of all…enjoy this time..I know it’s crazy busy..but memories are made by simple things…maybe throw a blanket outside and have a picnic w/ grilled cheese and veggies cut up…they get dessert if they finish there veggies.

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krhm August 28, 2009 at 8:24 am

You’ve got some good ideas already. School nights are when I go for tried-and-true combinations, and everyone eats the same meal, although I will add to some plates (like last night, I served the char siu pork to DDs, then added extra chili flakes for mine).

But once a week, usually on Fridays, I make something specifically for the kids and we all eat that too. We usually eat that meal on a blanket in the family room while watching a movie, rather than sitting at the dining room table like we do every other night. “Friday family fun night” has been a tradition for many years, and we even have fun with the desserts: smores in the fireplace, etc.

I do try to utilize the crockpot, freezer, creative leftovers, etc, during the week.

I also think it’s important to keep exposing the kids to new flavors. My oldest never liked black olives, but we kept having them in dishes, and then one day she decided she loved them! Now I have to keep a “cooking” jar in the fridge and a snacking jar for her. So even if they don’t try the food, or if they try and don’t like it, don’t give up! You’re doing a good thing even if they don’t see it! :)

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Magda August 28, 2009 at 9:22 pm

I am soooo guilty of making everyone seperate meals every night that I can’t seem to set myself free of the chore. Can’t help here…but did get lots of help! THANKS!

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Laura August 30, 2009 at 10:58 am

We are Southern so we do more “family style ” meals…a little of this a little of that….. so there is always something everyone likes without seperate meals.

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Jess August 30, 2009 at 11:42 am

I am with most everyone here in regards to not fixing a meal for everyone. My boyfriend has a 9 year old who says he doesn’t like a lot of things, but we have found that maybe his mother is not the fan and just won’t fix or not fix it properly. He hated mushrooms, but we also have the “you have to try it” thing and he liked the way I fixed them. We have a few Japanese restaurants where I am from and he said he didn’t like it until he tried Teryaki Chicken and now he loves it. He even said last night he didn’t like carrots and he ate every single one on his plate. I think a lot of it has to do with fixing things different ways, they may not like it one way but try again and do it a different way, they might surprise you. I usually fix something that I like that they may not (Daddy was pretty picky before also, that quickly changed and he will try anything I fix now), but will at least try and then I make things for each person and hope that something new is like between them. And if it is something new that I have no idea what it will turn out like, I always have a back up plan and it is usually grilled cheese or something quick for the starving palate.

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paula August 31, 2009 at 1:51 pm

I just did a couple of posts about menu planning and cooking this week that mentioned this.

I will never force anyone to eat something they don’t like. I do have the kids try dinner first but I let them have a few simple favorites if they really don’t like it. I keep chicken nuggets, turkey burgers, SpaghettiOs, deli meat and things like that on hand for them. Nick has caught on to leftovers now too and if he doesn’t like tonight’s dinner, he’ll ask for yesterday’s.

Since I try so many new recipes, I think that’s only fair.

I want my boys to have positive associations with food and I think they do. It’s too soon to tell with the little one but the older one likes a healthy assortment of food. I don’t expect him to like everything, all of the the time. Like me, he just gets sick of some foods sometimes. He will always admit that he liked something he didn’t think he was going to like.

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Patsy September 1, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Definitely don’t make separate meals! That will create it’s own problem. I make what my husband and I like most nights, but make sure to include a couple of things that I know the boys will eat w/o question. A couple of nights I cater to what the kids will eat, but may “dress it up” for us so we can all be happy – I make panko chicken strips frequently, but will eat mine over a salad filled with my favorite toppings or tossed into a wrap… sometimes this ends up being what the kids ask for… so, don’t give up the things you like, perhaps after they see them enough they will decide to take a taste and discover something wonderful!

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