What to do and say when your kids ask: “What’s for dinner?”

Did you read the Boston Globe article: “The question no parent wants to hear: ‘What’s for dinner?’” 

If family mealtime has you stressed out start doing these three things today:

#1 – Forget planning meals for an entire year, just start with the next few days. 

Grab a piece of paper and jot down three meals you can make this week. Say to your kids: “I am taking suggestions for dinner.  What would you like to see on the menu this week?” 

Post the menu on the refrigerator door so everyone is aware of the plan.

If your family members have special nutritional needs or strong preferences, consider assigning each person one day to choose what’s for dinner. Honor that schedule regardless of whining.

When people start complaining about what’s for dinner, calmly say: “It’s Joey’s choice tonight. I know this isn’t the meal you picked. What would help it?”

#2 – Memorize these four words: “What would help it?”

This is a strategy I call the “Add-On” and it’s one antidote to dealing with dinnertime drama. Read my full article on how to implement the “Add-On” here.

The “Add-On” is one small portion of a condiment-like food kids can dip, squeeze, sprinkle or spread—and here’s the important part—to the food that’s already on the table. Unlike other suggestions for navigating food refusal in kids, the Add-On engages kids creative thinking to cope with what’s in front of them. It doesn’t mean they get a separate meal but offers them a little slice of power they’re hungry for at the table.  

# 3 – There is a way out of short order cooking or making different meals for different members of your family.

Step 1 is to not feel guilty for having tried to please all the people you love.

Step 2 is finding ONE tiny thing you can change to start moving away from this behavior.

Start by referring to the meal plan hanging on the fridge and say:

“I’m going to make one meal from now on, so we have more time to be together during dinner.”

Craving more help?

I coach parents with practical ways to connect instead of clash with their kids over food

If you live in the Boston area, check out my upcoming family-focused nutrition classes!

Veggies First! A FREE 6-week plan to up plant based eating in your home.

This week’s mission:

Serve Veggies First.  Consistently. Not simultaneous with carby-competitors.  

Start each meal with a solo course of grilled, roasted, steamed or raw veggies served family-style on a platter. Everyone helps themselves (it’s okay to use your hands!)  Try chowing down roasted broccoli, grilled asparagus or kale chips as an appetizer while the entree rests on the stove.  

Stay the course – serving veggies first EVERY night this week.  If you serve roasted cauliflower as a solo appetizer one night and revert to pre-meal crackers and cheese the next you are impeding your efforts at creating lasting change.  

Aspiring to move the needle in terms of vegetable intake necessitates positing the produce wisely. Why? Because kids (and adults!) are more receptive to veggies if they are hungry.  Veggie intake plummets if you’ve just filled up on crackers, chips or pretzels. Refrain from serving crinkly-package-type foods ahead of mealtime.  This might seem like appetizer buzzkill but vegetables, when prepared properly, far outshine the carb competition.  Veggies deserve their own time in the spotlight, so dress them up and get them center stage!

Up the appeal by letting kids flavor veggies with some finishing touches. Try sea salt, flavored olive oil, Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast, depending on your family’s palate.  Let the kids sprinkle this “glitter” on just before serving to pique interest.

Give a solo veggie platter the appetizer advantage this week and let me know what transpires!

Follow along weekly this summer for simple and effective behavior-based strategies to bolster healthy eating in your home.  

Stephanie Meyers, MS, RDN

Instagram @TableTalkCoach