Recipes

Why I Am Letting My 5-Year-Old Plan Dinner

mac and cheese

My older daughter is growing up, as those pesky kids tend to do, and over the last six months or so (she just turned 5), she has gotten more particular about her food. Not picky, because she remains a good eater–but she has strong opinions about what she wants to eat. Which is super fun.

Some parents insist on making one dish for dinner and never deviating; other parents make two or three versions of dinner to satisfy everyone (like mine had to do with my very picky brother). Neither of those options feels totally right with me. As a Jewish and Italian mom, I relish feeding my kids food they will like (and that will also be good for them).

So the solution I came up with is that I have started asking my daughter: What do you want to eat this week?  Her answers don’t change drastically (mac and cheese, all day every day), but she also asks for salmon, sometimes pizza, many times meatballs and even occasionally she asks for broccoli and cucumber. Invariably, I still get complaints such as “why don’t you buy any yummy food!?” But the co-planning has helped a little and even some new recipes (coming soon!) Here is a sample menu from my little recent experiment: 

Monday night: Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Noodles and Raw Veggies

I double the recipe to make 2 lbs of meatballs, and while I do serve them with simple spaghetti squash for the adults, I serve it with rice or egg noodles for the kiddos, which can be prepped ahead on Sunday evening. Make a simple salad for parents, and some chopped cucumber, peppers and carrots for the little ones. 

Tuesday night: Taco Tuesday

My daughter loves Taco Tuesday, and earlier this year we began rotating dinner playdates with two other families from my daughter’s preschool. Meaning, each family hosts every third week, which reduces the number of dinners I need to prepare, and also provides a built-in playdate every week. Oh, not to mention, the moms get to have some vino while the kids stuff their faces.

But back to the food. We usually put out a spread of hard and soft shell tacos, rice, beans, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, grilled chicken, meat or meat substitute, salsa and guacamole.

Another way to serve tacos? In a bowl like this. The ingredients are all the same, so adults can have their version over rice or salad, while the kids can pile high their tacos.

Wednesday night: Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese and Steamed Broccoli

I could feed my kids mac and cheese every night of the week without complaint. But when it gets requested, I try to make a smidge healthier by adding mashed sweet potato. You can also add canned pumpkin, pureed squash or even chopped up broccoli. My daughter’s favorite veggie is steamed broccoli with butter, so that’s what she got.

Thursday night: Panko-Crusted Salmon from Ina Garten and Sautéed Spinach

My daughter calls this “mommy’s special salmon” but really it’s just an Ina Garten recipe. Gd that woman is a mad genius. Instead of searing then baking the salmon, I prepare per directions but simply bake in a 375 oven for 15-17 minutes, or until you see that the “white stuff” is coming out on the sides. I like to serve this with sautéed spinach.  

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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