How to do Dinner with Toddlers
If you're a mama who makes dinner (is there another kind?), then you know all about how absolutely exhausting it can be to get your littles to actually eat the meal you've planned for them. And if you're anything like me, then you're probably getting pretty annoyed at the amount of time you put into making dinner, and seeing it end up on the floor around your kids' seats.
This has been absolutely life changing for our family! I've been planning out a menu for the week, and making a grocery list for the things that I'll need to make those dinners happen. As always, I'll add in the things that we'll need for school lunches, snacks, etc. But overall, having a clear idea of what I'm going to make for every night during the week makes it SO much easier on me. I know how much time I'm going to need to make the meal, I'll know which day to put a crockpot meal so there's literally zero cooking time for me, and I'm able to tell my kids what's for dinner without searching through the fridge and trying to make it happen on the fly. It can be really easy to heat up some hot dogs for your littles when you have nothing else planned, but when you already know pasta night is on Wednesday, you won't be scrambling.
MAMA WIN: I also find that ordering my groceries online and doing a grocery pickup helps me to avoid taking my kids to the store with me, which, to me, is pretty much worth all the jewels in the Royal Treasury.
So the last tip hasn't actually solved the problem of your kids eating the food you make, and that's because it's pretty much a crap shoot no matter what you do. Just like us, our kids have certain tastes and they'll prefer certain meals over others. But it's important for them to have the options, and it's important for them to understand that we make one meal and they have the choice to eat what's on their plate or not. Something that has worked wonders with my kids is separating the main parts of the meal-- protein, starch, veg. If they're not touching, if they are set out clearly, and they're able to see they can choose between eating rice or chicken or broccoli, the chances are they're going to choose to eat what they like most out of those options. Getting your kids some plates that keep everything in their own spaces is key to this working. The EZPZ mats are the perfect way to lay out food for your babes. The greatest thing about EZPZ is they're all about making eating healthy easier for littles and their parents! Just because you're going to eat the food with the chicken on top of the rice covered in sauce, doesn't mean that your babe doesn't want to see what goes into the mix. The different sections in the Happy Mats, Mini Mats, or the Flower Play Mats let you separate the dinner so that your kids will actually EAT SOME OF IT.
MAMA WIN: The EZPZ mats stick to the table so your toddlers can't throw their plates full of fried rice onto the floor and make you question all of your life choices.
When I have a spare second, I will pretty much always prep for the meals during the week. Whether it's during the weekends when my husband is home and can go outside and play with the littles, or while my baby girl is napping and my son is at school. I'll either make portions of the meals for the week, or I'll prep the ingredients that I'll need. Chopping veggies, baking chicken, making a big batch of rice, etc. All of that takes time, and it's so much easier to do it when your littlest babe is screaming through the witching hour and your toddler keeps demanding fruit snacks and popcorn while you're sweating over the stove. I'm cringing just thinking about that scenario since it happens so often. When you make parts of your meal or even prep/freeze beforehand, it makes it hard to rationalize getting fast food for your kids, making mac'n'cheese, or cutting up some turkey. You've already done the hard work, so now you can just spend a couple of minutes preparing a meal and you have home-cooked goodness ready to go.
MAMA WIN: Pinterest has about 100 million recipes for you to either throw in the crockpot, package in the fridge/freezer for easy cooking, or get it done in 30 minutes or less. Also the Trader Joe's freezer section is pretty much a mama's best friend and gives me immense joy.
Something that I'm pretty passionate about is making sure my kids get to experience different flavors, textures, or dishes that they may love, but also might hate. The point is to make the choices available to them! Whenever anyone asks what my son's favorite food is and I tell them "miso soup with tofu", they are mystified. But it is, without a doubt, his most favorite thing to eat! He loves it and will ask for it about once a week. We never would have known that he liked it if we hadn't gone out for sushi and handed him over a bowl. My daughter LOVES beef stroganoff. First, I had to serve it to her with the egg noodles, beef and sauce separately. But now, she loves it all mixed together and it's something I know she'll want seconds of it! Giving your littles the options to eat certain foods, letting them choose which meals they like, and giving them experiences with different types of cuisine will open up their minds to trying and eating the things that you make them!
MAMA WIN: When you make meals for your kids that have new ingredients, flavors, or spices, the chances that they end up at your parent's or their bff's house eating dinner and refusing to eat anything they're handed are much lower. Thank goodness, because that would make any mama die of embarrassment.