"Mom, you can't give us what we don't like."
This was my four-year-old's proclamation after I attempted to feed her and her two-year-old sister a delicious baked oatmeal made with coconut milk, blueberries, and almonds. It was nutritious, wholesome, filling, and...rejected. Another meal for my kids bit the dust.
How did we get here? When they were babies it had all been so easy. I gave birth to two eating machines. I'd sprinkle lentils with cumin and let them go to town. I'd plop down whole avocados and smile smugly as they scarfed them down. Our grown up meals became baby food with the help of my blender. I was the god damn Queen of the Kitchen, rolling my eyes at moms who complained about their kids' measly palates. "Not my children!" I guffawed from my throne made of rice cakes and organic date bars.
Then, my firstborn decided she didn't like cheese. And spaghetti. And cherry tomatoes. And...just about everything else. Dinner went downhill fast.
Still, I was determined to make my family simple, healthy, kid-friendly meals that were both good for them and good to eat. Breakfast and lunch were fairly easy to survive, but dinner was it's own beast. I was desperate not to fall into the trap of cooking separate kid and adult meals. "They will eat what we eat!" I declared. I became a Weelicious freak (yes, I even paid for her monthly meal plan), I hoarded family-friendly cookbooks, I trolled websites like Dinner A Love Story and Smitten Kitchen. I made meal plans, shopping lists, and crocked the shit out of my pot. And they boycotted EVERY. SINGLE. DINNER.
"Too yucky!" shouted the two-year-old as I plopped down a plate of turkey Bolognese.
"But I don't likeeeeeeeee it," whined my four-year-old when I whipped up a scrumptious chicken and dumplings in the crock pot.
"Why can't we just have hot dogs?" they asked, every time I attempted some creative hidden vegetable dish.
I felt defeated, and - even though it was silly - hurt. "You can't be offended," my husband would say as he scraped their rejects onto his plate. "They're just kids."
I knew this, of course. I was still a (somewhat) logical, reasonable human. But stung every time they contorted their faces in disgust over a meal I'd worked hard to prepare. I don't enjoy cooking and take no pleasure from it. I'm not at home in the kitchen, or the kind of mom who loves experimenting with her own recipes. I find the process terrifying; recipes are overwhelming tests that I'm destined to fail with every teaspoon I accidentally misread as a tablespoon. Also every mom blog, parenting article, and Instagram account was telling me I should be harvesting my own organic vegetables and magically turning them into nutritious meals to be gobbled up my kids. The constant barrage of children on the internet pounding healthy, homemade dinners was bringing me down. There was no joy in any of this meal-making, and so I finally gave up.
And the second I did, life got much, much better.
I decided I would no longer agonize about our dinners. Now I make my kids the things they like, add some fresh fruits and veggies that I know they'll eat, and call it a day. My husband and I get a simple, adult meal (kale caesar salad with chicken, sweet potato tacos) and that's it. Dear god, how things have improved. I'm spending less time in the kitchen, my kids are eating a ton, and everyone is enjoying meal time together. If I had only known that serving chicken nuggets and fish sticks every week could have such a positive effect on my life I'd have started doing it a whole lot earlier. Processed meat at every meal for everyone!
Here's how I handle dinner these days. I keep a Google doc where I write down a simple weekly meal plan, followed by a grocery list broken up in categories (fruit, veggies, dairy, meat, grains, etc). Every Sunday I roast a whole chicken in our oven, which is something I've always wanted to do but, until recently, was too scared to try. Turns out it's incredibly simple, majorly delish, and something my 4-year-old loves helping me do. I let her rub the chicken with olive oil and salt, and she helps me load it in and out of the oven (with mitts on, of course). During the week, dinner stays simple. Last week my kids ate:
Some of the meals - like Sunday chicken, breakfast for dinner, and turkey meatballs - are ones my husband and I eat too. Or I'll make us taco salad and give my kids the meat, some beans, and a quesadilla. I am finding ways for us all to eat the same things and work toward this as much as possible. But I have no more qualms about cracking open that box of Trader Joe's fish sticks on a regular basis. Letting go of my hang ups and guilt about what they should be eating has allowed us all to actually enjoy our food and time together. I trust that as they get older their tastes will broaden and their curiosities will expand. Maybe one day we can even go out to sushi together and reminisce about how they once singlehandedly kept the powdered cheese industry in business.