Community

ways to deal with dinner time when youre never home

You’re not a short-order cook.

At mealtime, we tell our three kids, “This is what’s for dinner. If you don’t like it, that’s fine; you don’t have to eat it. But there isn’t anything else.” They can decide for themselves whether to eat the food in front of them or wait until the next opportunity. Of course, it helps to consider their tastes when planning a meal, making sure that—in addition to the new recipe you’re trying—at least one or two of the other offerings are tried-and-true favorites.

You can spice things up.

True, kids have delicate taste buds, but that doesn’t mean they need to be served a steady diet of pasta with butter (even if that’s all they ask for). In fact, it’s all the more reason to give them flavorful food; children really notice when something tastes good because of their naturally sensitive palates. I expected my kids to shun garlic when they were babies, for instance. And surely, I thought, they’d hate olives. But a little garlic makes so many things taste better that even a 1-year-old can enjoy the difference (there’s a good chance he’s already sampled it in your breast milk anyway). Olives can be wonderful, too, if they’re the mild, fragrant kind marinated in oil and herbs. I do go out of my way to avoid very spicy foods and funky, stinky things like blue cheese. But other than that, I cook the same kinds of meals for my family that I used to cook for friends.

Give vegetables the hard sell.

This food group is traditionally a mom’s biggest hurdle, and it’s easy to understand why. Boiled and salted, vegetables are typically nothing more than a good-for-you side dish, dumped by the ladleful alongside things that actually taste yummy. No wonder getting kids to eat them requires begging and threats, tactics that quickly backfire. Because once your kids realize that you really, really want them to eat vegetables, refusing to do so becomes a power struggle that they will always win.

I’ve had success using recipes that integrate vegetables into delicious main dishes, such as eggplant layered with spiced ground lamb, smashed peas and rice and sautéed zucchini with tomato and basil. And I’ve made lots of vegetable-based sauces for pasta.

Another trick: On the nights that I do serve vegetables as a side dish, I’ll often place them on the table first, when my kids are the hungriest. Usually they’ve wolfed them down by the time the rest of the meal arrives.