We’ve got it all wrong when it comes to dinner. We put so much pressure on dinner to be the main meal that gives our kids all the nutrients they need, and forget that there are at least 4 other meals throughout the day! I spent years pleading with my kids to eat just one piece of carrot, because if they didn’t, that would be yet another day without veggies. But not anymore. These days dinner is the easiest meal of the day. And not only do my kids actually get more nutrition overall, but mealtimes are just generally less stressful and more fun. Let’s look at four ways dinner isn’t working for you, and how to switch your meal times around to make sure your kids are getting all the good stuff they need.
Tired Kids Really Don’t Eat Much
By the end of the day, your kids are tired. You’re tired. And when we’re tired, our self control goes out the window. I mean how many times do you have every intention of eating a veggie filled stir fry for dinner, then find yourself ordering burgers from the local take away instead? Yep, just like our self control wears out by the end of the day, so does our kids’. And that also means any food aversions or sensory issues that your kids have will rear their ugly heads and be a lot harder for them to deal with.
Even if your kids don’t have any of those problems, their “do as I’m told” muscle is just plain exhausted by the end of the day. And on top of all that, if you’re anything like me, your patience will be wearing pretty thin by then, too. Luckily there are 4 other meals earlier in the day when we’re less tired! If we rely on Breakfast, Lunch and Snacks to give our kids the bulk of their nutrition, then dinner can be easy and relaxed – which to be honest is the vibe we should be going for before bedtime!
Keep Dinner Simple so Your Kids Eat More
Dinnertime meals are the most complex and overwhelming of the day. Let’s think for a minute about food that kids typically eat each day. My son will generally have toast and a cup of milk for breakfast, cheerios, fruit and a muffin for morning tea, a cheese sandwich for lunch, and some veggie sticks, a protein ball and some dip for afternoon tea. All those meals have about 3 or 4 ingredients, tops. Now let’s take a veggie stir fry. We typically have at least 3 or 4 types of veggies, tofu or some other type of protein, noodles or rice, and a sauce. That is a lot of different tastes and sensations for kids to deal with! And it can be really overwhelming for a lot of kids.
Now, if we actually change their meals around, and add extra ingredients into the earlier meals in the day, then we can balance out the number of ingredients throughout the day. Not only can we make dinner simpler and easier to eat, but it also makes it easier for us to make, too!
Dinner Is The Worst Time for Them to Eat Veggies
We pack dinner full of all the veggies, and when our kids refuse to eat them, we’ve got no other options up our sleeve. I remember when I was studying nutrition at uni, one of the lecturers was talking about how many veggies kids need. She commented that 4 or 5 serves of veggies can be really hard to fit into dinner, but we need to do it. And yep, she’s totally right. That is a lot of veggies to get into your kids in one meal. (It’s a lot of veggies to get in our own meals!)
But guess what? Your kids normally eat at least 5 meals a day. So, you can easily put 1 serve of veggies into each meal of the day. And if your kids just want a bowl of plain pasta for dinner, it really won’t matter because they’ve already eaten 4 serves of veggies through the day!
Your Kids Need to Actually Eat Dinner So They Sleep Well
Want your kids to sleep better? Then they need to actually eat their dinner! How many times have you served up a delicious, veggie filled dinner, only to have your kids take 2 bites, or better yet, refuse to eat the thing entirely. This is seriously a parent’s worst nightmare. You’re left with the problem: Do you tell your kids this is it for dinner, and have them go to bed hungry, take forever to get to sleep, and wake up tired and grumpy in the morning? Or do you make them something different, and feel all the parent guilts that you’re ruining them for life and giving them bad food habits – but at least they go to sleep.
Now for me, I’ve eliminated this problem completely in my house by making sure that dinners are simple and have at least a couple of things that I know they’ll eat. I would much prefer my kids to have plain pasta, hummus and avocado and go to bed with a full tummy, than fight with them to eat my spaghetti puttanesca. (And don’t worry, you’re not setting them up for a lifetime of only eating plain pasta – I teach plenty of techniques to get your kids to try new foods in my Healthy Vegan Kids course).
Let’s Take The Pressure Off Dinner And Keep It Easy
So it’s time to take the focus off dinner, and use the rest of the meals each day for the bulk of your kids’ nutrition. Not only does this give us more chances each day to get the nutrition in, but it also means that your kids will be full and relaxed for bed, and have a good night’s sleep. And everything is easier when they have a good nights’ sleep!
And the most under utilised mealtime to get those nutrients is snack time! Yep, you read that right. As I said in my post #1 Secret Weapon for Fussy Kids, snacks are the perfect foods to boost. I’ve put together a collection of my 5 most popular snack recipes that are full of iron, zinc and protein. You can sign up for the recipes below!