Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I really don't believe in mealtime being fight time. I like to imagine that we all sit down together, smile, pass dishes, laugh and talk about our day. I imagine it being just like it is on TV in those crescent roll commercials. That is not the scene in our house. The first problem is that we don't have a dining room table where we sit down and eat together. Well, we have a table but it is currently (and temporarily, I hope) out of commission. We have a dining room area. A nice one in fact. But it's a little over taken with... stuff. If you visit my friend Amy at 4th Frog, you know she recently spent 4 hours cleaning out a closet and she bravely shared the before and after pics. Take her before pic, make it at least 3x worse, expand the area to cover a dining room and you've got my situation. Jeff's working on it. A little bit at a time. The second problem... my daughter has hit her first picky stage. I refuse to battle over food. We have simple rules. We serve dinner. You can choose to eat it. If you eat it all, you get dessert. If you choose not to eat it all, no dessert. If you don't like what is served, you can choose food from the snack bin instead. This also means no dessert. The rules are known. And the rules are questioned and fought and complained about. Because Teagan has now become... picky. Or is she? We are working parents. We don't have a lot of time in the evenings. Cooking meals is a challenge. We fell hard into the bad habit of carry out, meals out, pick it up, drive through... Last week, I decided I'd had enough. Time to plan a menu, make a list, grocery shop. And I did. I spent 2 1/2 hours preparing dinner Sunday. Maple glazed stuffed pork loin. Cheesy green bean casserole. It was good and tasty and I put a lot of effort into it. Jeff was very nice about it. The kids ate the meat. Tonight, a mexican layer bake. Ground beef, corn, salsa, cheese, tortillas. All layered together and baked. Yum, right? Not in this house. Both kids refused to even touch it. And I about lost it. I know that's unreasonable. I know that making a change from lots of restaurant food to home cooked meals isn't going to be easy. My stomach was in knots. I took a time out. I went and laid down for a few minutes, took a couple of Tums. And I hatched a plan. I emerged from the bedroom and grabbed paper and pen. And I sat down with Teagan and asked her what it is she likes to eat. Here's the list. Muffins, chicken, chicken nuggets, water, apple juice, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, celery with ranch, peas, plain green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, baked potato, fish sticks, fish (baked tilapia or salmon), pretzels, cheese, bacon, sausage, eggs (scrambled or fried), bread- but no crust, plain rice, chicken fried rice (with egg, peas, corn), kiwi, avocado (she doesn't really like avocado- she won't eat it when I have it), apples (no skin), oranges, cottage cheese, mini tacos (frozen food), bagels, chicken noodle soup, ravioli, cereal with milk, hamburgers, hot dogs, raisins, craisins... So now I have a starting point. No more casseroles and sauces. Just like her dad, she prefers plain food. Which really is fine. It doesn't suit my style... but this isn't about me, is it? So scratch this week's menu.... or not.... I've still got a few tricks up my sleeve that I want to try out. But at this point, I think that she's given me a really great list to work with. So now I can make dinners that she has said she will eat. No fancy menus, no lists of ingredients, no searching for recipes. Time to buy veggies, fruit, fish, and chicken. Time to bake muffins (just finished up a batch of applesauce muffins for the week). Time to keep it simple. Going forward... simple menus built from Teagan's list, take back the dining room and have actual family meals- with no TV. My next shopping trip will be Sunday and I will stick with Teagan's list. And the dining room? Jeff... set a date. And then we'll be ready to make our evenings as simple as possible- thereby continuing to build the strong foundation that we need.


Amy said...

I'm with you on the frustration that comes from cooking meals no one will eat. My strategy is to make sure there is at least one thing on the table that each person likes. I know when I serve pork chops, the boys won't eat it. So I serve it with mac-n-cheese as a side.

On taco night, which one of my kids won't eat, there's corn and if all he eats is a plateful of corn, at least I know he's at least eaten something.

Good luck. (And for the record, my dining room table is next, too!)

mimbles said...

Oh, I've been here! Caitlin's list at the same age was rather shorter though ;-)

There's nothing worse than making a huge effort to improve your family's meal-time habits and having that effort met with revulsion and conflict over the meal. Planning meals that you know will be eaten lets you concentrate on establishing good routines first - it's a good call, one thing at a time!

I found I pretty quickly got horribly bored with eating Cailtin-friendly food and ended up alternating between meals she would eat and ones that challenged her a bit. Or, as I am wont to call them, "scare the kids dinners" :-) It's a very slow process and her culinary horizons are expanding bit by bit, but there are still nights when she eats nothing but plain pasta, rice or bread along with a token mouthful of the offending food. Last night was plain pasta, the night before was bread! Tonight I'm cooking corned beef which she does like.

Also, maple glazed stuffed pork sounds divine!

Shannon said...

I was an adult before I would touch an omelet and when did... well, I still have those bruises on my backside. Same with rice, spinach [which I can't eat now because I am trying to get rid of some blood clots]. Have never liked peas or cauliflower, never tried brussels sprouts [looked like someone had castrated the Jolly Green Giant]

There is gonna be foods that Teagan will not ever eat. And foods she may discover be tween now and then. You are right to try to take the tension out of your family meals and you are doing right to choose what battles you want to fight.

Nancy said...

I have a good chicken parm recipe that is good and Delainey will eat it. I will be happy to share if you think T will eat it.

Elizabeth said...

How funny this topic! I just went to a Mom's group meeting 2 weeks ago about this very thing. Gather a dozen and a half moms to talk about this and woosh there's a lot to learn!

Top tips I took away from it....

Kids (and husbands) don't like casseroles or anything like them. They like everything plain and seperate on their plate. I've finally given up my love for baking nice, delicious, comforting casseroles b/c whether I like it or not, I've found this fact of dislike to be spot on!

Make a menu, plan and shop each week. Saves time and $$$ in the end. This was something I was already doing but it helped to hear how many others agreed :)

Grocery shop early on Sunday mornings. It's a pain to get up and going on a Sunday but as I've found in my last 3 motnhs of food shopping... there's NOBODY in the store at 6:30am on Sunday. In and out, no kids and almost relaxing even. Seriously worth considering :)

As for the picky eaters, I've got 4EXTREMELY picky kids and one who will eat just about anything. Plus, a husband who only eats the Atkins way (ugh!) We all try to plan the monthly menu together so everyone has a say but it doesn't always work on each night. My answer to this... "this is what I've made, if you choose not to eat it here's the loaf of bread, you all know where the peanut butter or lunch meats are and have a yogurt too. Enjoy!"

Good Luck Liz. I'm sure with the plan you have in place, dinner will be very "crescent-esque" soon :)

Claudya Martinez said...

I wish you the best of luck on this one. Sounds like you will be making lots of chicken.

Lisa said...

Now I know why you said yesterday that the timing for the FitCity recipe challenge was right!

I have 2 picky eaters and 4 great eaters so I count myself lucky at dinner time but my kids prefer their food not to touch either. We've found that food they get to help make is food they will eat, so each kid has his/her cooking speciality. My oldest stepson is getting to be as good a griller as his dad.

The other thing we do from time to time is the board dinner. All the ingredients go on one board - lunchmeat, cheese, olives, peanuts, tomatos, grapes, string cheese, crackers, salami, etc. etc. The rule is you can have as much as you like of what you like as long as you try one new thing. I've introduced a lot of fruits and veggies that way.

Good luck and healthy eating!

hoteltuesday said...

I'm glad to see that she loves so many fruits! They're healthy, not that expensive, and delicioso! Maybe you can just make fruit salad for dinner one night....

I don't have a dining room in my house and I really wish I did. I don't like eating in my room and the rest of the house is always filled with my housemates and the strangers they invite over.

Mary said...

Great plan, Liz! We've have two systems that are working pretty well. One is the "one-bite rule." Sometimes I"ll make a main dish that one or both kids aren't fond of. I just make sure that the side dishes are healthy ones they will like. So, when the meal is served, they must only eat one bite of the dish they don't like, and then they can eat the rest of the dinner with no more fussing. The other system is hatched at our Sunday night Family Meetings (see Positive Discipline books for FM info). We do "meal planning" where everyone gets to plan one night's dinner menu for the week ahead. We all agree to eat everyone else's dinners, so there is little room for negotiation there. But again, we are conscious of including side dishes everyone likes, in case the main course isn't a winner with all four folks (and we have to employ the one-bite rule). Hope these ideas help some.
Good luck in your quest for calmer dinners and cleaner tables. ;)

Alison said...

Hi, picky eater here! My parents took a completely opposite tack. First, my mom was stay-at-home, so we had homemade meals every night (though lots and LOTS of leftovers throughout the week).

Second, we raised rabbits & a lot of our own veggies; preserving a lot for the winter. So I know my parents were feeding us incredibly healthy, nutritious foods, which today's busy families would just die for.

And how did I feel about all those fresh, ultra-local veggies made lovingly by Mom? Yuck! But there was only one meal made for the four of us, and I was expected to eat what everyone else did. I spent many a night alone at the table, staring at cold spinach on my plate, while everyone else was in the living room watching the A-Team.

I don't totally disagree with what they did, though. I've read a couple of articles about too many choices, both for kids and adults, making us too picky. However, I think my parents may have over-served me, giving me too large portions; and I think leaving me alone and isolated was too extreme. We very rarely had dessert, though, so that wasn't a bargaining tool.

I like the one-bite rule; it works fairly well with my nephews and niece, and is an understood rule. As they've gotten older, they've expanded it to two, three or four bites. I would have loved that rule as a kid; one or two bites I could handle, but a whole glop of spinach? Bleccch!

Mrs4444 said...

When kids can choose (and help cook), they are more invested. Great ideas. Another suggestion I have is that instead of letting them choose a snack instead of dinner, put their plate in the fridge for when they are hungry; that's what we always did, and it worked. That said, I always made sure to put some "normal" stuff on the table when I made casseroles I feared the kids wouldn't eat. They had to try it and then could eat the bread and butter, side veggie, cheese, etc.