Admit it: Cooking for young kids, especially those with limited palates, can be challenging. I'm sure we've all gotten stuck in the rut with those favorite family recipes where it feels like the same three dishes are on rotation every week. For my family, it's pasta, pizza and chicken with pasta. It's frustrating, stressful and downright boring. The longer our kids are conditioned to eating the same meals week after week, the more difficult it'll be to break their habits and diversify their diet.
Just recently I had an "aha" moment in the kitchen. Instead of reinventing the food wheel and forcing new foods on my kids, I could simply reinvent their favorite dishes with new and improved creative recipes. It worked.
I reinvent their favorite dishes with new and improved creative recipes.
Add New Additions to Old-Time Favorites I slowly started introducing new foods one at a time, making new creative dinner recipes with enough of the old favorite recipe to please the family. I began to add cut-up vegetables to the dishes I knew my kids already loved. Instead of plain macaroni and cheese, I added bite-sized broccoli florets and redefined the dish as macaroni and cheese with broccoli. (Notice the emphasis is still on the macaroni and cheese.) The broccoli was covered with enough of the cheese that it was eaten without hesitation. Now, broccoli is a stand-alone veggie, eaten any way it's served, without hesitation.
Meat lasagna was usually prepared at least once a week. My kids could eat at least two servings in a sitting. I slowly started adding in small slivers of zucchini layered onto the lasagna noodles — that seemed to go by undetected. When I was confident my kids accepted zucchini into their diet, I added beans and made a hearty lasagna dish with the kids. Getting your kids involved with the new foods they're eating gets them invested in their meals. They loved helping slice the zucchini. Then we made an assembly line and layered on top the beans, tomatoes and cheeses. Not only did the dish taste great, the kids were also proud that they were eating a dish that was homemade by them.
Try Unique Twists on Tex-Mex Meals Tacos are another favorite family recipe that's easy to transform. Originally, my kids would only eat the basic chicken or beef tacos with shredded cheese. Once they latched on to the idea that they loved tacos, I slowly and subtly started to add additional ingredients, one-by-one. First came shredded lettuce, and then diced tomatoes. Eventually, I added refried or black beans. The beans were so well received that we then integrated them into other celebrated dishes — burritos, quesadillas, fajitas, rice and beans, dips and spreads.
Find Creative Recipes for Everyday Ingredients Get creative with your meal selections, too. Your kids usually won't get adventurous without encouragement. After a couple weeks where my kids requested plain scrambled eggs for breakfast, I started adding additional ingredients to the eggs. When they got used to the add-ins, I served a breakfast burrito that combined scrambled eggs and a bunch of extras.
I also decided to try egg-based dishes at dinner. I started with a plain quiche, which was presented as simply eggs baked in a pie-shell crust. Then came the addition of vegetables and meat. The kids slowly accepted a broader range of ingredients in their quiche.
Mealtime doesn't have to be challenging, nor does it have to be boring. Sometimes, just making simple modifications to the meals kids already love helps open up a plethora of new dining options for everyone to enjoy.