Have you noticed that Americans are a wee bit obsessed with French culture? Just look at the self-help section of any bookstore, which is filled with volumes about how French moms don’t get fat, don’t get facelifts, and drink red wine every day. One thing you can’t learn from French moms, though, is easy supper ideas for kids.
Sure, French cooking is notoriously tedious, but that’s not why French moms won’t school you on 5-minute microwave meals. French moms know a secret: The easiest supper ideas for kids are the meals that you’re already making for yourself.
This idea that “kids eat what adults eat!” is central to Karen Le Billon’s 2012 book, French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters.
And while I honestly DGAF if French moms wear scarves or get Botox, I am all in on this French morsel. Parents, breaking the habit of cooking “kids’ meals” is a path to freedom.
I understand the appeal of easy supper ideas for kids. Maybe you want a nice adult dinner with your partner after the kids go to sleep. Maybe the sound of whining in the afternoon is more painful than listening to American Idol open auditions.
In my experience working with families, though, parents often get into the “kid meal” habit when a picky, tiny tyrant with parents who just can’t stomach the thought of eating another frickin’ nugget.
Newsflash: You’re the boss, applesauce.
Instead of searching the internets for easy supper ideas for kids, why not work on cooking one meal for the whole family? You’ll save time and energy and do your kid a solid (even if she can’t see it through the tears dripping into her meatloaf) (1).
5 Tips for Breaking the “Kid Food” Habit
Ready to break the habit of cooking separate meals? Following these 5 tips consistently will keep you from searching for easy supper ideas for kids every night.
1. Remember: It’s not about the food.
Pickiness in younger kids often comes from a struggle for autonomy (2).
Think about how much choice and control you give your kids. Do they get to decide whether to go to school, or when to go to bed? Hell nah! They’d become delinquents!
However, they can decide not to eat the foods that you serve them. They often do this because they’re power hungry, and you can use this to your advantage.
Offer a choice as you plan your family meals: “We can have green beans or carrots with dinner tonight. Which do you prefer?”
Providing a limited set of choices allows him the freedom to choose, but it also sends the message that you expect him to eat a vegetable with dinner.
2. Have patience.
Power hungry and strong-willed? Yep (maybe she gets that from your partner’s side?)! If you’ve fallen into the habit of cooking separate meals each night, you’ll need to be firm but patient.
Studies have found that it can take dozens of exposures for a child to accept a new food into the diet. Don’t give up on chicken just because your kiddo rejected your coq au vin. Accept that she isn’t feeling it today and try again the next time you make it. Eventually, the food will seem less scary.
3. Celebrate little victories (but not too much!).
Your kid ate your dinner and LIKED IT?!? Yeah, she did! Feel free to acknowledge the milestone (“It makes me so happy to see you enjoying the fish that mama made!”), but move on quickly from your praise-lavishing.
Similarly, resist the urge to reward her with sweets. Praise and sweets are extrinsic rewards, which can actually make your kiddo less likely to eat the meals you serve without fighting you on it. After all, why would she eat her carrots without a word if you’ve been giving her cookies every time she finishes them?
4. Find some middle ground.
It’s normal to feel nervous that your kids will reject your food as you test the waters. Even so, avoid making separate kid meals. Getting them to eat anything on that plate is a step in the right direction!
I love spicy food and my girls are leery of it. When I first started serving them foods like jerk chicken, I held aside a couple of chicken legs with milder seasoning. I’d offer the normal adult meal, but if they really fought me on it I’d swap their spicy chicken out for plain.
There are a couple of caveats, though. Keep the same veggie sides, and don’t lean on this strategy for too long. If you do it repeatedly, you’ll fall back into the habit of prepping separate kid meals.
5. Show a little tough love.
No parent wants her kid to go to bed hungry, but what do you do when you suspect your kid is manipulating you into serving more desirable foods? My 7-year-old has been known to declare herself full after two bites, only to request a snack 10 minutes later.
I’ll excuse my daughter if she says she’s no longer hungry, because I want her to honor her hunger and fullness cues. But if that little monkey eats two bites and complains of hunger 30 minutes later, she gets her dinner plate back.
I know–I’m such a life-ruiner.
In respecting her choice to stop eating, I’m trusting her to decide when her belly is just full enough, which is an important skill to cultivate. But I’m also sending the message loud and clear that she will not manipulate me into making her a different dinner, or into giving her dessert out of fear that she will go to bed hungry.
Parents, if you’re so over searching for easy supper ideas for kids, I encourage you to work toward adopting a one meal per family rule. Try out a few of my tips and report back in the comments.