Parents are often interested in what I feed my kids and whether they are 'good eaters'. In reality, I'm just like every other parent of young children -- tired, super busy and just trying to put food on the table. My kids are just like other kids -- sometimes they sit well at the table, sometimes mealtimes aren't pleasant at all. Sometimes they gobble up everything, sometimes they refuse what is offered and make a big fuss.
I kept track of our dinners for a week to give you an insight into what happens in my house and give you some ideas around meals for families.
Night 1: Chicken Macaroni
This one is a bit of a staple in my house and very basic. My hubby often makes two serves on a Sunday so we can have it on the Monday, too. After a long day at work on Monday, we just pop it in the oven for 30 minutes and it's on the table. It's just chicken breast, pasta, onion, zucchini, carrot and capsicum. It's also USUALLY a hit with both my boys (14 months and 3.5 years).
We always eat as a family -- if both my husband and I are home we all eat together. If one of us is out the other will eat with our boys.
What happened? Mr 3 served himself chicken and pasta only. Mr 1 ate everything, with half of it ending up on the floor. We all finished the meal with some strawberry yoghurt.
Night 2: Barbecue chicken, vegetables and salad
In the warmer weather we love doing BBQs -- quick and easy! This Tuesday I'm home and prepare most of the meal in the morning so it's easy to throw together in the evening. If I don't do this I really struggle to get anything done at dinner time and both boys are usually super clingy and needy.
This BBQ included a flat boneless chicken from Aldi, grilled eggplant and sweet potato, along with salad and some slices of cheese.
What happened? Mr 3 served himself some chicken, sweet potato 'chips', a cheese slice and some carrot. He took a few bites of carrot, gobbled up the chicken, cheese and sweet potato. Mr 1 ate everything, with half of it ending up on the floor (note the theme). We all finished up the meal with some fruit salad, which both boys enjoyed.
Night 3: Pumpkin and spinach risotto
I throw this risotto together in our rice cooker, so there's not much to think about. While the rice cooks, the pumpkin roasts in the oven and everything is thrown into the rice cooker.
I always encourage families to follow the 'Division of responsibility' when it comes to mealtimes. This means it is the parent's role to decide the what, when and where of feeding, and the child's decision how much and if they will eat. Mr 3 has become more and more fussy over the past 12-18 months (completely normal), and while we always follow the division of responsibility which means he is offered the family meal, I always ensure there is a food that he will always eat on the table (being kind but not catering to him).
For this meal I have been pulling out some rice before I add the spinach, and serving the roast pumpkin on the side to mix in ourselves at the table. This 'deconstructed' risotto works well as Mr 3 can come to the table and spot something he will eat and not feel stressed out.
What happened? Mr 3 served himself some rice (also containing onion/garlic) and that was it. He was offered some pumpkin or rice/spinach mix without pressure (he declined) and happily ate his rice. Mr 1 ate everything... again a lot on the floor (risotto sticks to everything!!). We followed this with some fruit.
Night 4: Pasta and meatballs with salad
Another work day meant we walked in the door and dinner needed to be on the table quickly. I made the meatballs the day prior (containing lean beef mince, onion, carrot, apple and breadcrumbs) and they cooked in a baking dish with passata in the oven while we unpacked from the day. I threw in some cooked pasta and served with a salad, grated cheese and some slices of bread (again being kind without catering -- Mr 3 isn't very interested in pasta! Crazy!).
What happened? Mr 3 served himself a couple of meatballs and a little pasta along with some bread. Mr 1 LOVES the meatballs (cut up a little first) and ate everything else on offer too. Both boys had an icy pole after dinner.
Night 5: Lasagne and salad
On Thursday after work my mum sent me home with a lasagne for us to use for dinner. So this meant my Friday at home didn't require any meal preparation other than prepping a salad -- thanks Mum. The lasagne was heated and served directly onto the table, along with the salad as well as some bread.
What happened? Mr 3 served himself some bread, was offered lasagne and salad but refused. I think he may have ended up a few bits of mince out of the lasagne. That's right -- he just ate bread! Mr 1 loved the lasagne and chomped on salad. I think potentially more lasagne ended up on his body and the floor than in his mouth, though. We didn't have anything after dinner.
Night 6: Chicken and salad wraps
We have chicken wraps almost weekly, as they are super easy to prepare and both kids eat really well at this meal. I cook the chicken with some chickpeas, because Mr 3 loves them and generally refuses the salad. On my day off I prepped all the salad and cut up chicken ready to cook in the evening, and along with that I washed and cut up all the stir-fry vegetables for the next night's dinner so I could throw it all together in minutes.
What happened? Mr 3 loves to serve himself a wrap, some chicken and chickpeas along with grated cheese. Mr 1 tried everything. We follow wraps up with some 'raspberry sorbet' which is just frozen raspberries blended with plain yoghurt and some fruit. Mr 3 loved the 'red ice-cream'.
Night 7: Chicken stir-fry with brown rice
I just threw the chicken in the wok, followed by the washed and cut vegetables from the day before. This was combined with a sachet of microwave brown rice and it was on the table in under 10 minutes. A great meal with lots of vegetables, along with lean chicken and rice.
What happened? Mr 3 shocked us by serving up rice (loves rice) but also lots of the stir-fried vegetables and chicken. Hubby and I put our poker faces on and didn't make a fuss about it. He proceeded to only eat the chicken and rice, but just serving himself vegetables and having them in his bowl without freaking out is a win. Mr 1 ate everything offered. This was followed by some sliced watermelon.
What are the non-negotiables for dinner in our house?
We always eat as a family.
If one of us is out or working late, the other will eat with our boys. There is always at least one adult at the dinner table.
We always have the same meal.
As I mentioned, there is always a food in each meal that I know my kids will always or sometimes eat. This could be as simple as a plate with a few slices of bread on it. Remember this food it is not especially for a fussy child, it is for the whole family to share.
There is no pressure.
90 percent of the time we serve meals from the middle of the table. That means that we can all come to the table with no pressure to eat what is already served onto our plate. I serve Mr 1 up a little of everything and follow his cues if he wants more or less. Mr 3 serves himself with help if he needs it. We then avoid talking about food altogether and let the kids look after feeding themselves.
Dessert is not a reward.
If we are having some dessert (usually fruit/yoghurt/ice cream) everyone is offered some regardless of what or how they ate at dinner. Dessert isn't a reward for eating well and it isn't used as a bribe to eat foods Mr 3 doesn't want to eat at dinner.
What are the negotiables for dinner in our house?
What we eat.
I often emphasise to families I see that how you eat with your kids is more important than what you eat with them. We have takeaway sometimes, usually pizza or fish and chips. This could be once a fortnight or once a month at times, and 1-2 times a week when things are super busy and overwhelming. That's okay -- we still eat as a family and follow the division of responsibility. We also have easy meals such as baked beans or eggs on toast or toasted sandwiches usually once a week at least -- especially during the cold dark months.
What the kids use to eat.
At the moment, Mr 1 mostly uses his hands to eat. Sometimes he tries a spoon and sometimes he gets help from me. Mr 3 uses a fork or spoon most of the time but he is allowed to use his hands to eat as well. Kids will learn how to use cutlery over time by having family meals.
I hope that gives you an insight into what happens at dinner time in my house. Some nights go well and some nights can be a bit of a disaster. Expecting this as normal behaviour for little kids can help to reduce the stress for us as parents.
This is an edited version of a post published on Kathleen's blog.
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