Junior Week: Take your family to the bar

If you build it, they will come. But if you plate it, they may not eat it.

Anyone who has fed a young kid knows the dinner (or lunch, or breakfast) plate can be a battlefield. I’ve certainly tried many tips and tricks during my nearly-6-year-old’s History of Eating Things to defuse the power struggles and food refusals. But I’ve had a hard time putting one such techniques in play: letting a child serve themselves instead of “plating” their food (selecting and presenting all the food for them).

I was convinced he’d never eat a vegetable again.

That shot of green is kale

Surely, there was no way he could figure out measuring ingredients or portions for himself.

And the odds of him enjoying what amounts to being made to do work? Slim to none.

See the grin behind his arm?

Well, experiences like the make-your-own-smoothie bar we recently did are making me change my tune. Head past the jump to read why.

Like almost everything with young kids, giving them autonomy and control goes a long way toward getting around meal-time impasses. And it turns out, it’s less work for me (especially in our some-vegetarian, others-omnivore; grown-up-tastes and little-kid-preferences house, where no one’s plate ever contains the exact same meal).

The general idea is to offer a balanced selection of items, and make self-service easy and fun. For the smoothie bar, I put out the basics you’d want in any smoothie (almond milk [or similar] and ice cubes), some leafy greens (spinach, kale), plenty of fruit (mango, bananas, pears, berries and more), protein (nut butter, Greek yogurt, protein powder) and various extras (pomegranate juice, cinnamon). Then I stood back, shut my mouth, and let Miles do all the picking. The result: a fruit-and-greens-packed smoothie that he beamed over and slurped right down.

Result? Kale stuck in his teeth.

Maybe you like the idea of a liquid lunch, but can’t quite bring yourself to drink your dinner. No worries; I dug up a few ideas for serve-yourself family meals that include more solid fare:

Put out toppings or fillings for things like paninis, tacos and more with the many dinner bars from Jill Castle over at Just the Right Byte. From make your own pizzas to tostadas to loaded Southwestern-style potatoes, there are plenty of ideas for nutritious help-yourself family meals. Around our house, the taco bar is a long-standing favorite of all Lynches great and small.

Build a salad bar at your house (just the ingredients, I mean, not the 16-foot-long multi-well serving bar with plastic sneeze guard). The article I linked to from Frugal Village has plenty of ideas for ingredients to put out for self-service.

Make a single, super-sized version of individual meals, like this family-style spinach cheddar omelet from Martha Stewart. You won’t even need a skillet the size of Delaware to handle that beast – it bakes in the oven then you leave it to others to serve themselves a slice.

After you’ve served some of those tasty buffets, let me know how you get on with family-style cleanup. Still haven’t mastered that part at our house…

One comment

  1. Jill Castle says:

    Great post Kat! It’s almost ‘miracle-like’ when you let kids be in charge of their food! Amazingly, they tend to eat it! Of course, you laid out the ingredients and Miles picked what he wanted…a great division of responsibility example. thanks for including the dinner bar!

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