The Family Food Battle (Episode 169)
I was talking to my brother this week and he was asking for some new ideas for meals to make in their home. And, it sent Nathan and me on a tangent of ideas that could help not only him, but others as well. If food for the family is a challenge in your home, this may help.
What is the purpose of food for the family? Is it beyond sustenance?
It's an important question to ask yourself in this process.
Food for the Family
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Has food for the family been whittled down to just mac-n-cheese and chicken nuggets in your home? When you get a tunnel-vision palette in your home, it can be super hard to navigate food for the family where everyone is happy.
Think about all the aspects of running a household - providing food for the family can be a full-time job for sure. And not only that, you're serving critics every night who may pick apart their meals with disgust!
Food can be a magical connection for your family...and a source of major division.
It's important to talk about food and what it's value can be in our lives.
We recognize that oftentimes in our household with three kids, we'll get one who loves it, one who hates it, and one who is indifferent. Hey, it's grace for the cook. You can't win with everyone all the time.
So think about what is really causing you angst around food - is it their lack of variety? Is it lack of planning? Is it frustration over what to add?
What do you have in your toolbox?
It's not there there is a perfect tried and true formula that is going to work for every family. We're all different, and we have different schedules, dietary needs and preferences.
Just like in my coaching, I give clients tips and strategies to approach different things in their lives; not a step-by-step formula to follow. What happens, however, is that you are building your toolkit - you are looking to learn some new strategies that may help at certain times in your home. They may not always work; that's why you have a variety - just like tools, a hammer isn't helpful when you need a screwdriver. But the more tools you have in your toolkit, the more equipped you are to build whatever you need. So keep these strategies as ideas to touch on and work with if you see it as a way to help your family when you're struggling.
#1: No Thank-You Bites
This is definitely the most foundational thing we have done. When I was little, I was super picky. Whenever I visited my aunt's house over the summers, she always made everyone, including me, take a "no thank-you bite". And I was not a fan. But wow did this become the most powerful tool I have in my ket!
We started this when the girls were just starting to have an opinion on food. We always started them with a wide variety, not really gravitating toward baby food as much as just mushy versions of what we ate, so they were used to some variety...but regardless of how you start them, kids can default into that monochromatic palette of yellow for sure.
So we did "no thank-you bite boot camp" where we set them up for an opportunity to grow.
Instead of just reacting when our children are doing what we don't want them to do, create a space where you have the time and energy to help them learn how to navigate things differently.
So I would make something that I was certain they would like the taste of....but leave the presentation a little lacking. Like a disgusting looking banana French Toast like I gave Ellie, or my brother talking me into eating that white powder I was certain was flour (it was confectioner's sugar). Start with a yummy food, and simply stay consistent. No battle, no force, simply only offering just that. They only need to try a bite.
So why is this important? What a foundational principle to set:
Don't form an opinion about something you haven't experienced.
If you haven't eaten mushrooms, you can't say you don't like them...you don't know! If you haven't tried sushi, how can you determine if it's awful or delightful?
Well...beyond that...if you haven't tried ice skating, how do you know it won't be fun?
If you don't have any personal experience with something,
take a hard look at if you have any right forming an opinion about it.
#2: Create Your Baseline
What are your staples for those rough days? What are your staples for go-to big family meals, or the snacks to always have on hand? We sat down as a family and all shared our favorite foods. And then, we looked up some third-party options.
What I mean by that, is we googled what healthy foods we could eat and read the list off to the kids, so it wasn't mom and dad's opinion, but what others are saying as well. We looked at the 14 Healthiest Vegetables that are recommended by HealthLine. We looked at the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen on EWG's Shopper's Guide.
Come up with a list of the foods that you KNOW your family can agree on. And if you're stuck with just mac-n-cheese and chicken nuggets, go back to #1 for a while and start focusing on no thank-you bites as your first step, and remember this process will take time.
Base Meals and Expectations
Now that we know what people like and you have those base foods, what are some go-to meals you can create you know you'll get a win?
We look at a few different aspects here:
- Have some tried and true meals you know everyone in the family will eat, like lasagna or chili where you know can add a lot of hearty healthy stuff to it, AND the family won't turn down their noses.
- Plan ahead for snacks - think of some easy-to-grab options you can always have available for a quick fix.
- Look at having some theme nights, like Stir-Fry Saturday, Taco Tuesday, or even just a full Mexican Monday.
- Think of buffet style - for example, with Mexican food, we can lay out black beans, rice, veggies, chips, and tortillas and now there is a whole variety of what they can create - nachos, burritos, quesadillas, taco salad... (another great buffet is a baked potato bar - super filling for kids and growth spurts).
- Think rainbow colors - this is what we keep the kids focused on - how many colors of the rainbow can you represent on your plate? The more, the better!
- Lay out expectations - if your kids have been playing hard outside all day and are ready to come inside for some heavy carbs, expect a fight if you present them with just salad. So instead...let them know in advance when you can, especially when introducing anything new. Sometimes just giving a heads up about what they are having for dinner helps better prepare them to receive it.
Sometimes simply communicate what meals you're having in advance helps to better prepare your child to receive it.
- Another point, when/if you hit conflict with a child on what foods are really good for them, is to help them bring awareness to their bodies. When they eat that funnel cake at the fair, how do they feel afterward? Was anything else different that made them feel that way? Or can they pinpoint those feelings to funnel cake?
- Hunger is okay. Learn to pivot from desire to reality. There are times where you aren't going to be able to eat immediately...and that's okay. Intermittent fasting is on the rise - people can go for days without eating. Your children are not going to starve to death if they opt out of eating a meal. So if it's something new, something healthy, whatever, if they are balking, it doesn't mean you have to rush to accommodate. If they are hungry enough, they will eat.
It is okay to explore hunger instead of just giving it exactly what it wants.
- Also, serve "survival portions" - not restaurant-style. Dish out a bite or two - enough that it's not overwhelming and they can finish it.
- When your children are involved in the process, they are more likely to eat it. We share about "Stone Soup" and our Waldorf experience on the podcast. It's amazing how kids will expand their palettes simply because they were invested in and a part of the process.
#3: Meal Prep
There are so many great meal planning and meal prep programs at this point. I talk on the podcast episode above all about Fresh20 and what all I loved about it. For me, the most stressful part of meals was simply planning and shopping for them. So getting a meal planning guide that gave me my exact grocery list that would cover meals for the whole week was a huge life-saver for me when it came to running the household - I was more open to the kids being involved and helping me with cooking because it took some of the stressors out.
We believe in investing in yourself annually to make your life easier.
Whether that's the Christmas gift of a year of Hello Fresh or Shipt where at least the groceries come to you, those could help. Maybe it's getting a housekeeper so you have more freedom to focus in the kitchen. Think about how to make your life easier so you can focus on what is truly important.
Think in advance - we often are stressed due to our lack of planning. Look at having a meal prep day - maybe you're prepping foods in advance that are easy for the week. Coming into the winter, it's a great time for soups here in the US!
Your Weekly Challenge:
Which of these is a pain point in your home? What is something you can do? Maybe it's food battles and looking at no-thank you bites. Maybe it's looking at your prep and planning a bit differently.
How can you take a fresh look at the ongoing need of food for the family and create a plan that doesn't result in stress and chaos day after day?
Don't try to tackle it all and make meals perfect in your family every day. It's unrealistic. Do just one thing at a time. If you're dealing with picky eaters, it may be you simply focus on adding one new food to start, trying in different ways and having your picky eater get involved in the creation process of the meal. Or maybe it's just finally giving yourself permission to sign up for that food delivery service for ready-made meals, or at least get your groceries delivered for you.
Think of one little thing this week that will help your family reset. We all have our quirks and different taste-buds, but hopefully these can be some tools for your toolbox to come back to and use as you learn what works and what doesn't, and as you approach different seasons of growth i your family. Ultimately, even when it comes to food, the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us (and helps us to expand our palettes). 😉
Some resources to dig deeper...
- What are your Non-Negotiables in your Family (Episode 73)
- 8 Tips for a Healthy Home: You Are What You Eat
- On Boundaries – Your Children Are Not The Center Of The Universe
- True Parent Struggles: FOOD Battles with Kids (Episode 94)
- Navigating Food For Families (VIDEO)
- Those Crazy Crunchy Families
- How do I equip my kid to “adult”? (Episode 89)