After a recent awful family dinner experience, I've been trying to step back and change a few things to make things easier for all of us at the table. These Family-Style Quinoa Bowls with DIY Toppings are the meal I made the night after said awful dinner as an easy way to reset behavior—and parental reactions.
Every Tuesday night, we have a Mexican dinner. Usually it's tacos or enchiladas and the fillings change from week to week. On the night in question, L simply wouldn't go near her enchiladas. I'd even put black beans in them, which she usually loves, and gave her a choice of clementines or apple slices to go alongside. She picked the clementine but started to scream when I put them onto the plate with the enchilada. At one point, she almost pushed the plate onto the floor. I was frustrated—why the heck wouldn't she eat a meal that she's eaten dozens of times before???—and it was distracting me from helping her deal with her feelings. I mean I'm only human and sometimes we just want to sit down to a meal in peace, right?
I never figured out what the issue was and she wound up eating plain yogurt and granola, with the clementine, since that's the "back up meal" that I offer when she won't touch her dinner. It happens once or twice a month that she refuses a meal, and having a backup meal is a good way to make sure she gets something to eat but isn't rewarded for not participating in the family meal. (Find more about this in my ebook, Feeding Toddlers 101). I, on the other hand, felt a little defeated and punted bedtime to my husband so I could sit on the couch and work on a quilt for the baby. But I was determined to make it better the next night.
(I am quite sure that my pregnancy fatigue had something to do with my impatience during dinner...)
Family style meals are usually good for little ones since they like having power to pick and choose what to put onto their plates. So with the rough idea in our meal plan to have quinoa and chicken sausage the following night, I assembled this meal:
- Quinoa: cooked according to the package instructions, served with a little butter and salt
- Sliced Italian Chicken Sausage (from Trader Joe's)
- Roasted Cauliflower and Carrots: chop cauliflower into bite-size florets and slice the carrots into rounds. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil and salt, and bake for about 22 minutes at 375 degrees F.
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- Chopped almonds
This way, I figured that we could all decide what to put into our bowls and if L didn't want a particular ingredient, no harm done. (In my pre-kid years, or even when L was one, I would have stirred the sausage, veggies, and cheese in with the quinoa and put the almonds on top.)
We don't have the biggest dinner table—we eat in a little nook by a set of windows in our kitchen that overlooks the backyard—so I don't always take the approach of putting all of the food onto the table. But when I do, I find that it greatly increases the chances that mealtime will go smoothly. And it did. She only wanted the cauliflower, not the carrots, and had a little bit of everything else. (Okay, she had a lot of the cheese!)
Bonus: This approach to meals also reduces how many times one of us has to get up at the request of our girl, which makes it a win-win for everyone!
All of this is to say that if you get into a streak (or even just have one unpleasant meal), try letting the kids pick what they eat from a selection of foods. It's a good way to have a dinnertime reset.