Planning dinners: Expand their horizons or serve basics?

Planning and cooking meals is one of my favorite parts of being a mom. I love searching for interesting, hopefully healthy, recipes and introducing my kids to new ingredients and flavors.

Last year, we successfully added asparagus, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and some sushi, among other new items, to our family’s regular rotation. But it’s hard to know which new items will make the cut.

Last week I took some time – actually a couple of hours – to sit down and go through old January Everyday Food magazines looking for healthy recipes that I was excited about and thought my kids would possibly/probably eat. (I love the Everyday Food magazine because it’s inexpensive and helps me think about using fresh ingredients for that time of year. The recipes are usually fast but not always low cal. You can look for work-arounds to lower the fat and calories. You can also look for recipes on their website for free.)

I took my well-planned list to the grocery story and checked everything off as I got it. I brought it all home and then my week fell all to pieces. My poor family ended up eating hamburgers and pizza, and I froze the meats and hoped the fresh ingredients would stay fresh until I was ready to try again.

I tried and failed on Friday night with my introduction of stir-fried beef in lettuce wraps with an Asian flair. Walsh was the only one who ate it. I thought they would like it because they have loved in the past Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps.

I thought the Asian ground beef lettuce wraps were quite tasty and pretty easy. Although I did not add the fish sauce it called for to the dish. I thought it tasted too fishy. (Duh!) Lilina declared it looked like poop. (Lovely!)

But not to be deterred, here is part of this week’s menu (I have to fill in my other days.):

Sweet and sour chicken with green beans – My kids love almost anything Asian so I think this will be a hit. It’s a low-fat, lo-cal version of a traditional fatty favorite and incorporates multiple vegetables.

Pasta with roasted vegetables and arugula – This recipe originally ran in January 2010 and for a while it was my go-to Friday night dish before Michael’s adult-league basketball games. I loved the flavor of the roasted vegetables and using the greens in the dish. I also love the salty olives. The kids used to really like this dish but I haven’t made it in a while. So it will be interesting to see if they are immediately accepting of it.

Ham and potato frittata adapted from this ham and leek recipe – I have tried quiche with them before and they do not eat it so this time I am trying a frittata. They love scrambled eggs. They love cheese. They love potatoes and they love ham. So in theory they should love this recipe. But we will see. I plan to serve with a mixed green salad. (Maybe if I put on a little show about being in a French bistro they will give it a chance.)

So what do you think of these recipes: Would your family give it a whirl or reject it with a nose in the air? Are you trying this type of recipes on your kids or just giving them what you know they will eat? What are some of your kids’ favorites that are out of the ordinary – provide links to recipes if you can. What are you serving this week?

What is the balance on getting your kids to try new thinks, not wasting money on food that is rejected and getting good nutrition into them each night? (Do you let them eat something else if they don’t like what you are serving?)

37 comments Add your comment

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Jeff

January 19th, 2012
6:28 am

Wow. There’s a way to mans heart. There’s also an alternative path that some take.

To address thhe issue, I plan most of the meals, and while I’m limited in my cooking skills, I like to cook. But I stick with the basics; pasta, baked chicken, veggies, rice and salads.

Longtime Educator

January 19th, 2012
6:34 am

Isn’t that just the way it goes?! You plan, buy the ingredients and then the week goes crazy and you can’t stick to the plan. I never was very good a preplanning meals…seems we weren’t in the mood for what was on the menu for that night. I’m now cooking for just two, and after 39 years of planning dinner I’m so over it!! I really don’t mind the actual cooking, but I just get so tired of trying to figure out what to cook! If you find any good recipes, post the links for us, Theresa. I think it’s time for the husband to plan dinners for the next 39 years! ; )

Longtime Educator

January 19th, 2012
6:39 am

Theresa, I just took a look at the recipes you mentioned. I always found that kids preferred fairly simple foods. Perhaps the wonderful dishes you’re creating have too many colors and textures? I’m definitely going to try a couple of those as they look pretty tasty!

Me

January 19th, 2012
8:11 am

While I agree that you should absolutely expand their flavors I also tend to think that maybe you are getting a little too complicated. I think most kids like being able to “recognize” the foods they are eating – at least mine did – but we constantly tried new twists and flavors; new and different spices and spice combinations, etc. For certain, some attempts were more successful than others but I have yet to have anything described as looking like “poop”!
I leave earlier in the day than my wife, ergo, I arrive home much earlier so i handle 98% of the meal planning and cooking. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed and it provides an opportunity to unwind with a drink after arriving home. Other than the occassional breakfast on the weekends or, on the rare days I have to travel, my wife is fine with having not to worry over meal planning, etc. But, yes, I think you should continue attempts to expand the flavors and foods you prepare.

Augusta

January 19th, 2012
8:21 am

I abosolutely LOVE to cook for my family!!! We all pitch in. I have found that if the kids help out, and actually see what you are putting together, they are more inclined to eat it. We all plan our weekly menus….we very seldom eat out, since a family of 6 is very expensive. It costs us almost $100 to go out for dinner. I can cook several NUTRITIOUS meals for that price, at home.

And I love The Food Network. Giada, Paula, Ina, Anne Burrell, etc. They have wonderful meals, and you can get all the recipes on line….

All our meals are fresh. I never buy anything in a can….This time of year, I really miss the local Farmer’s Markets around town….too bad they can’t be around year long. I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to find a veggie farm locally and buying directly from them….

Augusta

January 19th, 2012
8:22 am

I wish more people would cook at home. The crap you put into your bodies from fast food and restaurants just isn’t worth it in the long run. It’s NOT healthy, and I’ve seen numerous friends’ health suffer because of their dining choices…

MomOf2Girls

January 19th, 2012
8:25 am

These recipes look great! I’ll need to try them out. I’m always on the lookout for fast / easy / healthy meals. Working fulltime makes it a bit difficult to plan, but I try. Of course, my kids are a little older than yours, but it’s still a challenge to find dishes that two very different palates enjoy.

I think a new meal interspersed with familiar meals during the week will help with the kids being willing to try something different. Also, I don’t necessarily worry about a balanced meal every night, just as long as they end up balanced through the week. Relieves some of the stress of “oh no, the veggie didn’t get eaten” when you figure that at least a few nights a week, the veggies will be. As far as wasting money, leftovers go to work for lunch, as well as school lunch for whichever child enjoyed the meal, so I don’t throw that much out.

Theresa, maybe your Monday or Friday blog can include your upcoming week’s menus with links to recipes (and shopping list as well??) I can use all the help I can get!

mystery poster

January 19th, 2012
8:32 am

I subscribed to e-mealz for awhile. Every week, you get 7 menu items complete with recipes and a shopping list.

Jessica

January 19th, 2012
8:44 am

I try to prepare one new meal (or at least a new side dish with a familiar meal) once a week. That way I can slowly expose my family to new foods without spending the whole grocery budget on stuff they may not like.

Meals on Wheels - kind of

January 19th, 2012
8:51 am

I have started a business. I cook fresh healthy meals, which can be frozen, and deliver them to your home, twice a week. My meals include lunches and dinners for 2-3 days at a time. I have a nice menu and great selection varying weekly. I can do a package of dinners and lunches, dinners only, and lunches only.

It’s hassle free for you!!!! I do everything. If you have a busy schedule and don’t have time to cook, or just don’t cook at all, everything is right there ready for you to re-heat or microwave.

These meals are healthy, fresh and HOMEMADE!!!!!

However since I just started this business, my delivery range is within 20 miles of my home, and I am in NE Atlanta. If anyone is interested, contact Theresa for my email!!!!

Stacey

January 19th, 2012
9:07 am

I subscribe to several food magazines and constantly check websites and my collection of cookbooks for new recipes but still find myself cooking the “tried and true” over and over. I do make changes in the meat, veggies or seasonings added but it’s still pretty much the same. I can’t blame it on my husband since he will eat anything as long as it has big chunks of meat in or with it. My son LOVES anything ethnic (Latin, Caribean, Asian, etc) and what he doesn’t like he will drown it hot sauce. If it has garlic and/or is spicy, all is right in his world. His main issue with food is that he doesn’t want the different dishes to touch while on his plate but he is fine with a soup or casserole that has everything including the kitchen sink in it. I am the one who is picky like a three year old. My food issues have more to do with smell and texture than taste so even though I may cook it for my family, chances are good that I won’t eat it myself.

For stir-fried beef in lettuce wraps...

January 19th, 2012
9:08 am

…just take the family to PF Changs, pay 14.95 for this as an appetizer, and they will love it…same thing you served at home for about $2, but hey, they will now try it at home next time…

Metro Coach

January 19th, 2012
10:00 am

You do know that people do need fat in their diets, right? All this low cal, low fat garbage is not really the most healthy way to eat. They’re kids, they can run off the calories in a cheeseburger in half an hour in the yard, let them eat regular food. You’re going to give them a complex.

Augusta

January 19th, 2012
10:09 am

I can’t stand all that low fat, sugar free, low cal stuff…..It’s just nasty. Artifical sweetners are HORRIBLE For your body….

JOD

January 19th, 2012
10:09 am

Since DD is 3 1/2, dinners that she should like in theory (e.g. grilled chicken, pasta, and broccoli with a cheese sauce – all things she loves) don’t always go over well in practice. That being said, I incorporate things she loves but don’t run the menu around her.

She has very sophisticated tastes in some ways: linguine with white clam sauce, x-sharp cheddar, spinach/feta pizza. She might like the first 2 suggestions, but I doubt the 3rd (she’s off eggs for some reason). I try to push her boundaries, and we’re now getting to the age of eat it or don’t ’cause this ain’t a diner :o)

Techmom

January 19th, 2012
10:20 am

We use a meal-planning site called Relish (www.relishrelish.com). They give you about 20 different options each week along with some tried-and-true categories (crockpot, vegetarian, kid-friendly). I like it b/c I get to choose from more than just 7 meals handed to me like emealz and I can customize. We usually pick 4 dinners each week based on our schedule and what meat we have in the freezer. Then when you print the recipes it also prints a grocery list by department. The best is that it has a “pantry” list for things you would generally have on hand. Makes shopping quick and easy. Most of the recipes are pretty healthy and although there are some recipes I wouldn’t cook again, there are several we’ve liked and have re-used. Mostly though it’s nice to have some recipes for different things and I don’t spend an hour looking through cookbooks and online sites to find them.

K's mom

January 19th, 2012
10:29 am

This is the area where I feel like I often get stuck in a rut. My little guy loves brocolli, so i serve it at just about every meal and stock up when it is on sale in the steamer bags.

I have recently discovered Pinterest and I am trying to make one new thing each week and the other 5 nights (we eat out once/week) do things that are part of the normal rotation (spaghetti, chicken and rice etc.). My son likes flavor, so I am not afraid to try new things with him, it is just my husband’s work schedule is crazy and I need to have a good idea of exactly how long it will take to prepare something if he only has a 30 minute window in which to eat. I also try to make stuff that I can freeze a portion of so that we have homecooked stuff available when weeks get nuts. I froze 30 something dishes just before my son was born and that helped tremendously for the first 6 weeks of his life. I hope I can find time to do the same before the first of May and baby #2 arriving. I like some of the easy frozen meals that are out there, I just know I use better ingredients and if I can double a recipe and freeze part of it, it is 2 meals with no extra effort.

The fritatta sounds fantastic and I am going to add it to my Pinterest board. For any mom or dad who can find 15-20 minutes a day to look for crafts and menu items online I highly recommend Pinterest.

i LOVE...

January 19th, 2012
11:17 am

I would really like to visit this “slave math” controversy. It has become such a major topic in Georgia. I think it has been blown completely out of proportion, but I would like to know how other parents are feeling. When did we become a nation of such touchy-feely BABIES is what I want to know?!?!?! A few teachers made a mistake. It seems as if they feel badly about it. Why can’t we forgive and forget?

JOD

January 19th, 2012
11:26 am

@i LOVE – Actually I’m SO offended on behalf of all women. Did you see the question about Susan B. Anthony being fined for voting? I thought we had progressed further as a nation with respect to sensitivity around women’s rights. That teach should resign twice! /end sarcasm/

Not making light of slavery itself or a *stupid* decision, but can we just get over it already?

Augusta

January 19th, 2012
11:59 am

Yes it was a stupid decision, but they should not lose their jobs. We have enough unemployed people as it is….

Anj

January 19th, 2012
2:43 pm

Our at home meals are fairly repetitious because we have one seriously picky eater. (and don’t say “If they are hungry enough, they will eat it.” unless you’ve seen that work on autism spectrum kids)

OTOH – eating out is a good way to try new things without cooking a meal that you end up eating for days because no one else liked it. It gives you a good idea what they like, they don’t like and what they might eat if you make it at home.

My new favorite is rolled omelet, which is enough lightly scrambled egg to cover the bottom of a frying pan – cooked on low heat until JUST set, and then jelly rolled into a cylinder. The eggs should be moist, tender but not rubbery. I sprinkle a little hot pepper flakes and thyme on the buttered pan, add some very thinly sliced leek or scallions and then pour the eggs on. I lightly sprinkle some finely shredded cheddar on it before I roll it. The idea is to get a lightly seasoned “omelet”, not a fat heavy omelet oozing with cheese.

Everyone but Autism Kid eats it. For us, 3 out of 4 is good. 4 of 4 would be amazing.

I also make a rice stuffed omelet. Take leftover rice (take out rice is great), add some chicken stock and microwave to moisten and heat. Season to taste however you like. I use hot sauce and scallions, sometimes I add some shredded cheddar. Make a 3-4 egg omelet, mound rice on one side of the eggs and fold the omelet over. Add some veggies and you have a meal.

The America’s Test Kitchen pot sticker recipe is good BUT it takes 2 hours to put the filling together. OTOH – you can make the filling ahead, put it into the refrigerator and fill the wrappers later. We’ve never tried freezing the filled pot stickers because we eat them.

Augusta

January 19th, 2012
2:47 pm

Ling Ling (Made in the USA) makes great pot-stickers, in less than 20 minutes. They are a tad expensive ($7.99/bag) but you get several servings. I have to buy extra terriyaki sauce, there’s only 2 in the packet.

jarvis

January 19th, 2012
7:25 pm

Just so you all know…..I got my period today, so I am in NO mood.

Paula Deen

January 19th, 2012
7:28 pm

Diabetes taking over…….Having trouble moving…….More butter please.

Fred

January 19th, 2012
9:47 pm

Bless your heart Theresa but are you SERIOUS? Really? Or do you just not know how to cook? I mean you ARE a stay at home mom who gets paid some decent money to blog right? Cooking ain’t that big of a deal.

I’m that despised animal, the stay at home dad. Far from being a “pioneer” like you stay at home or working mom’s (or god forbid, today’s fatted calf, the venerated “SINGLE MOM), I’m a despised lazy shiftless guy who won’t work. but I can sure as hell cook and my girls get some seriously kick assed meals. No Gerber for my baby, she got home made baby food. Still gets home made food.

Try embracing the southwestern cuisine where you now reside. It’s really quite tasty.

Fred

January 19th, 2012
9:55 pm

Oh and you asked us to provide recipe links. Sorry, I don’t know how to link to my brain. Child loves things like daddy’s Spaghetti sauce (she hates all tomatoes except when I use them here or in soup. Biba’s marinara being the exception). My Chicken and dumplings, fast easy AND low healthy. Hamburger soup. Beer butt chicken on the green egg. Stir fried baby bok choy. Bulgogi. Pan fried fish (tilapia, trout, flounder, ect……..). Basically use some fish a LITTLE oil and lightly dust the fish in flour. Did veggie stirfry last night. She loves my jambalaya. Says I make the best boiled okra in the world, (wouldn’t know, I won’t eat okra, seems like a phlegm ball to me). Just damn, the list is endless………..

Fred

January 19th, 2012
11:55 pm

Oh and Theresa, if you’ll notice, kids like things separated. I saw that all your dishes were things all combined or “grouped up.” Yeah, I know, I’ll get the three mom’s with kids who like everything all glopped together, but not the rest of the kids. Drives me up a freaking wall. The different foods can’t “touch.” It’s the cooties thing or the “he’s touching me” thing I think. Although I have only the one, we have had the nieces and nephews for years before her. Plus ‘the one” has had a bajillion playdates and sleep overs. Kids don’t like their food all tossed together.

I don’t understand it. As a kid I didn’t care. i was actually the opposite way, I would purposely glop it all together and shovel it down. But then I’ve always been weird.

Also, while I forget the exact ages of your kids, I believe they are at “that age.” “That age” is the age where while they have little control over their lives (especially since you are a helicopter mom) they have a limited control over what they eat. Sometimes it’s the ONLY control they have over anything.

As to the recipes you posted: I already commented on them being “busy” for kids but I just noticed the one you called stir fried beef in lettuce came up as stir fried turkey. I don’t know about you, but I rather eat a road killed opossums ass over ground turkey. I know very few people who disagree. Other than the turkey, they were all something I would personally try and probably like, but I doubt my daughter would………… The Jambalaya and Hamburger soup are about the only things she likes that are “glopped” together. And I have to be really careful what I put in the jambalaya………

Fred

January 19th, 2012
11:59 pm

On another note: it’s a shame Jorelys Rivera’s killer died tonight in prison…………………

In a perfect world he would have died at least a week before he ever saw that poor little girl. If he indeed DID commit suicide, why didn’t he do it before he did what he did to that little girl? If he didn’t commit suicide, then he didn’t suffer enough before he died for what he did.

jarvis

January 20th, 2012
6:32 am

Fred, bite my clank

djm_NC

January 20th, 2012
7:35 am

i personally have always thought that kids will mostly eat what they are given….if there is no choice. mine wouldnt eat chicken livers ever so i never made them…but most foods they ate or they were hungry. they werent hungry often…some kids love the mixed up stuff…mine always did. casseroles and crock pots are a single working moms best friend (and any working parent actually). things are mixed up in those ways of cooking.

thanks theresa….my youngest daughter who has now set up housekeeping (as we used to call it) is having trouble with her menu planning and grocery shopping….these web sites willl be a big help to her! its weird because she spent her years from 12 to 17 cooking in a diner type restaurant and also in a fine dining restaurant attched to a resort. she loved it….but cooking at home is not hitting her spot so shes having a hard time. im going to make sure she gets these web sites. ty :)

JOD

January 20th, 2012
9:33 am

@Fred – Your diatriabe was pretty funny! What’s your recipe for chicken and dumplings? Not something I’ve ever eaten, but I’m willing to try it!

Augusta

January 20th, 2012
10:07 am

Ryan Brunn committed suicide becuase he couldn’t live with what he did to that little girl. He is a demon and deserves everything he got. What goes around comes around.

Jorelys mother said she was “satisifed”! I wish he had suffered more. I don’t necessarily like to wish harm on anyone, but this ‘boy’ was a cold hearted killer and showed absolutely NO remorse for his actions.

Kat

January 20th, 2012
5:00 pm

That baby killer would’ve gotten MUCH worse in prison than killing himself. Too bad. Just ONE good beatdown by his fellow inmates would have been super!

Fred

January 21st, 2012
1:51 pm

I’ll post that some time for you JOD. Do you know how to make chicken broth?

JOD

January 21st, 2012
1:56 pm

Thanks, Fred! I do…

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