Mom picks her battles at mealtime

In our house, there seems to be a continuous battle between ‘meals’ and ‘snacks’. For some reason, my 2 boys (ages 2 and 7) seem to far prefer snacking to sitting down for a healthy, formal, around the dining-room-table-meal. “What kid doesn’t?” you might ask. However, it isn’t about them wanting to eat snack-type foods vs. their foods at meal time. It’s all about the format. My kids are grazers. Given an informal smorgasbord full of appetizers on our bar in the middle of our kitchen and they flock like fruit flies. Having them sit down to a family dinner in the dining room around the table seems to take much more skill and effort, just to keep them interested.

A compromise that we have made in our house is this: we have become big fans of the appetizer. No matter what time I, or my husband, tend to start pulling together the makings for dinner, my kids seem to think it’s time to eat. It’s that moment when the ingredients are just hitting the counter tops, not when the food is actually prepared. So I’ve learned to have easy finger foods at the ready. Some popular choices in our kitchen are cucumbers, apples with peanut butter, and fresh orange slices: things that we can quickly cut up and put in a bowl on the counter. As we’re searing the steaks, or sautéing the vegetables for dinner, the kids will chow through that first offering. Sometimes, my 7 year old will belly up to the bar & help me make a cheese platter.

We also splurge on cheeses. Broken down by dollar per snack bite, cheese actually is quite a value, especially considering the nutritional factor for little eaters. Even my 2 year old has a taste for all types: Gouda, goat cheese, sharp stinky cheddars & brie. The kids both love getting involved in the slicing & presenting of the cheese. I give my older boy a cutting board & supervise while he creates a really attractive hor d’oevres masterpiece. We even play with garnishing the ‘cheese platter’ and experimenting with taste combinations adding almonds, jellies, honeys and even dates. Yes, my kids enjoy dates. And they feast away.

I’m sure like many of you, I was raised with the conventional wisdom that there was ‘No eating before dinner…’ or ‘You’ll ruin your appetite’. I look at it this way: these starters are a part of dinner. They’re just presented a bit differently, the kids are involved & dinner then starts early. After watching my oldest spend much of his early toddler years, battling me over every bite at the dinner table, we got creative. The family dinner is still very important time to us. It’s a time to sit & listen to each other, talk about our days, hear my son’s adventures at school. However, I find that with our grazing technique, I can enjoy my meals knowing that my boys have already had some nutritious things even before sitting down. If they eat what is on their dinner plates, that is even better and it’s still highly encouraged. But if they do not, I know that they’ve had their nutritional needs met because of the quality foods they’ve already eaten during the appetizer phase of our meal.