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One Love, One Meal

By Jessica Lehmann a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist
Finding a single delicious and healthy meal that works for every single person in the family can be a challenge. One of our kids recently announced he’s not eating pot stickers anymore because he’s tired of them. Another one isn’t eating cheese. The third one tends to change his mind daily about which vegetables and which types of meats he’ll eat.

But one meal that my kids always like is the meal that they made themselves. No matter what it looks like or tastes like, my kids love whatever they’re eating, as long as it’s seasoned with a hefty sprinkling of “I did it myself!”

The “build your own dinner” approach promotes a family culture of healthy eating. Nutrition guru Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and author of Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense, advocates for a “division of responsibility in feeding” between the parent and the child. In this model, the parent’s job is to offer a variety of nutritious foods, provide guidance on where and when meals should take place, and promote a peaceful attitude about eating. The child’s job is to decide whether they want to eat and how much to eat. Building their own dinner encourages the child to eat what they made.

Try these “build your own” meal ideas; feel free to customize the options for your crew!

Burger Buffet: Set out the burgers, buns, sliced cheese, slices of tomatoes and onions, and lettuce leaves. Condiment possibilities could include ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and pickles…and try offering barbecue sauce and Sriracha too. Turkey, bison, or veggie burgers are lean protein choices.

Pizza Party: Did you know that pizza is the most popular school lunch meal? Buy (or make) small personal-size pizza crusts, or use English muffins or flatbreads. Possibilities for toppings include marinara sauce, pesto, shredded mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, grated parmesan, roasted vegetables, fresh arugula, fresh basil, pepperoni, and slices of prosciutto.

Taco Tuesday (or any day ending in “y”): Tacos are a great way to use up leftover rotisserie chicken, pork chops or fish. Or, try using lean ground turkey or lowfat refried beans. You could provide a choice between hard taco shells or soft 6-inch tortillas. To round out the taco fiesta, add bowls of shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, fresh cilantro, shredded cheese, chopped avocado, and pico de gallo. Don’t forget the hot sauce!

Pasta Night: Steamed and sauteed veggies, chopped in bite-size pieces, are appealing additions to pasta. Protein options might include bite sized pieces of chicken or other meats, tofu, or edamame. Sauce options could include a marinara sauce, a pesto, a meat sauce or an alfredo sauce. Offering a sesame-peanut butter sauce would please family members who are in the mood for Asian flavors instead. Put out two kinds of noodles so that everyone gets to choose between bowties or penne, elbows or fettuccine, or whatever you wish. Make the pasta in advance and toss it with a little olive oil to prevent sticking.

Baked Potato Bar: Bake the potatoes in advance, or, in a pinch, microwave them. Set out chopped green onions, sour cream (try a light sour cream, or mix plain nonfat Greek yogurt with sour cream to lighten it up), and shredded cheese. Non-traditional toppings could include turkey or bean chili, steamed vegetables, and any leftovers.

Remember: 
 • Prep ingredients ahead of time and keep them in the fridge, ready to be pulled out on a busy weeknight.
• Keep portion sizes kid-friendly.
• Don’t stress about providing too many choices; the younger the child, the fewer the options! 

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