What my kids ACTUALLY eat
As a Paediatric Dietitian working with young children and their families, parents are often interested in what I feed my own kids and whether they are 'good eaters'. In reality, I'm just like every other parent of young children - tired, super busy and just trying to put food in the table. My kids are just like other kids - sometimes they sit well at the table, sometimes mealtimes aren't pleasant at all. Sometimes they gobble up everything, sometimes they refuse what is offered and make a big fuss!
I kept track of our dinners for a couple of weeks to give you an insight into what happens in my house and give you some ideas around meals for families.
Night 1 - Chicken Macaroni
This one is a bit of a staple in my house and very basic - we often make it on a Sunday to make two serves for Sunday night and Monday night. After a long day at work on Monday we just pop it in the oven for 30 minutes and its on the table. It's chicken breast, pasta, and vegetables - onion, zucchini, carrot and capsicum. It's also USUALLY a hit with both my boys (14 months and 3.5 years).
What happened? Mr 3 served himself chicken and pasta only. Mr 1 ate everything, with half of it ending up on the floor. We all finished the meal with some strawberry yoghurt.
Night 2 - BBQ - chicken, vegetables and salad.
In the warmer weather we love doing BBQs - quick and easy! Tuesday I'm home and prepare most of the meal in the morning so it's easy to throw together in the evening. If I don't do this I really struggle to get anything done at dinner time and both kids are usually super clingy and needy.
This BBQ included a flat boneless chicken from Aldi, grilled eggplant and sweet potato, along with salad and some slices of cheese.
What happened? Mr 3 served himself some chicken, sweet potato 'chips' along with a cheese slice and some carrot. He took a few bites of carrot, gobbled up the chicken, cheese and sweet potato. Mr 1 ate everything, with half of it ending up on the floor (note the theme). We all finished up the meal with some fruit salad - which both boys enjoyed.
Night 3 - Pumpkin and spinach risotto
I throw this risotto together in our rice cooker - so there's not much to think about. While the rice cooks the pumpkin roasts in the oven and everything is thrown into the rice cooker.
I always encourage families to follow the 'Division of responsibility'. This means it is the parent's role to decide the what, when and where of feeding and the child's decision how much and if they will eat. Mr 3 has become more and more fussy over the last 12-18 months (completely normal) and while we always follow the division of responsibility which means he is offered the family meal, I always ensure there is a food that he will always eat on the table (being kind but not catering to him).
For this meal recently I have been pulling out some rice before I add the spinach, and serving the roast pumpkin on the side to mix in ourselves at the table. This 'deconstructed' risotto works well as Mr 3 can come to the table and spot something he will eat and not feel stressed out!
What happened? Mr 3 served himself some rice (also containing onion/garlic) and that was it. He was offered some pumpkin or rice/spinach mix without pressure (he declined) and happily ate his rice. Mr 1 ate everything...again a lot on the floor (risotto sticks to everything!!). We followed this with some fruit.
Night 4 - Pasta and meatballs with salad
Another work day means we walk in the door and dinner needs to be on the table quickly. I pre-made the meatballs the day prior (containing lean beef mince, onion, carrot, apple and breadcrumbs) and they cook in a baking dish with passata in the oven while we unpack from the day. I throw in some cooked pasta and served with a salad, grated cheese and some slices of bread (again being kind without catering - Mr 3 isn't very interested in pasta! Crazy!).
What happened? Mr 3 served himself a couple of meatballs and a little pasta along with some bread. Mr 1 LOVES the meatballs (cut up a little first) and ate everything else on offer too. Both boys had an icy pole after dinner tonight.
Night 5 - Lasagne and salad
On Thursday after work my mum sent me home with a lasagne for us to use for dinner! So this meant my Friday at home didn't require any meal preparation other than prepping a salad - thanks mum! This was heated and served directly onto the table, along with the salad as well as some bread (again I always ensure there is something on the table that my 3 year old will happily eat).
What happened? Mr 3 served himself some bread, was offered lasagne and salad but refused. I think he may have ended up a few bits of mince out of the lasagne. That's right - he just ate bread! Mr 1 LOVED the lasagne and chomped on salad. I think potentially more lasagne ended up on his body and the floor than in his mouth! We didn't have anything after dinner tonight.
Night 6 - Saturday night BBQ
Being summer in Australia, BBQs frequently appear on our menu. Tonight is was a simple salad, grilled sweet potato and eggplant (done on the BBQ), sausages and lamb steaks along with bread.
What happened? Mr 3 loved having a sausage in bread, along with a lamb steak and some sweet potato 'chips'. Mr 1 tried everything and I loaded my plate up with vegetables and salad. We had some neapolitan ice cream for dessert.
Night 7 - Ravioli and salad
A super easy go to meal for us is a packet of fresh ravioli - either meat or ricotta/spinach. It takes 5 minutes to cook, a jar of pasta sauce is added and I quickly cut up a salad or platter of cut up vegetables. It is important when having pasta to include some vegetables/salad on the side, but it doesn't have to be something fancy. We had a little leftover sweet potato from last night's BBQ to add to the meal.
What happened? Both my boys enjoyed the pasta, Mr 1 had some salad and sweet potato, Mr 3 had a piece of sweet potato only.
Night 8 - Roast lamb and vegetables
This meal was prepared early in the day, I always try and wash and cut up my vegetables at the start of the day so all I have to do is put the meal in the oven at dinner time. I prepped heaps of vegetables and this provided enough for two dinners and some leftovers for lunches. The meat was a lamb roast (from Aldi), along with a tray of mixed roast vegetables (with a little olive oil) and some steamed green beans.
What happened? Both kids enjoyed this meal. Mr 3 loves a good meat, potato and vegetable meal. Tonight he had some lamb, potato and carrot. Mr 1 tried everything. We followed this with some cut up fruit.
Night 9 - Beef burgers with chickpeas and salad
Both my kids love legumes like chickpeas and kidney beans. For Mr 3 who hardly eats any vegetables at the moment this is a win as legumes are a great source of fibre. Because he likes them we try to include legumes in meals at least 2-3 times a week.
The burgers are made from lean beef mince mixed with oats, onion, grated carrot and capsicum. Nothing is too small to be hidden in the burgers so Mr 3 can see what they are made of and decide if he would like to eat. The chickpeas were tossed around in a frypan with some pine nuts and a handful of sultanas. We also served the meal with a basic salad and some slices of cheese.
What happened? Mr 3 tries a little bit of beef burger but wasn't keen once he noticed the capsicum. He ate LOTS of chickpeas and some cheese. Mr 1 tried everything offered. I can't remember whether we had dessert!
Night 10 - Chicken and salad wraps
Chicken wraps I would say we have almost weekly - they are super easy to prepare and both kids eat really well at this meal. I cook the chicken with some chickpeas, because as I mentioned my 3 year old loves them and generally refuses the salad. On my day off I prepped all the salad and cut up chicken ready to cook in the evening, and along with that I washed and cut up all the stir fry vegetables for the next night's dinner (a work day) so I could throw it all together in minutes.
What happened? Mr 3 loves to serve himself a wrap, some chicken and chickpeas along with grated cheese. Mr 1 tried everything. We follow wraps up with some 'raspberry sorbet' which is just frozen raspberries blended with plain yoghurt and some fruit. Mr 3 LOVED the 'red ice-cream'.
Night 11 - Chicken stir fry with brown rice
After work I just threw the chicken in the wok, followed by the washed and cut vegetables from the day before. This was combined with a sachet of microwave brown rice and it was on the table in under 10 minutes. A great meal with lot's of vegetables, along with lean chicken and rice.
What happened? Mr 3 shocked us by serving up rice (loves rice) but also lots of the stir fried vegetables and chicken. I didn't make a fuss about it. He proceeded to only eat the chicken and rice, but just serving himself vegetables and having them in his bowl without freaking out is a win! Mr 1 ate everything offered. This was followed by some sliced up watermelon.
Night 12 - BBQ chicken, grilled vegetables and kaleslaw
Another BBQ - using the boneless split chicken from Aldi again. This was super quick to prepare, chicken went straight on the BBQ, the vegetables were sliced up and grilled for a few minutes on the BBQ and the slaw was straight from a packet.
What happened? Mr 3 LOVES this chicken, and served himself quite a lot, along with trying some sweet potato. Mr 1 tried everything on the table. This was followed with some sliced watermelon and blueberries.
What are the non-negotables at dinner in our house?
We always eat as a family - There is always at least one adult at the dinner table and we share the same meal.
We always have the same meal - there is one meal for everyone each night. As I mentioned there is always a food in each meal that I know my kids will always or sometimes eat. This could be as simple as a plate with a few slices of bread on it. Remember this food it is not especially for a fussy child, it is for the whole family to share.
There is no pressure - 90% of the time we serve meals onto the middle of the table. That means that we can all come to the table with no pressure to eat what is already served onto our plate. I serve Mr 1 up a little of everything and follow his cues if he wants more or less. Mr 3 serves himself with help if he needs it. We then avoid talking about food all together and let the kids look after feeding themselves.
If we are having dessert everyone is offered some - If we are having some dessert (usually fruit/yoghurt/icecream) everyone is offered some regardless of what or how they ate at dinner. Dessert isn't a reward for eating well and it isn't used as a bribe to eat foods Mr 3 doesn't want to eat at dinner.
What are the negotiables at dinner in our house?
What we eat - I often emphasis to families I see that it is the HOW you eat with your kids that is more important than WHAT you eat with them. We have takeaways - usually pizza or fish and chips. This could be once a fortnight or once a month at times, and 1-2 times a week when things are super busy and overwhelming. That's ok - we still eat as a family and follow the division of responsibility. We also have easy meals like baked beans or eggs on toast or toasted sandwiches usually once a week at least - especially during the cold dark months.
What the kids use to eat - Mr 1 uses his hands mostly at the moment to eat, sometimes tries a spoon and sometimes gets help from me. Mr 3 uses a fork or spoon most of the time but he is allowed to use his hands to eat as well. Kids will learn how to use cutlery over time by having family meals.
I hope that gives you an insight into what happens at dinner times in my house. Some nights go well and some nights can be a bit of a disaster. Expecting this as normal behaviour for little kids can help to reduce the stress for us as parents. Check out my blog post on the 3 key steps to happy meals for more tips about how to reduce mealtime stress in your house.
If you want some support around making family mealtimes less stressful and more enjoyable in your house get in touch with me!
Paediatric Dietitian & Lactation Consultant – Healthy Start Nutrition
This website and information on this blog post is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant or intended to replace Dietetic assessment/ management or medical care for a child. It is recommended that you discuss any concerns or questions you might have about your child’s feeding/nutrition with Kathleen individually and develop an individualised plan specifically for your child.
About the author of this blog post
Kathleen Halliday is a Paediatric Dietitian & Lactation Consultant with extensive experience working with children and their families – especially around fussy eating, stressful mealtimes, growth concerns and nutritional management of many medical conditions.
Healthy Start Nutrition is a private practice based in Melbourne, Victoria.