- Do you find yourself cooking different meals for everyone?
- Buying more convenience food because it is?
- Busy and out of balance with life, work and family?
- Struggling for ideas for things to cook that you’ll all enjoy?
Any of this sound familiar?
Below are some ideas for simple family meals created by my children, I’d love about your favourites and I’ll add them below.
A ‘How I’ Blog – How I Keep Sane at Mealtimes
In the past few months my family food choices have gone down hill, I returned to teaching 3 days a week, so went down the more convenience food route, plus the other days I was off the kids had activities early evening which also disrupted eating.
We all like different Meals
My family loves food and eats well – just not the same as each other. One of my children doesn’t like meat so much, the other dislikes sauces and my husband doesn’t eat fish or chicken. I wrote this blog earlier in the year about how eating together improves connection, here, we were eating together just not great food!
Not only have we been filling up on more processesed, salty and unheathy food, it’s costing money.
So what to do, how to get back into a good eating habits?
The holidays and a change in routine have brought some much needed time to create and reflect. With fresh inspiration this is my new plan and I’m writing it down, maybe it will give you some ideas too –
- Sit down as a family and write down 5 of your favourite home cooked meal choices each.
- See if any of them correlate – live in hope.
- Ask them which days they feel it would be good to eat their chosen meal(s).
- From the 20 or so meals, choose several and draw up a weekly or fortnightly meal plan to pin on fridge or door
- Create a shopping list from this plan – ask the kids to do this with you.
- Find out which days they would like to be involved with cooking one or two meals each week. Mine are particulary keen to make pizzas.
- Which days would they like to come to the supermarket to help gather the ingredients (they do love a trip as they can stare at the toys too). When they were little they helped write the lists and loved running off to find things. Whilst it’ a pain to take them sometimes and ends up costing more, it is a good time together as well with them.
- If they don’t like the meal chosen on the weekly plan, what would they prefer and would they like to prepare it the day before with you or on the day?
- What parts of their favourite meals could we look to grow on the allotment, in the garden, in a pot etc?
Getting the Kids Involved
My 10 year old daughter was bored today, so we bought ingredients this morning to make pizza and she taught herself to make one following a recipe online. Not sure she could fit any more olives on. I note the processed ham. I reckon she could make this when she gets in from school on one of the days I’m working. I’ve taught my 12 year old son Luke to hoover the house this week and fold the ironing. My child labour plan is coming on nicely.
Below are some really simple healthy-ish meals the children chose, which can easily be adapted plus I’ve added some vegetarian ideas too –
spaghetti bolognaise (of course) meat, I cook a lovely lentil one which they turn their noses up at – sweat onions, chopped celery and carrots for about 10 mins in some chopped bacon if you have it, add mince and brown, top with about 200ml stock, tin toms or fresh ones and cook for about an hour on low. Serve with pasta, top with grated cheese and parsley. For the veggie version use all the same ingredients except cook the brown or red lentils in a separate pan, or buy them ready cooked and add to the veg, tomatoes and stock.
cod in lemon and parsley – season fresh cod, fry cod in butter and oil until browned. Take off and squeeze a lemon into the pan, pour over fish and sprinkle on parsley serve with new pots, rice etc
chicken soup – they just love this – leftover roast chicken (again easy to cook and use up over a few days) or cook some breasts and chop and put to one side. Sweat and soften a variety of veg eg carrots, celery, onion, courgettes for 10 mins in butter. Add a litre of stock (I tend to buy organic stock or sometimes make my own in the slow cooker) and some noodles. Once the noodles are cooked add the leftover chicken and heat through for 2 minutes, serve with parsley and crusty bread. For a vegetarian version try using borlotti beans and pasta – minestrone style.
pulled pork rolls with apple sauce – put a loin of pork in the slow cooker, season with salt and pepper, put on low and cook all day. Serve in white rolls with apple sauce or as a nice roast with some potatoes and veg.
homemade pizza – there are various recipes to make the dough or can use pitta bread, or flat tortillas. Once made cover with tomato puree or thin layer of chopped toms and choice of toppings, then bake in oven for 7 to 10 mins if using pitta or 20 mins if the fresh dough version. Ellie has chosen cheese, olives, ham, anchovies. Luke wants pepperoni and chillis and is excited about making these.
chicken (or other meat or haloumi cheese) kebabs – fresh cubed chicken threaded onto skewers, could be alternated with veg such as courgette, onion and pepper. Choose a topping or marinade in the day with for example lemon and yoghurt, or pesto, or olive oil with herbs, whatever your kids choose and like. Grill for 15 minutes turning frequently. Serve with salad or veg, rice or potatoes etc.
Friends also shared their favourite meals –
From Lucia Knight – Thank you Jane, We love make your own tacos with pre-made & frozen chilli, wraps and a load of small bits and pieces from the fridge(peppers, sweetcorn, cucumber & grated cheese or anything you fancy). Great for play dates as it can all be made in as little as it takes to heat up the chilli and gives fussy eaters some choice.
Thanks Mark love to try this Paella too – Mark Beresford Chicken thighs chorizo and red peppers. All fried in a large pan. Add chilli flakes. Simmer with sone stock. Add paella rice. Simmer. Eat. Great quick and easy meal. Freezes too.
Would love to hear about your favourite family recipes, please do comment or pm me x
I asked friends to comment on their meal times –
Belinda allowed me to share this, her child has an autistic spectrum disorder, there is humour to her writing and it puts my own mealtime gripes in perspective, thank you x
Jake also struggles with people eating with their mouths open … a problem every Sunday when we have my mother in law with dementia for dinner. I have to have a seating plan!
Jake eats very quickly even after 10 years of me working in slowing him down!
Poppy is vegetarian
I try not to eat gluten
Jez eats anything except fish!
We do sit down and eat together daily, some days with greater success than others.
Jake is trying new foods having grown them in his veg patch .. courgette being the latest. This is a fantastic step forwards x
Julie writes – I caught Luke feeding Ella spoonfuls of ketchup the other day and Ella is digging into her third pizza of week. Homemade but still…
Come Play on the 23rd in Guildford
Join me for a play on the 23rd September, early bird applies until the 1st September. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/exploring-play-tickets-35531141601
What’s It Like Eating Together?
Do you enjoy mealtimes together as a family, do you have time to sit together, are you happy with the food choices you make and feel you have good variety and balance, is eating with your kids an enjoyable, relaxed experience?
The Benefits of Eating Together
The knock on effect of eating together isn’t just that kids usually eat more healthily, studies have found there’s a whole host of other benefits including reduced stress, good mental health, improved grades, saving money, better family relationships and greater happiness, more here.
But We Don’t Have Time To Eat Together
Its not always easy though for us to eat together, life is busy with work, busy-ness, kids’ activities and maybe our kids aren’t great eaters, are getting on our nerves, and we don’t actually want to sit with them as it’s stressful!
What About The Fussy Eaters?
All kids go through stages of ‘fussing’ over food and it’s during these times that we may unitentionally reinforce it, so they end up with longer term picky eating habits. I once had a friend who for years at every meal ate only marmite sandwiches, luckily he survived and made it to adulthood and is now running marathons!
I’ve spoken to a number of parents whose kids eat well and their reasons for this resonate with mine, so I’ve created this blog with the intention it gives some fresh ideas to parents finding mealtimes a chore and who would like to sit together and communicate and connect more over meals and enjoy it more. It’s not a ‘How To’ blog it’s a ‘How I‘ and what has worked for us.
I Don’t Like Potato
I’ve been teaching for 20 years and during lunchbreaks have seen many school kids pushing their food around their plates, pulling pained expressions that we are poisoning them with carrots, exclaiming the sauce is yucky, and the mashed potato is weird and makes them feel sick. They find it hard to control their cutlery and can’t wait to get away from the table and nor can the lunchtime staff who pace around with their cloths, waiting for the next year groups to take their places on the benches.
If you Don’t Eat Your Peas You Can’t Have Your Pudding
Once in school I discovered a child had hidden the food he didn’t want on his friend’s plate, I felt sad that he felt pressured to do this. Often adults with the best intentions feel that kids ‘should’ eat all their food and it becomes another negotiation situation – ‘If you eat your peas you can have your pudding, two more mouthfuls and you can go out to play’ and the kids become agitated around their food and the adults anxious and controlling. Is it possible to be more relaxed about eating if we’ve already created an issue over it?
How can we Create Autonomous Happy Eaters?
Underlying all I have written below is looking for opportunities to give autonomy to our children. Think – can I allow my child to make the decision, is there a place for choice here? By allowing our child more autonomy we give them some space to be and to take ownership of their eating. By including them in our family food decisions we can significantly relax our control and boundaries and we may discover our children become more relaxed across other areas of their lives, so these values are transferable.
Positive Role Models
Along the way, I’ve been lucky to inherit a number of step sisters and brothers and a wonderful sister in law, all with children older than mine. I’ve observed their highs and lows and model what works well for them and this gives me confidence too to make mistakes, try things out and know that it all works out when you trust and expect it to. I think as parents we lack this connection with other role models and often feel isolated and insecure trying to work things out for ourselves, whilst being bombarded and confused by all the advice out there, including this!
As often as possible, when my kids were babies I ate with them. This also included snacks and drinks, so I experienced hunger at the same time as them. We’d sit down at around 5.00pm for our tea and then I’d probably eat another meal later too. To start with I did mush and puree their baby food. I even went on holiday once with my steamer and ice-cube trays to freeze bloody butternut squash and sweet potato, no way was my child having a jar or packet. Then the second came and I was bored of steaming, the novelty and excitement had worn off, I didn’t care what anyone else thought and I was more realistic. My second child pretty much ate the same food as us from 6 months minus the salt, she made a complete mess yet it was fun and sociable and she didn’t turn much down.
Throughout their childhood we’ve continued to eat together and now they are older we still sit at the table together at least once a day. It might be breakfast before school and if clubs aren’t on we’ll eat together at teatime too which often falls anytime between 5.00pm and 7.00pm. Life is busier in new ways now with more time spent on screens, hobbies, and playing with their friends up the road. My husband usually returns from work at 9.30pm, so on the days he is home we all eat breakfast and an evening meal together and catch up.
Make Table Connection & Conversation the Priority
When they were babies I never did the ‘chocho’ train thing with the fork in my hand, infact I rarely had the fork in my hand it was always in theirs or they used their fingers. They were never rewarded with pudding if they ate all their food. I also have a strong aversion to sticker reward charts – and have studied lots of motivational theories over the past 25 years, following on from my studies in psychology and education, that align with this wayward thinking – if they didn’t eat I just let it go without a fuss or eyebrow raise. If they did eat I did the same, I wasn’t attached to any outcome. I enjoyed being at the table with them, food wasn’t the priority, table conversation and connection was.
Our food is varied with different textures and colours. Some days the children eat it all, others they just pick, often it depends on if they’ve had a snack too close to teatime or guzzled on juice. I have a jug of water on the table at teatimes as I find juice/squash fills them too much and reduces their appetite and then they are ‘starving’ an hour later!
I usually put food into serving bowls at the table, so they can just help themselves to what they fancy and measure their own portions too. There might also be bread & butter, cheese, crackers and salad on offer.
A Picky Phase
When they are going through picky phases, I still put the food out in the bowls and just let them be and go with the flow, it’s there if they want it. If there are foods they’ve not enjoyed before these continue to be put out until eventually they tuck in.
We all sit down on Sundays together and go through our calendars and planners, again a lovely time to connect and communicate as a family. We often write down meals we would all like for the week too, these are a balance of freshly prepared and shop bought.
I cooked a lot when they were little, I was busy running around after them, counting down to their next nap times and feeling creatively underwhelmed, so used to get excited about planning meals and went to bed reading cookery books! Then I moved onto growing vegetables and knew most potato varieties, now it’s other random projects.
I encouraged the children to join in with cooking as often as possible, such as squeezing oranges, grating cheese, making fruit crumbles and teaching them how to handle knives to chop. They soon learned how to make scrambled eggs, toast and open a tin of baked beans. They know how the oven and grill work and if I am out they will cook something for themselves and if I’m really lucky something for me too. We’re working on washing up. I’m not home in the days so much now as I returned to working more, so there are a couple of quick pasta and pie dishes each week for an easy life.
Since they were very young they’ve created their own shopping lists. In the early days this really made learning to read and write meaningful, their pictures and words didn’t need to make sense it was just part of the process. They’d run along the aisles on their own to find things and again this gave them a sense of autonomy and shopping was always fun, we also gave opportunities to pay with real money as often as possible so they began to understand the value of it. They still do get involved with shopping and pack the bags with me and key in my pin number at the checkout. They also enjoy spending their own money on tat from the toy and sweet sections. When we get home they unload and unpack into the fridge and cupboards too, surprisingly without a fuss, it’s actually fun doing this together.
At most stages of the shop to table chain they are involved and engaged.
They go through stages of eating crap, and I don’t cook from fresh each night. It’s when I become aware of this that I put out healthier snacks as well to compensate such as nuts, dates, chopped apple, cubed cheese, falafels, raisins, grapes, oatcakes, ricecakes topped with humus, chopped peppers, celery, carrots etc. We do have crisps and chocolate in the cupboards which they and I would always choose first so I provide a ‘balance’ of choices.
Where Does Our Food Come From?
Many kids don’t know where food comes from. We’ve been priviledged to grow vegetables at our allotment for the past 12 years, so the kids have been able to sow, grow and eat from scratch.
If you don’t have access to a garden or the opportunity to plant a few seeds maybe see if you can visit a friend who does, an allotment, garden centre or working farm. Most schools do have gardening projects, however I would say it can be rather tokenistic and dependent on the energy and enthusiasm of the staff member in charge (they have soo much other admin imposed on them, usually tipped towards Maths and English, outdoor learning gets given a low priority). My kids’ School Council is very engaged with the school gardens, so it may be your school has similar or you start up a gardening club yourself! Look also at food labels with them and world maps to plot which country food has come from and watch Youtube clips, here’s a clip for starters.
I’d really enjoy hearing from you and find out what inspires your children to eat well as it would be great to share it with children, schools and parents. I obviously haven’t covered everything here, and hope it gives you some alternative ideas to try out. Please do comment below.
My next ‘Happy Families’ workshop is listed here
I would love to find out more about you and what you LOVE to do, my linked in profile is Jane Tyson
A Random DiaBlog
Sometimes we get so caught up and absorbed with the busyness of life that we forget what it’s like to just be. What do you do LOVE to do, that helps you to connect to you amongst all the doing?
How can we Be when we are so Busy Doing?
Even when we are busy doing we can pause, take a breath and notice. It’s that simple and something we can do throughout the day, yet often forget. Try it, how do you feel now?
I like to garden, there’s lots of jobs to do at the moment it can get a bit overwhelming, so yesterday down on the allotment I remembered to pause, breathe and notice. I looked down and got excited that the nettles, comfrey and rhubarb were slowly and surely making their Spring appearances, things are warming up.
I shovelled cow pooh and noticed I was breathless, dirty and sweaty and covered in it!
How can Bees teach us to Be?
I visited the bees and enjoyed their playfulness around the hive, this quiet observation helped to create stillness in me. How often during the day do you notice silence and stillness?
I chatted alongside my Sicilian and Spanish neighbours and gossiped with the girls, reminding myself to fully focus, globally listen and not interrupt. I observed their faces, watched their breathing and became more aware of their energy, this also bought me to the moment. When was the last time you really listened and fully focused on someone without adding your buzz?
I looked up, listened and watched the birds flying in the trees, sensing the warm sun and cooler air.
Connection to Self
Connection to self is important, if we aren’t in tune with ourselves and what’s going on inside, how can we connect to others effectively – self care for mind, body and breath.
You Need To Get Out More
My friend teased me about my Facebook Live bee video and said ‘You need to get out more’. Yes it’s so true. This morning, I went again to the allotment again to sow broad beans – video here.
How about you, what do you LOVE to do that helps you to BE?