“What is for dinner”, you might say to yourself. Believe me, as a busy mom of 2 daughters ages 11 & 3 ½ yrs, I know how hard it is to come up with varied, healthy – and let’s not forget- yummy, meals for my family night after night. To keep my oldest daughter enthused about dinner and to let her have a little control over what we have (which in turn would get her to try new things) she came up with theme nights. Monday is Mexican, Tuesday is Meat or Fish, Wednesday is Pasta, Thursday is Chicken and Friday is Pizza. This leaves the weekend to BBQ in the backyard or to go out and explore some local restaurants. Instead of being bored cooking the “same old, same old”, I am constantly excited to come up with my weekly menu, using the themes as my guide and you can be too. If you expose your children to a variety of flavors early on chances are they’ll be better eaters.
You’re in luck, it is nearing the end of summer, but the bounty is still here. An abundance of fruit and vegetables are in season now, making it easier to come up with healthy, delicious meals for you and your family. The best way to ensure your children are getting the freshest, healthiest foods is to buy right from the source and teach them where things like fruits and vegetables come from. Coming up with good weekly meals is so easy, most of the time you barely need to do any cooking! Breakfast can consist of some fresh sliced peaches topped with plain low-fat yogurt, a scoop of granola and a drizzle of honey. For Lunch, blanch some chopped veggies, add them to your favorite shaped pasta that has been cooked al-dente, and toss with a light vinaigrette for an easy pasta salad. Dinner (Mexican night for example) could be Cheesy Corn and Bean Quesadillas made with fresh corn from the cob.
Our friend Lucian LOVES corn!
While it might not be enjoyable to bring your children along with you to the grocery store, bringing them to a roadside farm stand or a farmer’s market could be a great learning tool and adventure! The colors and smells of the fruits and vegetables out right now are so vibrant and fragrant. From a deep glossy green zucchini to a crimson red cherry to inhaling the sweet perfume of a perfectly ripe peach all will appeal to your child’s senses. Using your theme nights and what is fresh in season and what looks good, at the markets as your guide, you should be able to whip up some fabulous meals that you and your family will love. There are 30 Farmer’s Markets in the Rhode Island area. Farm Fresh RI manages 7 Farmer’s Markets in the State. Their website (www.farmfreshri.org) is a great resource. You can sign up to receive weekly e-mail updates of what’s going on at the market, what’s in season and find out where the nearest market is to you with directions and maps included. The site also lists; “Pick Your Own” farms and “Roadside” farm stands. If you live outside the Rhode Island area, you can find out when and where local markets are held by contacting your State’s agriculture department (or go to: http://www.localharvest.org).
Despite the beauty of the bounty, some kids might not want to eat their fruits and veggies! Get creative, put shredded vegetables in burgers, turn-pureed fruit mixed with yogurt into frozen pops or steam your Childs’ favorite veggies such as sweet carrots and serve with a cool creamy dressing for dipping. If your kids don’t like one vegetable move on to another, such as sliced tomatoes and cucumbers sprinkled with a little salt & pepper, or a medley of grilled vegetables topped with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. It doesn’t take much to make your simple summer meals great.
Having your children help you in the kitchen preparing the meals is another great way to help persuade them to try new things. Kids as young as 4 can start to take on some responsibility with guidance. My oldest daughter started helping me in the kitchen when she was 5, rolling and forming the dough for Friday night Pizza. I then let her spread the sauce all around and sprinkle on the cheese, which she of course had to sample! She used to love watching the cheese bubble in the oven. Now she can’t wait until it is finished!