How to Be a Foodie With Four Kids

It’s impossible. Just kidding — it’s not. But it does take some determination. Here are four strategies that can help you avoid the mac ‘n cheese rut and maintain some semblance of culinary adventure during weeknight dinners. 

First, before I dive into the strategies, I should explain that family dinners are really important to us. Possibly to the point of driving ourselves insane. 

The Early Years 

For our little ones, we purchased high chairs that can be pulled straight up to the table, and we ate together as a family at least six nights a week. At this stage of our lives, when we had a seven-year-old and three kids under three, most of our dinners ended abruptly with kids walking away from the table and/or food being thrown (usually food being thrown). When this happens, my husband and I would take a sip of our sparkling waters (or better, wine) and remind ourselves that we’re in it for the long haul. This will pay off, right? 

The Busy Years 

Skip to today, we have a middle-schooler and three elementary school-age children, and life is b.u.s.y. We are constantly on the move with sports, activities, and homework. We still prioritize sitting down for dinner, nearly every night. Dinner looks a little different than it did in those early years. The kids help set the table (most nights) and will sit down and (sometimes) try a bit of everything on their plates, but the challenge here is meeting all of the demands. With four little people, and my husband and I as self-proclaimed foodies, we have a lot of demands when it comes to dinner time.  

The Key to Easy Weeknight Dinners 

So, now that you know that we are committed to the family dinner, I will also explain that we are pretty committed to not cooking separate meals. We strive to feed our kids the same meal we are eating. I will admit that our level of foodie has slipped from sous-vide and soufflés to more like short-order chefs as parents, but we consider these the maintenance years while the kids are still young. Here’s how we try to make it work and keep the stress level low

Four very different eaters at the dinner table.

1. Make a Meal Plan 

This first step is absolutely essential for me. Dinnertime with kids can be tough even when we’re feeding them their favorite foods. To add in the complexity of more adventurous meals, I have to have a plan in place for my weeknight dinners. I am a meal planning addict.

In the past, I would dedicate a portion of my weekend to seeking out recipes and building my grocery list to shop for the entire week.

Today, I use Ollie to plan my meals for me in minutes. It’s so fast and knows our family so well that I don’t even have to think about it anymore.

Thankfully, Ollie has simplified this extra work for me, because when I don’t have this ready before the week begins, I have a much harder time creating interesting, satisfying meals that my entire family will eat.

2. Break Down the Dish

This is a strategy I have adapted from Jenny Rosenstrach’s wonderful Dinner: A Love Story cookbook. She suggests that dinner is still a win if kids are eating parts of the meal, regardless of whether they are in the same form as yours. 

Take niçoise salad, for example. My husband and I make the salad, and we portion out bits of it for the kids, based on their preferences. Think of it like a venn diagram. My son likes the lettuce and eggs, my younger girls will eat the potatoes and egg, and we will have the salad in its entirety. This is still a win. Everyone is technically eating the same thing, it’s just served up differently. You could use this same approach for spaghetti and meatballs: one kid has pasta no sauce, other has the whole shebang, one has just meatballs – still a win! 

Strategies to serve family friendly meals to everyone in your house.
Adapted from Jenny Rosenstrach’s Dinner: A Love Story.

3. Don’t Offer Alternative Meals

This classic recommendation is a firm rule in our house. “This is our dinner” is said just about every night. The kids choose whether to eat it. Or not. No extra meals. They can have a big breakfast in the morning if they are still hungry. They usually eat enough to tide them over.

4. Give Yourselves a Break  

I will be the first to admit that we are not great about this part, but we’re working on it. Feeding a family, especially with young kids is tough. Find solutions that work for your family, and have a laugh when you try something that doesn’t work.

Ollie has made meal planning for weeknight dinners in our house a breeze. It has honestly saved me 45 minutes to an hour of planning every weekend, and we’ve discovered new meals that we wouldn’t have tried.

We’re currently in development on the public version of Ollie and have opened up a waitlist. If you’re interested in gaining early access, sign up here.

Bon appétit! 


You might also like...