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I am tired of making dinner. Calgon, take me away!

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Ok, perhaps this is the wrong crowd to ask, but....

What are your favorite meals/dinners to prepare for young children and picky eaters? Fast things, every day dinners.

I have a toddler and a very picky obstinate preschooler and I am out of dinner ideas. Parenting boards tend to have two kinds of answers: (1) it is all my fault that my child is picky, etc, or (2) cheesy this n that casserole. Neither of those work for us, you know what I mean?

Favorite cookbooks for this kind of situation would be helpful too. Many thanks!

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    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      Thanks everyone! The replies (here and below) are all helpful -- I will definitely scan through those links and the one below!
      *sigh* We have read Ellyn Satter's books, and use Annabel Karmel too. Tonight my 4 year old helped me make sweet broccoli slaw and tuna burgers, helpfully stirred, then refused to eat a bite. Not.One.Bite. Oh well.
      I think that cooking for a 2 and a 4 year old is difficult generally -- they eat such a small amount, or refuse it completely, that making dinner often feels like a complete waste of time (husband works late and eats later), as well as somewhat depressing for me (former excellent cook). Thank you all for for your help!

      1. re: AkL

        I remember this age and phase so well! My husband and I love food of all kinds and are adventurous eaters - and I love nothing more than pottering in the kitchen, so picky eaters came as a nasty shock. When the children refused day after day to eat meals, whatever they were - different every day and they still wouldn't eat it - it got to a stage where i would be weeping and it would feel like a battlefield. So something had to give and I decided just to ask them what they wanted every day, and then I'd cook it (had to be roughly balanced, not junk). It really went against the grain to let them rule the roost and dictate what was happening but IT WORKED! And peace was restored; they'd chosen it, they ate it. And even better, they're now 11 and 13 and will eat just about anything - and no, they don't still get to choose every day. So take heart, it'll get less stressful in the end, and in the meantime free choice and a feeling of control is a wonderful thing for toddlers!

    2. Have you read Ellyn Satter's How to Feed Your Children But Not Too Much? It's a great book about feeding kids and basically, how not to cater to them but still make sure they get fed. It's your job to make sure there's food they can eat, it's their job to eat it.

      I just tried this recipe TorontoJo recommended--it's great for adults and "kid-friendly". It's like a risotto w/ chicken.

      1. Times like that, I fall back on the "food bar" concept. Whole grain noodles with do-it yourself toppings (browned pork w/ asian flavors, chopped tomatoes & onions, shredded carrots, etc.). Young kids tend to enjoy participatory meals. You can do the same thing with tortillas (fill with rice, beans, various chopped veggies, etc.) and salad (sort of bastardized nicoise with canned tuna, boiled potatoes, green beans, HB eggs, etc.). Note that many of these toppings can be prepped in advance so when you arrive home from work with cranky kids in tow, dinner can be made in less than 30 minutes. A crusty loaf of bread, cheese, and fruit isn't a bad light supper either.

        I have two kids, teen and pre-teen, who have managed to survive on such fare lo these many years. One is terribly picky, the other terribly opinionated on food choices.

        1. don't know about the particulars of your picky eater but make your own pizza bar has worked for us. You can buy crusts ( or make and freeze ahead, and then have toppings to choose. does not need to involve tomato sauce or cheese.

            1. My niece and nephew love when I make ground chicken mini-meatballs. I keep them simple and cook them plain, then they can dip in whatever phase they're going through - ketchup, honey mustard, ranch, etc. Also, using the same plain chicken meatball, I will form them into small patties, roll them in panko, and pan fry to make them crispy.

              1. Not sure about things they might enjoy, but if you can, get the preschooler involved in the making of the food. Kids seem to eat when they participated in making whatever your food choice is. Like the meat ball idea on here, have them help roll em up and help put a sauce into a container for them to dip and maybe set the timer and come get you when its ready. I always added a bit of chopped broccoli to the meat to help them get their veges too.

                1. Oh honey, I feel your pain. The people that insist that you are raising a picky eater through some fault of your own have never had picky eaters.
                  Last week my (just turned) thirteen year old son actually tried the chicken curry with green beans that I was making for dinner. (The kids had the chicken(grilled in a pan), the green beans(raw) and the rice we were eating, but not not post-curry-fication). Sonny boy ate his own version and then requested that he might try a bit of the dish, finished a la grown-up. He loved it. I almost cried, I was so happy.
                  My own husband is often home quite late, so pre-cooking a kid version wasn't too painful (just more pans). In fact...he's not home tonight. The kids are having their pork kebabs and rice with some fresh corn. When dh gets home he'll have his with a spicy sauce brushed on, and the zucchini/onion/tomato/mushroom vegetable skewers that the kids turned their noses up at. I'll throw a handful of chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lemon into the rice, and we'll all be happy.
                  And no kid ever perished from eating fruit & noodles for dinner once in a while, honest.

                  1. my 2.5yo ate some things she doesn't normally eat when put into a soft corn tortilla: she doesn't like raw tomatoes and I had made a guacomole with chunky stuff added.
                    other than that, I got the same advice on this website- work with what they already like. and also, don't sweat it if they don't eat everything. just keep serving reasonable expectation, healthy meals and they will be fine.
                    but I know what you mean, my daughter doesn't like eggplant- i guess the texture is like the tomatoes. and we spent about 1hr prepping and frying the eggplant along with a tomato sauce for pasta. she didn't even eat one piece of eggplant. she will gladly eat fried fish, whatever but even though she was heavily involved didn't like it. what do your kids like? maybe we can help you think of similar but slightly different variations that they will eat?
                    for example, we normally have broccoli with basil and onions over pasta, didn't have the basil and used dill instead. it was creamy and good and had a lot of vegetables.

                    1. I understand completely about picky eating kids. Mine is 33, and is still pretty picky!! Although she is getting better, so hope springs eternal, I guess!!! My grandchildren are almost 3 and 5. They ( and their parents) live upstairs and eat supper with us every night. They are quite picky, and I let them have what they want, within these parameters: They can choose which, but they have to have a protein, a fruit or vegetable and preferably, a starch, but if they don't want the starch, I let that slide, because they will always make that up at some point in the day, with a cookie or cracker or something. The absolute musts are the protein and fruit or vegetable. I almost always have spinach mini meat balls on hand, as well as turkey or chicken hot dogs, cheddar cheese in the shape of Mickey Mouse, yogurt, cottage cheese, regular cheddar, eggs, tortillas, and several kinds of fruit for them to pick from. I also always have plain home made tomato sauce, without added sugar or sodium. They can also choose to drink milk, water or juice. It is not ususally what the adults are eating, but it is easy, and healthy, and they will learn to eat other foods as they get older.

                      1. I think people often forget that children are still their own little personalities, just like grown ups. Which means that some people are really lucky to get cruisy, go-with-the-flow kids and some people get those who are a little more challenging ;)

                        My chowpup, who is 6, really surprises me at times. He can be finnicky about some seemingly ordinary foods (such as a creamy chicken soup), but yet will branch out into some more interesting areas quite happily (beef pho). So sometimes I find myself serving something that is seemingly very kid friendly, but completely rejected (he's normally very good, but it still happens!) and others I completely chance it and he raves. Odd.

                        So from my experience (very limited, but every bit counts, right?) things that have been a hit are roasts with vegetables where the vegetables are either crispy or have a light sauce (ie. carrots with honey), all kinds of pastas (creamy bacon and pea is a massive hit), risotto (seafood with leek and pea went down especially well), mussels (fun to open up and eat) and pretty much well anything Asian or Mexican.

                        Things that just don't work at all for him so I don't bother include salad leaves, leafy herbs that aren't cooked, tomatoes (but we're a tomato free house anyway), and whatever it is that he decides he no longer likes that day. Which varies every day. Of course. On day's that I cook something for Mr. Huntress and myself that he doesn't like he has baked beans, which he absolutely loves. I'm ok with that as nutritionally they're quite sound and everyone is happy. Oh and eggs on toast makes an appearance as a standby as well. I really empathise with your situation, it's a tricky one to be caught in. Good luck!

                        1. Hazan's spaghetti carbonara. Never met anyone who didn't love it.