6 Ways to Feed Your Picky Family Without Becoming a Short-Order Cook
Your husband hails from the land of meat-and-potatoes; your teen daughter has embraced a vegan lifestyle; and after years of trial and error, you've discovered that the only green thing your son can abide is frozen green peas. And you? You're just trying to eat a balanced, healthy diet and maybe reduce your gluten intake. But while it could seem as though these things are diametrically opposed, a household swirling with different tastes does not mean that you have to cook four different meals each night. There are easy ways to make sure that everyone is happy with dinner without needing to don a chef's hat and cook everyone's meal to-order. Here are six approaches to make dinner time less chaotic.
Buddha bowls, burrito bowls, and hearty, meal-sized salads have become super popular these days, and we can see why! Filled with a variety of colors, flavors, and textures, these bowls are easy to dress up – or down – depending on your family's tastes. To start, pick a base: This could be sautéed or roasted veggies, rice, pasta, quinoa, or greens. Next, prepare the toppings. For a Mexican-inspired bowl, this could be slow-cooker fajita vegetables, chicken tinga, black beans, corn, salsa, avocado, and grated cheese; for a Vietnamese bowl, try spring rolls, Vietnamese shaking beef, quick pickled vegetables, cilantro, and spring onion. Each member of the family can build their own bowl to their liking, choosing only the items they like. This is also a great way of using up leftovers of which you don't have enough to make a full meal. Pair sliced leftover roast, reheated roast veggies, or sliced herbs with other ingredients to make delicious bowls the whole family will love.
Related: Meal Prep Recipes
Make Your Own
Getting everyone involved in making dinner is a great way to encourage them to try new things – and it makes your job easier! Mainstays like burritos, pizzas, crêpes, sandwiches, paninis, or even omelets can be dressed up or down with a variety of different fillings. Create a burger bar with both beef and Portobello mushroom burgers, or make a stack of savory crêpes to fill with ham, cheese, veggies, or egg. Prep the fillings and toppings in advance, and let everyone assemble their own – either before the dish goes into the oven or right at the table.
Rely On Sides
There are quite a few base meals that can be jazzed up with sides and toppings that not everyone will be able to partake in – and that's okay! For example, this lentil Bolognese is delicious served atop regular pasta, gluten-free pasta, or just on its own; married with Parmesan cheese or a vegan Parmesan alternative. Meat-eaters might enjoy this stuffed zucchini with chickpeas and mushrooms alongside pan-roasted chicken breasts, while plant-based diners will just have a double-portion of the protein-rich zucchini with a side of rice. Consider ways in which items like whole roasted cauliflower, vegan falafel, or zucchini "zavioli" with tomato sauce and mozzarella can do double-duty as a side for some and a main for others.
Divide and Conquer
If you want to make this delicious chili but your husband doesn't do well with beans, or you're psyched by this spicy tomato soup but aren't sure the kids can tolerate the spice, consider divvying the base recipe into two pots or pans and adding the offending ingredient to only one of them. This will allow you to enjoy (almost) the same meal for dinner no matter your dietary requirements. This technique works best with long-simmering dishes like soups or stews, but it can also be used for stir-fries, pasta bakes, and more. Consider investing in small, single-serving ramekins so that you can divvy up baked dishes and bake them off together.
Sometimes, you'll want to make a meal that suits some members of your family but that others just won't eat. For these evenings, consider stocking the fridge with staples that pickier eaters can use to supplement their meals. Hard-boiled eggs, crudités with hummus, or tinned tuna are all great options that even younger eaters can grab for themselves.
Get Everyone Involved
When kids participate in the conception and preparation of the meal, chances are they'll be more likely to give it a try. Pick a weekend day to sit together as a family and plan out the week's dinners, letting everyone have a bit of a say (or, for older kids, making each member of the family responsible for a day). Planning (and cooking!) together will certainly make folks more amenable to trying new things and hopefully broaden their horizons for the future.