Four pro tips on making family meals more fun

If dinner with kids meant pancakes and syrup, you would get no complaints. Photo: Ryan McGuire

There will be lots of great food to sample at One More Bite next weekend, from Umi’s homecooked meals to pickles from McClure’s and Rick’s Picks to delicious (really!) garbanzo-bean-based brownies from Pure Genius Provisions. But what if you have a picky eater in tow? But what if you have a picky eater in tow?

You should definitely plan on attending our conversation with two chefs who specialize in helping, ahem, discerning young diners branch out at 2pm. Andrea Kapner of Tiny Turnips Kitchen and Kate Homes of Carried Away Chefs will be chatting with us about the strategies they’ve discovered cooking for busy families and for their own kids, that help take the agony out of trying to please every eater at the table.

To tide you over until then, we’ve asked them both, as well as the two nutritionists on another panel–How Nutrition Pros Feed Their Own Kids–for their best family mealtime tips. Here’s what they had to say:

“I always tell my clients that meal time should be fun and stress free! A time to sit down and enjoy your family and loved ones. One way to to simplify is to serve family style, eliminating short order cooking, and allowing your child to take some control over which foods they will be eating (from what is available). Kids can also view this set up as a DIY, or buffet style, and might be more inclined to try!”–Andrea Kapner, Tiny Turnips Kitchen

“Sitting down and sharing a meal with your child as often as you can is a great way to take the focus off the child and bring it back to the meal. It can be hard for many families to fit this into busy schedules but even a lunch on the weekend together can show a child that mealtime should be enjoyed by everyone and not a power struggle.”–Kate Holmes, Carried Away Chefs

“One trick I found to work well is to always try to make sure kids are hungry at mealtime. These days, children can be eating snacks all day; often because we are worried they aren’t eating enough at meals. This creates a difficult cycle to break. It may sound crazy but you want them practically starving by the time they sit down to eat. Try to avoid milk or sweetened beverages at meals since these can ruin their appetites immediately. Milk is too calorie-dense and the sugar in the others can make them feel full, even though they are still hungry or will be hungry and cranky shortly after when their sugar spike drops.”Samantha Rigoli, RD

“Number one: offer and keep offering, but two: don’t have any attachment to the outcome. Kids sense a power struggle and will eat or not eat to please or defy their parents, not to enjoy the food. If they are permitted to make their own choices when it comes to their food, they’re going to be happier to try things. Don’t try to manipulate (yummmm, mine is SO good) or bribe (three bites of brussels sprouts and then you can have ice cream), just offer and move on.

Oh, and peer pressure is pretty great, my four-year-old will try stuff with friends she wouldn’t touch at home.”Aynsley Kirshenbaum, nutrition counselor, personal trainer