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Category Archives: Un-Learning the Happy Meal

how i am helping my kids un-learn the happy meal (part one)


our family has a constant struggle with what to eat come dinner-time. with a dad who gets home at 6:30 or 7pm when he isnt working from home, a mom who is exhausted by 4:30pm, (who am i kidding i’m exhausted by noon), and four kids with distinctly different and varying picky-ness levels, AND about 25 food choices in our immediate neighborhood, our easy answer most times is TAKE-OUT! or DRIVE-THRU!

and i know we are not alone in our plight.

because i see all of “you” at the pick-up and drive-thru line too.

for the last few years we have struggled to change this pattern and have had long phases where we eat at home but those phases have been slowly phasing out and we have been too weak, oblivious, or lazy to stop it. or all of the above.

but there is a change brewing in me and i can feel it. i have never felt this way before. usually i just do it because i know i should-not because i want to. but now, i have the greatest desire to gather my family around our little white table and serve them meals we have planned, shopped for, and cooked. together. with summer coming, it means a lot is coming OFF of our plates. so i am going to focus that extra time towards this, so some yummy things go ONTO our plates.

my goal is to plan simply. cook simply. and eat simply.

wednesday night i sat everyone down at the table and talked to them about the changes i wanted to make. i told them that the way we are eating now is so sad to me. that they arent experiencing the amazing food our world has to offer. that they are choosing to limit themselves to chicken nuggets and french fries and carrots and strawberries and they SHOULD NOT BE OKAY WITH leaving it at that. i told them that they were old enough now, even anna, to open themselves up and to stop being afraid of food that looks different and smells different. and we talked about the things i loved to eat-they asked me what my favorites were and what i would like to cook. and i asked them what theirs were, and what they would like to cook. and we made up a sketchy plan that i am going to solidify on my own.

i also made sure that they knew the table was going to be a safe place for them. if something we tried made them want to recoil in horror, it was okay. the point is going to be placed on working together, and trying new things together. if the food is a failure, a bowl of cereal and a banana is an easy option. they will have to take care of it themselves, but it is an option.

and the last thing we talked about is how our meals dont always have to be super delicious-thus the simple coming out-the flavors and options when eating out are limitless and broad. they need to start expecting less on a daily basis (something i need to keep telling myself too) and learn that eating out is for sometimes. its an exception, not a rule.

what it boils down to is this-

we will together make a list of what sounds good to eat that week, or that day (however it best works for us)
we will choose what meals we want to be in charge of
we will go to the store together, each with our own lists, and help each other buy what we need
when its time to cook, i will be in the kitchen with the kid in charge and the other kids will set the table and then clear out of our way
whoever doesnt cook helps clear the table and the kitchen when dinner is over

and they were all for it. they were excited about it in fact. nathan wants to learn how to make his own orange chicken. anna wants to bbq. and drew wants to learn how i make spaghetti sauce. our dear mckenna will also be a part of this plan, but i will slot her into things she can handle because being near a stove is not a safe place for her. im thinking maybe she will be a great shopper and table setter. she loves having a job, so a job we will find for her. if she cant do the cooking or cutting she can mix and set up.

the other thing i do, and have been doing for a long time, is making healthy options easily accessible. i have bowls of cut up fruit and raw veggies in my fridge. whole fruit in bowls on the counter. healthy snacks on the top shelf of the pantry. before dinner or lunch, i like to cut a bunch up and prepare it as pictured. they come to the table and munch and chat with me while i finish making their meal. this is also a great thing to do when you have several pieces of fruit about to go bad. cut it all up and offer it up for a snack before it goes.

now, i think perhaps the reason they were so open to this is because without realizing it, jeff and i have been gearing up for a change like this. i can think of several instances on vacation in hawaii last december where jeff got them all to try something they had never tried before. or even broadening our dinner choices by getting chinese take-out instead of mexican again. and them finding things they liked there. i definitely give him the credit for pushing this before i hopped on board.  i tend to tune out tokyo until i am ready to go full fledged.

i also want to say that i would never have tried this five or six years ago. it does help that our children are growing up. anna will be six in january. the youngest. and she tends to want to follow along with what the boys are doing so that helps. it just makes me sad to think of what i didnt know when i became a mother. but i have to accept that i made the best decisions with the knowledge i had then. even though now, looking back, i would have done so many things differently.  but we are all just making it the best way we can. and i accept that too.

part two: how i started sending healthy lunches for the school kids.
part three: implementation
parts four-?: how its working out