When did the kitchen turn into a restaurant where kids can order whatever the heck they want?
Susannah Locketti: What happened to the days of good old-fashioned meal planning, where kids were served a breakfast, lunch, and dinner that was the same across the board for the entire family? When I was a kid, this was standard, and there were no special requests ... EVER! My mom didn't do this to be a bitch -- she did it to make her life easier and save the family money. Fast-forward a few decades and many moms are making upwards of four different dinners a night -- one for each child, and then a meal for themselves! We've all given in at least once -- and once is all it takes for our smart little offspring to start placing orders like patrons at a casual eatery. If you find this sounds a little like your kitchen, follow these tips to close Chez Mom forever.
Just Say No
You're the boss, and what you say goes -- end of story. I don't care how much your kids piss and moan over this -- you have to stop the cycle now. You shouldn't have to feel like you're in an episode of "Hell's Kitchen" every night, sweating and stressing up a storm. As moms, we multitask enough, and there is no need to bend to this extreme at mealtimes. I hear moms tell me all the time that they prefer to give their kids what they want rather than listen to complaining. Makes sense on the outside. Who wants to listen to whining kids after a long day at work or a full day as a stay-at-home mom? Think about it though -- you may eliminate whining, but you have just doubled or tripled your kitchen duty for the night by giving in to individualized requests. Not to mention all those dishes that now have to be cleaned up! I've watched friends make one child chicken nuggets, another child macaroni and cheese, and then whip up another dinner for their spouse. Mom's meal ends up being a nibble of all three while laboring over the stove, when she could have been enjoying one meal as a family in less time for less money.
Meal Plan as a Family
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Rather than putting a meal in front of your kids that they won't like, allow them to select meals they do like. This allows the child to feel an important part of the process. It's simply reverse psychology -- you are making them feel in control, when in fact you are the one holding all the forks, knives, and spoons. Ask your children what they would like for meals -- dinner being the most important here because it is the toughest one to pull off during the week. Have the kids write their favorite dinners down on a piece of paper, and then look for common ground among the crowd. Turn it into a fun activity if you have to. Ask your kids to draw their favorite meals, and be sure to tell them to pick one meat, one grain, and two veggies. If you have older ones, have them each write a wish list including the same food groups. Once you know what they like, it will make meal planning so much easier for the week. They will also be less likely to whine over a meal they chose!
Post Your Weekly Menu
I like to do this on a dry-erase board, just in case life gets in the way and you have to swap something up. A posted weekly menu is a great visual tool for kids, and it reminds them of what is coming next. This eliminates surprises and puts your family on a meal-planning schedule that everyone in the house is aware of. Trust me -- it works! It also makes your life easier because you know exactly what you need to prep the day before. Plus, you can plan quicker meals for the nights you may be caught up with sports, music lessons, or the gym. On days when your after-school commitments are lighter, you can incorporate a meal such as a roasted chicken, which may take longer to cook. Posting your weekly menu also makes grocery shopping a breeze because you know exactly what you need. In the long run, this saves you time and money. How often do we go to the grocery store without a list and spend hours in the aisles deciding what the heck to make for dinners during the week? Then we end up at the register with a heap of food, not a clue what we are going to do with it, and a massive grocery bill to boot!
Stick to the Meal Plan
Consistency is key. Children thrive on routine, and sticking to the meal plan will create structure and balance in your kitchen. Will you have nights where something comes up and throws off the meal plan? Yes, absolutely. But at least you have a game plan on the wall that will allow you the flexibility to swap out meals or even insert a "takeout night" to allow for life to get in the way. Within a few weeks, your days of taking multiple food orders will be over, and you will finally be in control of your kitchen again. Instead of slapping meals on plates like an assembly line worker, you'll be fostering an environment of eating meals as a family at the exact same time in less time while saving more money. It's a win-win for everybody, but most of all, it makes your life easier.
|Susannah Locketti is an on-air chef and lifestyles personality discovered by the Food Network. Susannah is a mother of 2 boys, who specializes in low cost approaches to food and home. She is currently working on her first cookbook.|