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Planning a Kid-Friendly Holiday Meal

Planning a Kid-Friendly Holiday Meal

Article by Marilyn Belsham, who has lots of experience preparing holiday food for picky children.

If your family is anything like mine, the holiday season is well underway with gatherings of friends and family from small to large all month long. Before we had children, our holiday meals had a strong focus on gourmet food – the more unusual and expensive, the better. However, now that we have kids, the focus is on fun, with a side of food. Many kids, mine included, aren’t the most adventurous of eaters. If something new is presented to them, my kids will usually declare that they don’t like it, even if that new food hasn’t come close to approaching their mouths.

Let me share my tips for a happy holiday meal that kids will actually eat.

1. Think Outside of the Box when Planning your Holiday Menu

While many of us have grown up with a Christmas dinner tradition, there’s no rule that says you absolutely must have turkey with chestnut stuffing, or roast beef with horseradish. Of course, there’s no rule that says you can’t have that either – but if you decide to stick with your traditional holiday food, and it’s all new to your kids, don’t be surprised when they request a grilled cheese sandwich instead.

Whether you decide to go super traditional or not, you may want to consider adding a few child-friendly items to your holiday menu. These are all quick and easy additions to your meal and won’t add too much prep time to your already busy day:

  • Christmas Themed Pizza: Pizza is one of my favourite meal items for kids because it’s so easy to customize. From plain cheese to fully loaded, you can let your kids decide what goes on top. I usually make my own super easy yeast-free crust which doesn’t require rising time and is perfect for a last minute meal. Shape your dough into something that fits the season, such as a Christmas tree, stocking, or wreath, and let the kids top their own pizza pie.
Image Courtesy ALotofLoves on Flickr
  • Green Beans and Bacon: The more complicated a recipe is, the less likely it is that my kids will be willing to try it. I’ve found that if something is simple and recognizable, the kids will often eat it with minimal complaint. This means that casseroles tend to be out, and you can forget about anything mashed or mixed with multiple toppings. Funny enough, this green beans and bacon recipe is also usually a hit with the adults at the table too, which proves that simple wins more often than not.
Crisp Green Beans with Bacon
Image Courtesy Gnawme on Flickr
  • Sugar Cookies: Year after year, I have struggled to make fancy desserts only to be disappointed when my kids don’t want to touch it, and the rest of the guests are too full to eat another crumb. This year I plan on keeping it simple, but cute. Sugar cookies in festive shapes, such as snowmen, snowflakes, or Christmas trees, are sure to be a crowd-pleaser. This Sugar Cookie recipe is the best one I’ve found, and kids of all ages (including my husband) love cookies in fun shapes. Bonus points for being easy to make, and decorating the cookies is a great holiday activity for the kids.
Christmas cookies
Image Courtesy Kristin_a on Flickr

2. Fill Out Your Holiday Menu with Fresh Ready-Made Food

If you’ve got the time, it’s wonderful to make everything by hand using only organic, whole, locally-sourced ingredients. If you’re like me, that’s not entirely realistic. Allow yourself to feel guilt-free about giving yourself a break over the holiday season. Take a tour of some of the fantastic specialty grocery stores in Vancouver and see what they have that is already made and ready to go. I’ve found a spectacular octopus salad at Whole Foods that knocked my husband’s socks off. You can also pick up some wonderful cheese from Urban Fare. The food market at Granville Island is, of course, well known for providing a whole host of ready-made options for a quick gathering, and then there’s one of my favourite food shops in Vancouver, Meinhardt on Granville Street, where I could spend ages gazing at their deli items.

3. Relax Your Food Rules for the Day

Now that you’ve planned your menu and included a few kid-friendly items on it, it’s time to enjoy the day. In my house, we usually have rules regarding food, such as the kids must try at least a bite of everything on their plate before they’re allowed dessert, however on Christmas Day I plan on relaxing those rules. No one, including me, wants to hear our usual nit-picking at the dinner table.

The kids will be excited by all of their new gifts and having friends and family over. It’s possible that they’ll be too excited to eat. It’s also possible that they may decide that trying new food is not something they’re willing to do that day. And that’s okay. For one day, the overall happiness of everyone will be more important than ensuring that my kids eat a bite of apple and turnip casserole.

If the kids are feeling surprisingly adventurous, I’ll be thrilled if they want to try everything at the table, however I’m not going to insist that they clean their plate. One day of unbalanced eating during the holiday season isn’t going to hurt them, and we can always go back to our regularly scheduled picky eating on Boxing Day.

What are your tips for preparing a holiday meal that kids will actually eat?

Marilyn writes about parenting, food and life on her blog, A Lot of Loves. She’s a die-hard Christmas fan who started planning her holiday dinner menu six months before the Big Day.

*Image credit – Children having holiday dinner by Elise Ramsey on Flickr.

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