How I Make One Dinner Work for the Whole Family

So much of how I parent is absorbed from my childhood and how I was raised. I’m grateful that was such a positive experience and do my best to create the same kind of loving yet structured home environment that I had. One of those things that have stuck with me was how my mom did dinner. She was a full time mom and a part time nurse and she somehow made family meals happen nearly every night. She made this happen no doubt through hard work and planning, but also with some expectations as well. Her dinner time philosophy? This, right here, is dinner. Enjoy!

Yup, one meal. I never knew anyone did anything different to be honest, so that’s how I’ve done dinner in our home for the girls from the time they started with solids to now.

Some people think that’s hard-nosed stance to take, but I have found it’s worked really well for us for not only my very adventurous eater, but for my more selective eater as well. I’m not a complete drill sergeant about it, it’s just the known rule. Today I’m sharing a few ways I’ve made cooking one meal work for the whole family.

only cook one dinner- a healthy slice of life

  1. Include a carbohydrate component that can easily be added or removed. Favorites around here include potatoes (roasted or baked), rice, pasta, bun, tortillas, or chips. I often like a lighter dinner so I can serve myself a moderate portion of this, while the kids can have a larger portion to help fill them up, as this is often a favorite part of any meal.
  2. Add a fruit on the side. I never grew up with fruit for dinner and it still doesn’t seem like it fits at that meal for me, but if I am making a meal that is questionable for the kids, I typically will add some kind of fruit to their plate. I know they will enjoy it and it takes zero prep time. Favorite around here include berries, peaches, and apples.
  3. Focus on meals that are component based so everyone can add their own. Assembly line meals are a dream come true. When everyone can choose their own components, nobody complains. Sometimes I will add stipulations (you must have one protein on your tortilla- beans or chicken) but the power to choose goes a long way in making dinner a success. We do this almost weekly with fajitas and Greek night using these meatballs and this Greek salad.
  4. For one pot meals, add a vegetable on the side. I love one pot meals, like this Greek chicken with lemon rice. When the flavors are strong, like in that meal, I will typically start the girls off with a small portion of the main dish with an extra simple veggie on the side (sauteed snap peas are a current favorite). If the one pot dish meal is more carb heavy and a kid-pleaser, like spinach and ricotta stuffed shells, I’ll add a veggie on the side more focused on me filling my plate, like broccolini or sauteed kale.
  5. For kids that are still “learning” it on a certain food, serve a small portion of the main, then healthy sides. I basically said the same thing above, but if you are trying a new dish that you aren’t sure the kids will like, serve a small portion and more hearty and healthy sides. 
  6. When trying a new dish, nix snacking after lunch. Having an appetite helps encourage trying new foods. This is the tip that will make the most impact. Unless the girls have soccer practice, we rarely have snacks around here. To each their own, but for my kids, I’ve noticed having a hearty appetite at meal time always leads to more adventurous eating.
  7. Add a dipping sauce. Ah, the old tried and true standby. A dipping sauce. Kaitlyn will choose ketchup almost every time. Hailey is more of a ranch girl. For me, this is a last resort, as I want them to explore and learn to like a wide variety of flavors. But if I overcook the pork or it’s really just not an enjoyable meal, a dip will totally redeem me!

A look at this practice in action; here are a few of our favorites:

Veggie Burgers and Kale Chips – add a bun and raw peppers for the kids and let them pick their burger toppings

one meal family dinner- veggie burgers

Baked Cod and Baked Potatoes – a small portion of cod for the kids and add shredded cheese as a potato option

one meal family dinner-fish and potatoes

Copycat Cava Bowls – assembly style FTW! Kids pick what they want, tzatziki dip goes on the side, add crackers

one meal family dinner-Greek night

Sausage and Peppers – spicy sausage for the adults, mild for the kids. Extra peppers and onions for the adults, minimal peppers for the kids. Add peaches.

one meal family dinner-sausage and peppers

Fajita Night – again, assembly night makes this so easy. Everyone goes through the line to choose what they want.

one meal family dinner-fajita night

Homemade Black Bean Soup – Add sprinkled cheese as a topping for the kids, plus tortilla chips and apples.

one meal family dinner- black bean soup

Burger Bowls – separate components and add ketchup for the kids. 

one meal family dinner-burger bowls

Share with me- how do things work in your house at dinnertime? 

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