The art of dinnertime

I wrote this post as a participant in the Eat, Play, Love blog carnival hosted by Meals Matter and Dairy Council of California to share ideas on positive and fun ways to teach children healthy eating habits. A list of other registered dietitians and moms who are participating in the carnival will be listed at the bottom of this post or can be found on Meals Matter.

Flipping through my parenting magazines, I can always find a fun design for a birthday cake. Even the most uncreative parents look to recipe books, bakeries or websites to find the cutest little cupcakes or designs to give their child a unique and special birthday treat. I’ve heard of parents spending hours learning to make fondant or dipping little cake balls into frosting in order to make the most perfect edible centerpiece.

If only we’d put even a fraction of the effort into dinnertime.

Sure, cake and other treats are almost universally accepted food, whereas broccoli is not. But taste is just one aspect of the eating experience. In fact, eating is one activity that engages pretty much all of our senses: taste of course, but also smell/aroma, touch (as in mouthfeel or texture of the food), sound (think of the crunch when you break that shell of a creme brulee), and sight. Ask any chef or restaurant owner, and they’ll tell you that the presentation of food is incredibly important. Of course those cakes taste good – they look pretty good, too!

A common complaint I hear from parents of toddlers is how they can’t get their kids to eat anything healthy, that he or she will only eat certain foods and nothing else. But how can a slice of cheese compare to cheese-flavored crackers in cute little goldfish shapes? Or a slice of apple compete with chewy fruit-flavored snacks in the shape of cartoon characters?

The trick is to make food fun for kids. Sure, we allow ourselves time to experiment with recipes for special occasions such as birthday parties, but getting artistic for dinnertime need not take any more time than assembling a regular dinner plate. Take, for example, the salads we make every night in my family. These are what my husband and I eat.

And this is what we give to our daughter:

Sure, eating dinner together and modeling healthy habits for our daughter certainly helped cultivate her love for carrots and bell peppers, but she also loves the fun plate we make for her.

The Super Healthy Kids blog also has incredibly creative ideas and gorgeous pictures to help busy parents entice their children with healthy options.

So please, stop sneaking in veggies and instead highlight them – make it fun. And don’t limit your artistic talents and food art for holidays and special occasions only. Be a little creative every day.

Don’t stop here! Join the carnival and read other Eat, Play, Love blogs from dietitians and moms offering the best advice on raising healthy eaters. And if you don’t get enough today, for more positive, realistic and actionable advice from registered dietitian moms, register for the free, live webinar Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters on Wednesday, May 18.

The Best-Kept Secret for Raising Healthy Eaters, Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD
Feeding is Love, Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN
5 Quick Ways to Prepare Veggies with Maximum Flavor, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
The Art of Dinnertime, Elana Natker, MS, RD
Children Don’t Need a Short Order Cook, Christy Slaughter
Cut to the Point – My Foodie Rules, Glenda Gourley
Eat, Play, Love – A Challenge for Families, Alysa Bajenaru, RD
Eat, Play, Love ~ Raising Healthy Eaters, Kia Robertson
Get Kids Cooking, Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN
Kid-Friendly Kitchen Gear Gets Them Cooking, Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD
Kids that Can Cook Make Better Food Choices, Glenda Gourley
Making Mealtime Fun, Nicole Guierin, RD
My No Junk Food Journey – Want to Come Along? , Kristine Lockwood
My Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters: Eat Like the French, Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD
Playing with Dough and the Edible Gift of Thyme, Robin Plotkin, RD, LD
Picky Eaters  Will Eat Vegetables, Theresa Grisanti, MA
Raising a Healthy Eater, Danielle Omar, MS, RD
Putting the Ease in Healthy Family Eating, Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD
Raising Healthy Eaters Blog Carnival & Chat Roundup, Ann Dunaway Teh, MS, RD, LD
Soccer Mom Soapbox, Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Teenagers Can Be Trying But Don’t Give UpDiane Welland MS, RD
What My Kids Taught Me About Eating Mindfully, Michelle May, MD

Published by

Elana Natker, MS, RD

I'm a dietitian, communications professional, wife, mother - just your typical modern-day woman trying to juggle it all.

29 thoughts on “The art of dinnertime

  1. I am having one of those Ah Ha moments as I read your blog. I am a veggie sneaker. Until now, I thought that was the best way. I love the idea of becoming a ‘highlighter’. Smiley face salad on our menu for tonight. I would like to share some of your ideas on my blog if that is okay. I will link to your article.


  2. Highlight the veggies, don’t hide them…great advice that I whole-heartedly agree with! Hiding veggies undermines the trust a child has for his/her parent. Love the plate you give your daughter–I know for sure my kids would go for that too!


  3. Adorable salad plate and I like what you said about not trying to sneak veggies in but rather make them fun. My four month old is just starting solids (she’s had cereal and carrots so far!) but we definitely want her to enjoy veggies as much as us. That salad plate is going to come in super-handy in a year or two 🙂


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