Tag Archives for " family dinners "


Can Family-Style Meals Improve Your Kid’s Eating?

What are some of the ways you have tried to change your kid’s eating habits? Need some fresh ideas?

SNeeding ways to improve your kid’s eating habits is completely normal. More and more parents are feeling like short-order cooks and feel like the kitchen is a chore.

 To help us find ways to improve our kid’s eating, I sought out Jill Castle, a registered dietitian and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.

 From Jill


When I embarked on writing my book, a childhood nutrition and feeding resource, I knew I wanted to show parents an easy way to feed their kids at mealtime, one that melted away the tension and improved overall eating and enjoyment.  Here, I tell my story.

When my oldest daughter was 9 (and my other three children were 7, 6, and 4), I gave up “plating” their meals. I decided they needed to learn how to feed themselves and that they were better than I was at knowing how hungry they were and what they liked to eat.

I placed our mealtime food items in bowls and platters and set them in the center of the table. We gave thanks, and I said to my oldest, who was 9 at the time, “Why don’t you start with the chicken, take what you want, and pass it around the table.”

Everyone looked at me, including my husband.

“That’s right,” I said, “I have been doing this meal thing all wrong. You know what you like to eat, and how much food is right for your appetite, so you can pick and choose from the meal as we pass things around. The only rule is that this is the meal. No other alternatives. If you need help, let me know.”

Still, they stared.

Then, my 7-year-old said with disbelief, “You mean, this is a smorgasbord?! We can take whatever we want? We can have as much as we want?”

“Yes,” I said, “I would just ask that you remember your manners and that there are six of us at the table. If you choose not to have something, politely pass it on. If there’s something you really like, take some now, and there will be enough here for later.”

I proceeded to hold platters and bowls for my 4-year-old, standing behind him, and letting him scoop up the food he wanted.

That was 8 years ago, and I’ve never looked back.

I changed my feeding course because my husband and I were starting to harp on the kids, who were wasting food (a trigger for both of us who grew up with “just enough”), and he was starting to eat up what was left on the plates—not good!

As a childhood nutrition expert, I had a vision for my kids’ nutrition future. After all, getting kids to eat today often fails to acknowledge tomorrow’s end goal: a grown-up who is internally motivated to eat a variety of nutritious foods, in the unique balance for his health.

So how do I do it?

I select and prepare a tasty meal that includes as many food groups as possible (lean protein, grains, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, and dairy or nondairy substitute), and give consideration to my family’s preferences, including at least one or two food items I know will be acceptable. Don’t get me wrong; I’m the one in charge of the menu.

I allow my children to choose which foods they will eat, and how much. There’s no pressure from me to eat more of this or less of that. The kids are in control. Yes, some kids may go crazy at first—even I had one or two who ate a fair amount of bread—but once kids trust that they are free to choose from the presented meal, they settle down and eat to satisfy their appetite. I have found this takes about two to three weeks of consistent family-style meals.

I know changing how I served meals made the biggest difference in my kids’ eating and the vibe at our meal table. Everyone eats. It’s peaceful and enjoyable, mostly. Sometimes, someone complains, and I say, “I’m sorry you don’t like this. You don’t have to eat. But you do need to sit with us.”  More often than not, something from the meal gets eaten.

Family-style feeding matches key tenants in child development and feeding research. For example, when children are allowed to make choices, they learn self-control, independence, and responsibility, which is the basis for self-esteem development.

Kids also learn about taste and their own food preferences, especially when they are exposed to new foods without pressure. Ironically, a no-pressure environment can lead to greater exploration of food and overall better eating, according to Lucy Cooke, a British researcher in kid’s food preferences.

Her research shows that exposure is the name of the game, because it familiarizes children with all sorts of food, a critical component to eating. Too much pressure is counterproductive, according to a 2006 study in Appetite, because kids may develop a dislike for foods they feel pressured to eat, especially vegetables. Even though it took years, my kids now eat lasagna instead of the fruit and bread it’s served with. In fact, they eat almost everything!

Learning to eat is just that—a process—not dissimilar to learning to read or drive a car. If parents make the decisions about food choices and amounts, when are the kids learning to eat? And how will they deal with the newfound freedom that comes when the parents aren’t there to police them? I think you know the answer to that.



imageJill Castle is a registered dietitian and childhood nutrition expert. She is the co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School. You can learn more about her here.

Easy Spaghetti Cupcakes

Need a new way to impress your picky eater? Try these Spaghetti “cupcakes”! Even your picky eaters will be impressed!

Spaghetti Cupcakes Presentation, presentation, presentation. MOMables realizes presentation is everything for a picky eater, which is why we tell you how to pack our lunches to make them look appetizing.

I tell my daughter that we are having spaghetti for dinner, and she makes a face. However, if I tell her we are having spaghetti cupcakes, she is all excited for dinner and can’t wait! Maybe there’s something about having spaghetti just plain on a plate or in a bowl.

Everything seems to mush together, which my daughter doesn’t always like. Put the exact same ingredients in a reusable silicone cup, call them cupcakes, and all of a sudden dinner looks a whole lot better!

Not only do spaghetti cupcakes make dinner fun, you can also allow your kids to choose their own toppings. By having separate bowls filled with favorite spaghetti toppings, your kids can easily “decorate” their own cupcakes.

For example, you could have separate bowls of pasta, marinara sauce, meatballs, vegetables, and parmasean cheese. If any of your kids do not like spaghetti, you can offer two types of pasta. I had spaghetti and corkscrew pasta in our cupcakes.

These cupcakes can also help your kids get more involved in the meal planning. My daughter chose which vegetables from the freezer she wanted to add to the spaghetti cupcakes. Having her involved only made her more interested in actually eating the meal afterward, which always makes me a happy mom.

I used these silicone cups because for one, they are reusable. I use silicone cups all the time, whether to bake muffins, or for yogurt parfaits, or in lunches. I enjoy using silicone cups in lunches to keep food separate and for the added pop of color. You could use any reusable silicone cup, not just the flower ones used above. If you do not have any reusable silicone cups, mini bowls or foil cupcake liners could be used instead.

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17 Gluten- and Grain-Free Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Need a delicious gluten- and grain-free pizza option? 

Gluten and Grain Free Pizza Dough MOMables

Cauliflower pizza crusts are the perfect way to get your kids to eat an extra serving of veggies or to make one of their favorites grain-free.

My daughter loves our Cauliflower Crust Lunch Box Pizza recipe. It’s one of her favorite things to find in her lunch, and for me, it’s a perfect and delicious way to sneak in veggies for my entire family!

Eat them for dinner, pack them for lunch, or enjoy as an after-school snack.


Gluten- and Grain-Free Cauliflower Crust Mini Pizzas
Yields about 5 individual pizzas.
Cuisine: Lunch
Crust Ingredients:
  • 1 head cauliflower, cleaned, and chopped into florets
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon garlic salt with parsley
  • 2 teaspoons Zatarain's Big & Zesty Garlic & Herb seasoning
  • ¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3-4 tablespoons pizza sauce
  • ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Optional toppings: pepperoni, sausage, peppers, etc.
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F, and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Place the cauliflower into a food processor, and process to a flour-like texture.
  3. Place the cauliflower in a large microwavable bowl, and cook on high for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from the microwave. Add the egg, seasonings, and cheese. Mix well, until it resembles a batter-like mixture.
  5. Divide the batter into five equal parts.
  6. On the baking sheet, form the mixture into pizza crusts (in this case, heart shapes) (At this step, you can continue or freeze formed pizza crusts for later.)
  7. Lightly coat each crust with cooking spray, and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crusts begin to brown.
  8. Remove from the oven, and top with the sauce, cheese, and toppings of choice.
  9. Return to the oven, and broil until the cheese is melted.


Allergy-Friendly Apple Herb Stuffing

Love stuffing but need a gluten-free option? How about a dairy- and egg-free option too? We’ve got you covered. 

When you pack lunches daily, you can accumulate a lot of bread crusts and scraps from sandwiches. I save mine in a storage bag in the freezer so I can make homemade gluten-free croutons, bread crumbs, and stuffing. Here is another great way to repurpose those bread pieces and make something that’s both allergy-friendly and delicious!

I made this recipe with no added eggs or dairy, but I have listed either way so you can make it to fit the needs of your family. By using a type of bread that accomodates your allergies, you can keep it completely egg-free or dairy-free. The bread my family uses is gluten-, dairy-, soy-, and nut-free. Serve it up for the holidays with a giant turkey or for family dinners with marinated pork. The apples give it a sweet bite that will mix deliciously with your meal.

Allergy-Friendly Apple Herb Stuffing
Cuisine: Dinner
  • 1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax + 3 tablespoons warm water (or 1 egg, if your allergies allow)
  • 8 cups bread cubes and pieces
  • 2 cups diced apples, ½-inch pieces
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons Italian-blend seasoning
  • ¼ cup vegan buttery spread or stick, softened (or butter, if your allergies allow)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • ¾ cup apple juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Coat a 13x9-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. If you're making a flax egg, in a small bowl, mix the flax and water, and set aside for about 10 minutes until it forms a gel-like paste.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the bread, apples, onion, and celery, and then add the salt and seasoning.
  4. Pour over the buttery spread, egg, broth, and apple juice. Mix well until the bread pieces are coated.
  5. Pour into the baking dish evenly. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

3 Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella - MOMables.com

Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Need an easy dinner that your family will devour? Check out this baked pasta recipe!
Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella - MOMables.comAre your calendars filling up with scheduled activities? Ours is. That means I need to be a bit more more organized when it comes to meals.  Not only do I need to have an unending, creative supply of lunches on hand, but also good, filling meals for supper.

This recipe is one of our favorites. It’s easy to make, fills my 3 hungry boys and husband, freezes well and makes great lunch leftovers!

This recipe comes via Jamie Oliver, so you know it’s full of wholesome ingredients.  When I came across it he wrote of how he found inspiration for this dish while visiting a grade school in Italy.

This dish was served to the Italian school children both as a hot and cold lunch.

The day Jamie visited it was served to 1,000 children! Also, did you know that in Italy it is law that the ingredients in school lunches are organic?  Seriously.  I had to look that one up, not believing the first time I read it.

The laws primarily apply to pasta and olive oil, but they also make a point to use mostly local produce, supporting local farmers and agriculture.  How cool is that?  Very cool, in my opinion.



Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Cuisine: Dinner
  • 14 oz whole wheat pasta--orcchiette or penne
  • 2-3 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili powder (or 1-2 dried chilies, crumbled)
  • 3 - 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons basil pesto (or 1 large handful fresh basil)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups parmesan, grated
  • 3 - 5 ounce balls of mozzarella, sliced
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, garlic and chili. Sauté for about 10 minutes on medium to low heat until onions are translucent. Add in the tomatoes, including juice. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Using a food processor or immersion blender, process until sauce is smooth. Add in pesto (or fresh basil), vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Toss the pasta with half the tomato sauce.
  4. Prepare a 9x13 or 8x8 baking dish by rubbing with olive oil. Layer a little pasta in the bottom of the baking dish, followed by a layer of tomato sauce, a handful of parmesan and layer of sliced mozzarella. Continue layering until you've used all the ingredients, ending with a layer of cheese on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is golden brown and bubbling.