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A dinner makeover?

I promised myself when I had kids that I was not going to harp on them about food. I was positive this was the recipe for raising healthy eaters. To offer them a wide selection of freshly prepared meals (no Veg-All) and to praise them for trying something new, ignore turned up noses, gagging noises, and no bargaining. I knew that if I presented my kids with well-flavored meals, I wouldn't end up with picky eaters.

I sure was an idealistic member of a DINK household.

My husband and I enjoy cooking. When I went to grad school, there wasn't a lot of money left over for eating out each month. We craved good food, so we learned to cook and we had lots of fun practicing our new hobby.

I maintain that what I do now that I have kids is "prepare meals." Rarely, does it feel like what I recall cooking used to be. Cooking is fun. Meal preparation is a nightmare lately.

Last night before bed I managed to find time to read an article in Cookie magazine titled 30 Meals in 30 Days. The mom author decided to "expand her kids' palates, break out of a rut, and ultimately rediscover a small part of her old self."

I was hooked. I sat there reading the introduction nodding my head and ignoring Big Brother 9. I knew exactly what she was talking about and felt I could have written that article myself. Well at least the intro... the rest of it? Well no way do I have time to fix a brand-new meal 30 days in a row.

She has a few things up on me - the main one being that her kids are a touch older. So she has two hands to cook with, unlike me - I have a hand and an elbow since my daughter needs to be attached to my hip. (I know far too soon she will be in playing on the floor like her brother does and I will be asking myself what happened to the days where she was in my arms - and will have forgotten about trying to prepare a meal with her in my arms.)

Back to my point ...

Like the author, our dinners have been reduced to preparing foods we know our son will eat. And ever so slowly, I see his palate narrowing. I fear soon the only thing left he will eat will be chicken nuggets (shaped like Dinosaurs) and Spiderman macaroni and cheese.

Occasionally one of us will get the desire to really cook. Then we are faced with the inevitable ...

"I don't like this."

"I want chicken nuggets."

"This is icky."

"I want chicken nuggets."

This goes on until one of us gives in and stomps to the kitchen and pops four nuggets into the microwave.

Of course, what comes next is: "It's too hot! Blow on it. No, I want mommy to blow on it. It's too hot."

This whole routine is so embedded in our minds that we have just started preparing chicken nuggets in advance to save ourselves the agony of the above phrases repeated ad nauseum until we surrender to the all mighty chicken nugget.

I, too, need to break out of my rut. I know I need to suck it up and bear with the whining instead of succumbing to demands. I might even need to stop bargaining, "you need to eat three bites of Nemo if you want dessert." (My kid has a weird sense of humor … maybe I do too.) I need to find something that will work.

It likely won't be the grand scale of 30 meals in 30 days. If I can muster one new meal a week, I will be happy. One new meal a week that my 3.5-year-old enjoys would earn me a gold star.

What are your secrets to dinner prep?

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