Mom Is Not a Restaurant! How to Cook for Kids with Different Tastes

Got kids with different tastes? Don't want to cook different dinners every night? We've got answers!

This topic is super near and dear to my heart. I deal with trying to satisfy everyone’s likes and dislikes in my own home all the time. What mom (and dad too) doesn't want to make everyone happy? If I were the kind of mom to give labels, I'd call Rex a protein lover. He'll devour a steak in the blink of an eye. Eggs are his go-to at breakfast, and he has never, ever had a problem with chicken two nights in a row. Maizy, on the other hand, is partial to carbs. She loves a sweet potato, eats the quinoa first off of her dinner plate and if she could have granola every morning, she'd be a happy puppy. As their mom, I simply want them to like the healthy food I’m dishin' out. I want them both to be happy. I want them to eat healthfully. And I want to prep only one meal each night that satisfies all of us. Is that too much to ask? I have a kitchen, not a restaurant, right? Sometimes it feels like my wants are unfulfilled wishes, but more often than not, I can pull off dinners that make everyone happy.

I know many people have it really, really tough. I love to work with a super-challenging family where Dad needs to lose weight, Mom eats gluten-free, kid No. 1 is nut and dairy free, and kid No. 2 has texture issues. Feeding this fam may feel daunting, because by the time they find me they’re already stressed and frustrated, but it is entirely possible to make dinners that work for everyone without turning into a short-order cook. Here's how:

Know your go-tos and stock up. Make a list of 20 foods that work for everyone's likes and needs. For the family above, eggs, chicken soup, hummus, oats and pork tenderloin are examples of foods that everyone eats, regardless of their food quirks. Make sure there are one of these foods at each meal and create the rest of the meal around it.

Make a plan. It sounds obvious, but so many of us don't think about what’s for dinner until we open up the fridge to make it. Come up with a list of seven to 10 dinners that are your family go-tos. Having a menu of some sort makes it easy to shop and be prepared. It helps everyone know what to expect in advance, and you won’t be whipping out cereal bowls after whipping mashed potatoes nobody eats.

Deviate from the traditional. In Japan they eat soup for breakfast. Some of my clients eat chicken for breakfast and eggs for dinner. When I was in grad school and newly married, we had PB&J night at least once a week. Gone are the days of meat and potatoes at the American table every night. Embrace it. Think outside the box and don't feel bad about making foods that work for you, even if they're not what you grew up with.

Accommodating doesn't mean enabling. It is OK to be flexible. You do not lose if you accommodate wants or needs that are easy to pull off. For example, if you're making a stir-fry because everyone likes chicken and brown rice, it may be super easy to put aside some raw sliced red peppers for the kid who struggles with texture issues. Do it. You will still have to watch him pick the cooked peppers off of his plate or avoid them altogether, but at least he'll eat the ones you set aside for him. Remember to still offer the cooked ones anyway. You never know, he may have a change of heart one day.

If they build it, they will eat it. Who isn't dazzled by those frozen yogurt places with toppings bars? People love to top their eats. Your family is no different. If you aren’t already hosting a Taco Tuesday night in your home (see the super-delish recipe below), you should be! Nothing gets your family members on board more than loading up their dishes with a sprinkle of this and a dash of that. When you get really good at tacos, think of other things that lend themselves to toppings. My faves are: quinoa or bulgur bowls, oatmeal, bone broth soups or chili, scrambled eggs, healthy charcuterie or deli, and yogurt parfaits. My biggest hint here is to be a little unconventional. Offer sweet and savory toppings (you’ll see kids will want to try nut butter in their oatmeal and lemon in their soup).

See that? You can meet everyone’s needs — and your own. Pleasing everyone has never been so easy!

Make Your Own Tacos
Total Time: 45 min
Yield: 4 servings
Mushroom Saute:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
10 ounces assorted mushrooms (white, oyster, cremini, portobello)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1 orange
Salt, to taste
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
Ground Bison:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound bison meat
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt, to taste
Sweet Potato and Squash Filling:
2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
One-quarter of a winter squash, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 teaspoon cumin
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt, to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
Taco Bar:
6 corn tortillas
6 Boston lettuce leaves
6 radishes, sliced thinly
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 avocado, cut into eighths
1 cup Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup pico de gallo
1/2 cup Greek yogurt

For the Mushroom Saute: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add onions and garlic. Cook until translucent, approximately 3 minutes.

Add in mushrooms and stir until lightly browned (about 10 minutes).

Add chili powder.

Juice lime and orange over skillet and add salt to taste. Let sit on low heat for 1 minute, then add cilantro and remove from heat.

For the Ground Bison

In large skillet heat olive oil on high heat and add bison meat. Stir continuously.

Add in cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, black pepper, paprika and salt to taste.

Reduce heat to medium-low and stir occasionally until liquid reduces and meat is browned.

For the Sweet Potato and Squash Filling

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss sweet potato and squash cubes with cumin, garlic, salt to taste and olive oil in bowl, then place on baking sheet.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until lightly browned and tender with the touch of a fork.

Place mushrooms, bison, and sweet potato and squash into separate bowls. Place taco bar items into separate bowls. Have fun assembling!

Keri Glassman is the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life and The Nutrition School. She is a contributing editor and advisory board member for Women’s Health Magazine, the Health and Wellness partner for JW Marriott, was Lead Nutritionist for Turner’s health and wellness entertainment brand, upwave and the Nutritionist and Judge on the healthy cooking competition show, “Cook Your Ass Off”. She has authored four books and is regularly featured on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live.

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