In becoming a parent, one life adjustment I still haven’t quite accepted is with my food. Sometimes, my husband will text me “What do you want for dinner tonight?” And I’ll think real hard and respond with something like “Thai drunken noodles with chilli sauce” and then he’ll reply back with, “You do remember we have children, right?” Oh, yeah.
While I’m fine with some compromise, I just don’t want to eat the things my six-year-old daughter will eat. Yet I also don’t believe we should have to come up with a separate meal just for her (even though I admit we have many times). Lifehacker health editor Beth Skwarecki, who has three kids, tells me what she does to get everyone in her house fed: She thinks of her family’s meals in Venn diagrams. This basically means that she selects ingredients that can be grouped in different forms to create meals that suit each eater’s tastes.
“It’s hard when you have five people who won’t or can’t eat the same dish,” Beth says. “My oldest will eat the pasta and cheese, my husband will eat the chicken and the broccoli, I’ll eat everything, the middle kid will eat the pasta and the chicken. The little one will probably eat nothing but hey, we tried.”
Even though I only have one child who currently eats non-puréed food, this makes a lot of sense. When we do Taco Night, I know my kid will eat the tortillas and carnitas (she might add some peas, too — she’s a little strange). I’ll eat tortillas, carnitas, salsa, jalapeños, cheese, avocado and hot sauce, and be happy.
My husband will eat the same, minus the spicy stuff. OK, this is a basic example, but the thought process becomes more involved the larger your family is. You can start with a common base (like ramen or couscous or plain chicken) and build in different directions. When you have picky eaters, it’s best to put all of the options in view, even if they’re not eating them.
Kids are still developing their own tastes, and exposure theory says it takes up to 12 “exposures” to a food to get them to like it (an exposure can be looking at a food, listening to a parent talk about eating it, touching or or tasting it).
One day, your family might be on the same food page, but until then, Venn diagram meals keep things simple-ish and peaceful. And every now and then, your kids may even jump out of their circle and ask, “Can I try some of that?”