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Dec. 1, 2008
A World of Dinners
Karen, Director of CLIF Kid and super mom of four, has a few ideas up her sleeve on how to ease the woes of serving a healthy meal at dinner time...

“I don’t like it”—four words every parents dreads to hear at dinner time; I hear it nearly every night. As a parent of four very unique kids with four very different eating styles and tastes, I find preparing meals an exercise in frustration. Wrestling with the pressure of making sure my kids eat healthy, balanced, organic, great tasting meals that introduce them to new foods and expand their pallets after spending a long day at work is enough to drive me straight to the drive-thru window.

Yes, I said it!

The question’s always the same: do I give in to the chicken strips with a side of mac & cheese for a peaceful session at the dinner table or do I serve up a nutritious meal my kids will no doubt pick apart knowing most of it will end up in the compost bin?

Last week, I was inspired by a conversation we had at dinner where everyone had to choose a cuisine to enjoy if they were on a deserted island. Across the board, the kids chose either American food or Japanese food.

The Japanese theme might lead you to believe that my kids indeed have sophisticated, California taste buds. But the sad fact is that my kids think Japanese food's the fried rice and shrimp from Benihana and, you guessed it, a California roll. Even my wonderful husband chose Mexican food and he orders ground beef enchiladas.

So I was concerned. I love food; all different kids of food, yet this is a love I’m not sharing with my family. In fact, food has become associated with frustration and disappointment. That really bummed me out, hence my brainstorm.

I decided that once a month we would try a “trip around the world” meal. I figured even if the kids don’t eat the food, they would start to discover culinary delights beyond breaded chicken and corn on the cob. My 8-year-old daughter (aka I don’t like anything) was in charge of research. The boys took care of table set up and clean up while I did the shopping and cooking. My husband was in charge of smiling, eating and setting a good example, no matter what.

This last weekend we had our first “trip.” I started with India because I love Indian food, my kids have friends that are from India and travel there often, and I was 100% sure they would like naan. So my daughter searched the web for great factoids about the country of India, what kinds of clothes they wear (she cared about that), what sports they play (she knew the boys would care about that), and all about the food. Dinner was easy thanks to my local Trader Joes: chicken in curry simmer sauce, lentil rice biryani, cucumber salad, and naan.

I would like to say that everyone loved it and every last bite was gobbled up. It’s only partly true.

The naan was gone in a flash. My husband was thrilled and didn’t even have to fake it. The boys liked the chicken, a little spicy, but they thought we should add it to the family menu. My daughter “didn’t like it” this time, but she really enjoyed learning about India and the entire dinner was spent talking together about the history, the music, and the people.

And, isn’t that what food is all about?
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We like getting our heart rates up, taking a big breath of fresh air, savoring delicious food. But we also love telling stories and here's where we type 'em up. (BTW, it works both ways; leave a comment—please and thank you.)

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