Whether you serve dinner at noon, or in the evening, the nutritionally balanced meal should work toward meeting your child's daily dietary needs. Since vegetables rarely get served at breakfast, make sure to incorporate vitamin-packed veggies into dinner. With a little creativity, you can easily sneak veggies, proteins, grains, dairy and fruits onto your child's plate.
Daily Nutrition Needs
The United States Department of Agriculture replaced the Food Pyramid with a new plate-shaped chart called MyPlate that shows how much room on the plate each food group should occupy. Fruits and vegetables cover half of a child's plate, with vegetables taking up a little more space than the fruit. The other half of the plate shows grains and proteins, with grains covering a little more room than proteins. Dairy products appear as a side serving, with 1 cup of milk being enough for the day. Oils and sweets no longer have a place on the nutrition chart.
Because young children like to mix up the food on their plates, serving one-dish casseroles, baked pasta dishes or cold sandwiches for dinner makes sense. You can easily combine items from each food group in an easy-to-eat, tasty way. For a simple casserole, line a baking dish with pre-cooked whole-grain rice, broccoli florets and ham cubes. Cover with a milk-based cheese sauce and top with croutons and crunchy salad toppings. For dessert, serve a bowl of fresh strawberries. If you're in a time crunch, fill a whole-wheat pita pocket with deli-sliced chicken breast, tomato slices, romaine lettuce and shredded cheese. Serve apple wedges and creamy dipping sauce on the side.
If you know a temper tantrum will occur at the sight of vegetables, hide them. Place a jar of chunky vegetable pasta sauce in a blender with a handful of fresh spinach leaves and blend until smooth before making your favorite pasta recipe. Stir steamed cauliflower or turnips into mashed potatoes to add minerals to the side dish. Juice carrots and apples together. The sweet, beta carotene-rich carrots complement apple juice and add extra vitamins to the juice. Serve the drink in a solid-colored cup with a lid, so the child doesn't suspect a change in his juice.
Making Dinner Fun
Children like to eat things they've created, so let them help prepare dinner. Although food prepped by a child won't look like the glossy photo on the cover of your cookbook, it's the taste that counts. Ask children to sprinkle protein-packed sunflower seed kernels over a bowl of salad or help dip strawberries in chocolate coating for a sweet treat after dinner. And, if your little one sneaks a taste, that's OK. He might just try something new by accident -- and like it. Have older children help with mixing, measuring and setting the table. Working with your children during the meal prep process makes them more likely to eat the meal.