By Guest Blogger Andrea Everhart, author/writer and owner of Kids Theme Dinners
I used to love to cook. The kitchen was my playspace and I would spend hours planning, experimenting and creating concoctions. I wasn’t always great at it but it was fun. It was fulfilling. Then I had three kids. Cooking became less of what I wanted to make and more about what they needed, or were willing, to eat. Dinner devolved into a chore.
I would stare at my former playground of the fridge and pantry and start worrying about food groups—veggies, fruits, grains, dairy—and wonder how in the heck I was going to put all those together in a presentation that my family would actually eat. I decided that I needed a road map and hit Pinterest with a vengeance. I found recipes, crafts and fifty different ways to perfect a fire pit.
But, nothing I made looked like the lovely pictures that accompanied the instructions. Finally, when I was about to throw in the towel and commit to PB&J’s with cheese sticks and a side of grapes, because not even I could screw that up, I realized that perfection was not my goal. My goal was to feed my family healthy stuff and have fun while doing it. Half the projects I made from Pinterest pretty much looked like a six-year-old created it anyway, so why not let go of my overachieving expectations and include the kids in my efforts? I decided to welcome them into my sandbox and start building some meals together in the form of theme dinners.
The first dinner that we created was quite simple and can be done with all ages. We simply chose a few letters and centered our meal and activities upon them. You can do the same or try the pre-designed meal below which includes a menu, crafts and activities.
Timesaving Tip: You don’t have to do all the activities in one night. Break up the crafts during the week and go with your family’s pace.
Alphabet Theme Dinner:
Remember, have fun with this! It’s not a script, it’s a roadmap. Detour a bit if your kids see a new direction. The goal is to spark their, and your, imagination.
- Applesauce with a sprinkle of cinnamon
- Broccoli with melted cheese
- Chicken tenders (preferably whole grain)
- Letter-shaped bread
- Carrot cake cupcakes OR ABC Trail Mix
Choose one or several of the activities: For a variety of tasks to fit all ages and personality types, the activities are broken into groups: Early Learners, Crafters, Artists, Writers, Researchers and Cooks
Early Learners: Make placemats on poster board cut in half. Have kids practice writing A, B and C on the paper. You may need to create dotted line letters before-hand for your child to trace if writing is new to them.
Crafters: Make placemats on poster board cut in half. Cut out pictures from a magazine or words from a newspaper that begin with your chosen letters.
Artists: Make placemats on poster board cut in half. Have kids draw and color foods that begin with the letters A, B and C.
Writers: Have kids create food themed tongue twisters with A, B, and C. See how many times you can speak these without laughing:
- Apes ate apples.
- Bears bonk bananas.
- Crickets crave crepes.
More advanced writers may enjoy creating an alliterative poem about a family member using the theme dinner letters. At the end of dinner, have a guessing game to see who it describes. Your Dictionary has some good examples.
Researchers: Have kids research healthy A,B,C items for the trail mix. Mixture options include dried apricots, apple chips, dehydrated blueberries, dried bananas, carob chips and dark chocolate chips. Serve in baking cups/cupcake liners.
Cooks: Let the kids play with their food. If they help make it, they are much more inclined to eat it! Depending on their skill level, pick an activity that is safe and fun for kids.
- Wash and break apart the broccoli
- Shred cheese to melt on broccoli
- Shape pre-packaged dough into letters A, B and C
- Prepare the ABC Mix
Entertainment: After dinner, make a game of your letters. Pick one that fits the age of your kids and time constraints best:
- Cut out letters drawn on placemats and place them on objects around the house that begin with the letter. For example, C would go on a chair.
- Give each person a sheet of paper and pencil and play a homemade version of Scattergories and compete by listing how many grouped items each person can name within two minutes. For example, how many healthy foods can you name that begin with A? Or, how many movies begin with B? Who can name the most animals that begin with C?
If you really get into the dinner and want a few more ideas or want to make it more of your own:
- Learn a few words from another language that begin with your letters. Challenge each other during dinner by speaking them.
- Come up with your own healthy foods that begin with A,B or C. Share your ideas in the comment section because we’re always looking for fun menu items.
- Pull out the Scrabble board or start some family competition with Words With Friends games that you can play throughout the week.
- Create a centerpiece using your letters. We once cut out large letters from poster board and hung them from the dining room chandelier. It wasn’t perfect but it was fun.
- Decorate carrot cupcakes with icing letters or images that start with your letters
- Visit Kids Theme Dinners for more ideas
Keep in mind, the activities can be tailored to age groups and preferences. This isn’t supposed to be hard. It isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s all about learning, bonding and fun!
If you want to try more theme dinners, get some great tips on nutritious snacks including 15 days of Meal Plans and learn some healthy recipes, grab a copy of our locally authored book, Need Help Mom? Busy Moms Making Food Fun for Healthy Eaters which is also available in digital format at Amazon.