Posted in our kitchen are some family rules I drew up several years ago when my kids were 3 and 7, and I thought I was losing my mind. They include such pipe dream as "Use your indoor voice when inside," and "Be gentle with each other".
But for the most part, these are the guidelines that steer my meal planning and decision making when it comes to food. They're the foundation for how I feed my family. And while they may not be the right rules for all families, these six work for us:
1. ONLY VEGGIES IN THE HOUR BEFORE DINNER
Is it just me or do all children suddenly become ravenous exactly 60 minutes before dinner will be served? So our policy is this: If you're hungry in the hour before dinner, you may have an "appetizer" of veggies. Or you can simply wait for dinner. My older son typically waits. My younger son happily eats all manner of veggies, including a big carrot left whole or a bowl of crunchy romaine leaves. Read more about this strategy here.
2. NO MORE THAN ONE SWEET DRINK A DAY
I focus a lot on sweet drinks with my kids because sweetened beverages are such a problem in our current food culture, thanks to the loads of extra calories and sugar they supply. This is also one of the rules I find the hardest to manage, since sweet drinks are seemingly everywhere. What counts in my book as a sweet drink: chocolate milk, 100% juice, soda, lemonade, fruit punch, and anything else with sugar.
3. A SWEET TREAT NO MORE THAN ONCE A DAY
My boys, like most kids, love sweets. They each have a gallon-sized plastic bag (labeled with their name) full of all the candy that comes into the house via birthday parties, Easter baskets, and Halloween sacks. They're allowed to dip in once a day. Since they like to do this after dinner (and yes, even sometimes WITH dinner—read why), I typically don't pack a sweet treat in their lunchboxes or serve sweets at other times. (I also don't count a sweet drink as a "sweet treat", though I probably should.)
4. EVERYONE HAS A VEGETABLE ON THE TABLE THEY LIKE
In my house (and maybe yours too), we don't all like the same vegetables. My younger son and I love Brussels sprouts; my husband can't stand them. We all eat salads except my younger son. Everyone but me likes peas. But as long as everyone's got a veggie available that they like, I'm happy. (Here's a broccoli recipe half of us love: 15 Minute Roasted Broccoli and a Brussels sprouts recipe three-quarters of us enjoy: Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts.)
5. WATER OR MILK WITH LUNCH AND DINNER
We only have these two beverages available for meals. Exceptions sometimes (but not always) apply at restaurants.
6. FRUIT AS THE SNACK DEFAULT
If my kids come to me saying they're hungry for a snack, I always offer fruit first. Most of the time, they take me up on it. They might also add something else, like peanut butter with apples or a banana with some crackers.
Do you have any family "food rules" or guidelines that you eat by?
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.
Image: Family preparing food via Shutterstock