Stop the madness!
At my house, the school year–and all its lunacy–starts tomorrow. That means there will be less time to make and eat dinner with my daughter, but even more need to make sure she gets the nourishment she needs to meet the demands of her challenging schedule.
God bless her, she’s a picky eater. I try to get her to try new things, but it’s rare that she finds a new dish she really likes. And casseroles or anything with sauces are Out Of The Question–food touching other food is not something she’ll tolerate.
What to do? This time of year, a favorite option is what we fondly call a “grazing dinner.” The terms comes from the time when she was a toddler and the many evenings I could not get her to sit at a dinner table for any meaningful length of time. My older sister (a mother of four) cheerfully said, “Oh, she’s just a grazer!” And I took my cue from there. Rather than have my daughter eat poorly, I’d find a way to accommodate her restlessness at least occasionally, and still get decent food into her growing body.
Grazing dinners here usually consist of at least three things: some type of meat, whether it’s deli lunchmeat like turkey or ham, or cooked shrimp; vegetables such as sliced tomatoes, broccoli florets, cauliflower, carrots, or sliced zucchini; and cheese, usually mozzarella, provolone, or cheddar. Optionally, I’ll include some bread, or some sliced fruit, or nuts if I have them. If I’m feeling really festive, I’ll add some black olives or dill pickles to the mix.
I arrange everything on a platter (or two, depending on how hungry we are) and set it out for whoever is here to munch on as they want. After an hour or so, I do put the meats and cheeses away, for safety’s sake, but if anyone is still munching on vegetables, fruit, or bread, I’m fine letting them continue with that for as long as they want.
This loose dining arrangement works well on evenings when we’re trying to multi-task. For example, on Halloween night while we’re answering the door for trick-or-treaters, a grazing dinner works very well. We often graze while we decorate our Christmas tree (a three-hour ritual here!) or wrap holiday gifts. If you have sports fans, grazing during the Big Game can be a better option than offering only fatty chips and dip.
Another benefit to a grazing dinner is that it is very quick: simply slice the things you want and set them out. You can even slice things up ahead and store them covered in the refrigerator, so that all you need to do to eat is place food on plates. During the hectic school year, I have no doubt this is a strategy I’ll be using frequently to stop the madness and still make sure my daughter eats reasonably well.