We’re always looking to spice things up at the dinner table. But how often do we have the time?
But the good news is we can take the family on a world tour with themed meals that are fun, easy and engage the kids to learn about other cultures and try new foods. This is great news for a shout out to moms of picky eaters. Pretty much all moms, right?
Themed Meal Planning Magic
As a busy mom, what I love best is that themed dinners can be meal–assembly style, so I’m not responsible for presentation. As they “build their meal,” your kids will develop favorite stations, which you can eventually “out-source” for them to prepare.
Plus, research shows that as you get your kids involved in the kitchen, they are more likely to eat the foods they’ve helped prepare—which is great for moms looking to increase the variety in their kids’ diet. Once you create a system for meal prep, having your kids help in the kitchen is easier and can actually create less work for us. I’m sure I don’t just speak for myself when I say I think moms, my self included, do enough already
As far-fetched as it sounds, taco night really can spark magic at the dinner table. I’ve seen it work with my own family and also when cooking with kids as a dietitian. While your child might not be up for trying tomatoes in a salad one more time, they might get excited about giving them a taste in pico de gallo.
Prep is so easy when it’s set up like a salad bar - pre-washed lettuce in one bowl, shredded cheddar in another, kidney beans with taco mix, ground lean turkey and hard shell tacos! You can even sneak in some mushrooms by cooking them in with the ground turkey to boost vegetable intake
Taco night is just the beginning! Draw inspiration from other cultures to introduce new, enticing flavor combinations to healthy foods. When foods are fun, kids are more likely to try them. Get started with these fun ideas for five different themed dinners.
Making home-rolled sushi is easier than it sounds. Trust me! Sushi rice and nori can be found at most grocery stores, and filling your rolls with veggies makes it easy so you don’t have to worry about the fish. Kids can help roll the sushi and customize their own roll with their favorite veggies.
To make things even more fun, sit on the floor around the coffee table to experience a taste of traditional Japanese dining. You can even put these together assembly-line style to add in some teamwork! Or you can demonstrate how to make one, then kick back, relax, and watch them prepare the others.
French cuisine has more to offer than just baguettes and fine cheese. The French way of eating is something to be emulated. The French eat mindfully and socially, so just sitting down to the dinner table together instead of eating on the go is a start.
Take your fine china out and let the kids set the table—in France, you often see fine China used daily. Use this theme as an opportunity to teach mindful eating. Teach kids that it’s appropriate to stop eating when they’re 80% full, not over stuffed. Encourage them to savor each bite instead of rushing and sometimes stuffing food into their mouths without thinking (we’ve all seen it!). Wear berets and say oui to add extra fun! Looking for more ways to experience French living without going to Europe? Read Lessons from Madame Chic, 20 Stylish Secrets Learned While Living In Paris by Jennifer L. Scott.
Cooking Thai food can seem intimidating, but don’t let that stop you from diving into such a glorious world of flavor! Even something as simple as buying a Thai-flavored sauce and using it in a stir-fry can excite your taste buds. Or, buy a few different sauces so kids can taste each to see which one they like the best for next time.
With each theme, find fun facts about the culture you’re showcasing, like the language spoken in the country, the most commonly consumed food
, or how they eat something completely different than Americans. They might be surprised to learn that people speak French in some parts of Africa, like in Madagascar!
Empanadas make for a fun and tasty eating experience—kids go bananas over the flavors and the actual prep! The dough is simple enough to make, but you can also substitute store-bought whole-wheat pizza dough if you’re in a pinch. Ask the kids what they’d like to fill them with, and then have them help fill and shape the empanada pockets before baking.
It’ll be a fun, hands-on experience for the kids. Kick the theme up a notch by learning a few words in the new language to sprinkle into conversation, like “hello,” “please,” and “thank you.” Make a fun rule, like anytime someone says “chicken” that night, they have to say it in Spanish (pollo)!
The magic of taco night is really just about getting creating and being inspired by other cultures. Browse the cultural aisle of the grocery store, or visit specialty ethnic stores to try new ingredients. Do your best to bring a new vegetable to the table, and pair it with an existing favorite when possible—kids will be more likely to take a nibble if it’s offered with something they know!
Expanding the types of cuisine you expose your kids to now only gives them an educational experience, but it also builds tolerance for other cultures. Who knew food could be such a powerful thing?!
And remember: taco night can be even more than just trying new foods
and learning about a different culture—many good behaviors can be taught at the dinner table, too. Mealtime
is an occasion for encouraging things like taking turns, sharing stories without interrupting, sharing responsibilities, and showing off good table manners.
A fun atmosphere during themed dinner
night makes teaching these good habits light-hearted and more likely to become second nature!
By exploring unique foods from different cultures together, your kids can embrace new foods like it's a party instead of with hesitation and fear. So, next time you’re looking to take dinner to the next level, plan a themed night. There’s a whole new world out there for your kids and their taste buds!