I have a child who often likes to start dancing around the dinner table about five minutes into the meal. Or she gets up time and again during dinner to get or do something unnecessary, which is really just an excuse to get up from the table. Sometimes we ignore the behaviour as the dancing and singing is generally interspersed with regular visits to her seat to tell us things of utmost importance and to eat more dinner. Sometimes, especially when we are tired, it gets really frustrating as we would just like to sit quietly at the table as a family and talk about our day. It is not every night and, in our case, I know it is not about not wanting to eat. We have tried distraction, natural consequences, removal of privileges, all sorts of strategies to try and encourage her to stay sitting at the table while we eat together and each of these work…to an extent…some of the time…but by no means every time.
One thing that I have observed when it comes to keeping our preschooler sitting at the table is that serving food that involves putting parts of the meal together at the table can make all the difference. I imagine it is a combination of;
- Being active (having something to keep little hands busy)
- The element of choice (what will I eat now)
- And the sense of both control (how much will I have) and of independence (I can do it myself)
that makes it work so well.
Here are my 5 meal suggestions for keeping busy kids at the table;
1. Nachos, Tacos or Burritos: serve with a selection of ingredients that children can choose to add to their plate. As well as the meat mix we often include;
- Fresh tomato, finely chopped
- Fresh mushroom, sliced*
- Tinned corn
- Avocado, mashed*
- Grated cheese
- Sour cream
* Slicing mushrooms and mashing avocado are two jobs that a preschooler can easily help with.
2. Savoury crepes: similar to burritos, serve with your choice of prepared fillings and then roll them up.
3. Sang Choy Bow: offer fresh bean sprouts and chopped water chestnuts alongside the meat mixture and allow your child to fill their lettuce leaf cup themselves. You can find a recipe for Sang Choy Bow here at Planning With Kids.
4. Cheese fondue: head back to the 60s with a fondue set, cheese fondue (recipe suggestion here at Simple Bites) and your choice of meat, seafood, vegetables and bread for dunking.
5. Bee-Bim Bop: a Korean dish that the children enjoyed at the child care centre that I used to oversee. To make;
You will need:
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 5 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds (optional)
- 1.5 kg lean beef
- 2 carrots
- 2 packets frozen spinach, defrosted
- 1/2 kg mung bean sprouts
- 4 eggs
- Salt and pepper
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 2 cups of rice
- Cook rice according to packet instructions.
- Prepare the marinade by combining all ingredients listed.
- Slice beef across the grain into very thin slices. Add to marinade and leave for a few minutes.
- Break eggs into a large measuring cup and beat well until mixed.
- Place 1 teaspoon vegetable oil into a non-stick pan. Pour 1/4 of the egg into the pan, rotating the pan quickly so that the egg spreads out into a thin layer. Cook for 1 minute. Flip with a spatula and cook the second side for 1 minute. Remove egg pancake onto a chopping board and leave to cool. Repeat with remaining mixture to make 4 egg pancakes. Slice the pancakes into thin slices and set aside in a bowl.
- Cut carrots into julienne strips and stir fry in a little oil over a high heat, remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.
- Squeeze excess water from spinach and stir fry in a little oil for 2-3 minutes until tender, season and set aside in a bowl.
- Cook the thin strips of beef on a high hear for 2-3 minutes until brown, remove from heat and place in a bowl, pouring over meat juices.
- Place mung beans into a bowl.
- To serve, place rice onto plates and then (allow your child to) add egg, meat and vegetables as preferred.
- Optional – serve with ko-chee-chang (Korean hot pepper paste) and kimchee (Korean pickled cabbage).
Do you have a toddler or preschooler who likes to dance through dinner? Do you have any meal suggestions to add to this list?