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Choose Your Own Colors Night: Empowering Kids To Make a Balanced Meal


Can you relate to this situation?   You work hard all day running the kids here and there, have a full day of work appointments and then rush to pick the kids up by the end of the day.   You get home and immediately start making a balanced meal for the family (instead of plopping on the couch with a glass of wine, which you would prefer!).   You’re working fast as you can because you know that your kids are very hungry.   Then the kids go, “Oh, mom!   I don’t like that.   Could we just have the Grab-Anything-You-Want night instead?”   You take a deep breath and wonder, “Why am I going through all this effort doing this while I am so tired at the end of the day and they don’t even appreciate it??”

I hear about these types of scenarios all the time in my office when meeting with families.   Many families just give up and let the kids have their way.   Although, this instance described above was actually in my home this time around.   We just exited a super hectic season of moving homes, and during that time, we cycled in a Grab-Anything-You-Want night and my kids have absolutely loved it.   The only real guideline when we started this was that they could not eat candy or dessert.   Both Hannah and Evan usually opt for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fruit, but sometimes Hannah gets her favorite basic bean burrito with a salad (which I suggest and she happily adds).   But is a Grab-Anything-You-Want night good for a long-term situation?   It depends.


This scenario is not too unlike a leftover night, which is really what it is for my husband and I.   I see the benefits being that the kids have some choice in their foods at home.   As they age, you want them to make good choices on their own and homes are the preferred training ground.   The other thing I like about these nights is it gives the parents a little breathing room without having to go out to eat or order takeout.   Please know that this is far different than allowing this to happen every night.   And I don’t suggest turning this into a short order cook night either.   Exhausting and not recommended.   Cycling this type of wild card night may be a good option for some families with school-age children.   However, it’s important to stay committed to eating as a family even when you have this type of set-up.   Continue to turn off all technology and show your children that family mealtimes are important for everyone.  

Be sure to keep plenty of "always" foods in your

fridge and pantry.  Your children will eat what is

available.  It's amazing how that works!

Possible Issues and Opportunities

Let’s face it.   Kids don’t usually choose a well-balanced meal.   Your child may just choose to grab a bag of chips and call it a night!   If you do this type of scenario at your home, I suggest you do what I am doing to tighten up this wild card evening.   Change it to being called Choose Your Own Colors night.   This will teach them what makes up a good meal – lean protein, whole grains, a fruit, veggie and low-fat dairy – and it empowers them to do these on their own.   They could choose a combination of leftovers, or they could even cook up breakfast items for dinner.   My 8 year old daughter Hannah has enjoyed putting her own lunches together.   She’s been doing this on her own, but often asks me for suggestions.   We go through each of the components of a meal, and she happily chooses her preferences (example, for her dairy, Hannah was able to choose milk, a cheese stick or regular or Greek yogurt).   All we have to do is make them available in the kitchen!

I must note that this works best when you have several “always” foods for them to choose from.   Avoid the choice battles by keeping “sometimes” foods such as overly processed foods out of the home.   If the options are healthy, they will choose healthy.

I think our family is going to try this Choose Your Own Colors night for the time being and see how the kids do.   It will give me a night time off and will also help the kids learn some meal skills.   Summer is a good time to keep this going and tweak as needed.   I’d love to hear if you do something similar in your home and how successful you are!  

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