January 23, 2013

Get your whole family to eat up with colorfully plated dinners!

By Raleigh-Elizabeth.

How do you plate your dinner? Does everyone sit down to a family-style meal, or do you customize each plate individually?

At our house, there’s no easy answer. Every meal is different. While I’m the one focusing on the healthy eating plate and making sure we have an adequate portion of vegetables and whole grains, my husband is in it for the design. After a few years of carefully arranged plates with artistically swooshed sauces, I’ve started thinking about presentation, too.

And not in a “plate like a pro” sense. (Let’s be realistic. It’s dinner on a Thursday night. Getting dinner on the table is its own success.) But in a “we all might be more tempted to eat these brussel sprouts if they look super appetizing” way.

It turns out, that’s exactly what the science supports. Kids are apparently a lot more likely to eat what’s in front of them if it’s colorful and artfully arranged. And who can blame them? Adults like a nicely plated meal, too! With some helpful nutrition tips, a laundry list of colorful foods, and a plating guide for the rest of us, we can all enjoy a better dinner. And that’s everyday art we can all eat up.

Tell me: How do you get everyone to eat at dinnertime? Do you tempt your children with sandwiches cut in the shapes of dinosaurs or peas rolled into a heart? Or does everyone just eat up?

P.S. — Delicious mexican haystack from Whole & Free. It’s nutritious and colorful! No wonder I’m drooling.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Grace@ Sense and Simplicity January 23, 2013 at 11:31 am

I do try to select a dish that will compliment the style of food and set the table with candles or flowers and a tablecloth (does that count) and sometimes put some herbs on top of the food, but that’s about the extent of it. My biggest tip for getting our teens to eat veggies is to serve the food in the kitchen as they are much more likely to finish what is on their plate than to serve themselves a decent portion to begin with.


2 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 7:12 am

That’s so smart, Grace! Thanks for sharing!


3 Katie January 23, 2013 at 11:58 am

So timely! Last night I made beef stroganoff – a childhood favorite of mine – and both of my kids downright refused it. It was a hit with the adults, at least. but I found myself wonderful if brown stewy glop over noodles just didn’t look good to them. My two year old even asked me “where’s the meat?” Those of us who knew what to expect were excited, but it did not go over well with the un-initiated. Next time I’ll add some green and find a way to make it prettier.


4 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 7:13 am

I love beef stroganoff! Let us know how you find a way to serve it so they realize how delicious it is!


5 alexis_gentry January 23, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Ahhhh, so true! My daughters (7 and 2yrs old) greatly appreciate what we call at my house a #sillyface plate. I’ve started to chronicle them on Instagram; it’s amazing what kids will eat when they can interpret their dinner as art! :)


6 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 7:15 am

Oh, Alexis! How fun! I love that you’ve been photographing them – your kids are bound to love those later. My mom and I were just reminiscing about the star-shaped sandwiches she used to make me (on occasion). They were always the best way to get lunch – no matter what.


7 Katie B. of January 23, 2013 at 2:53 pm

My son is almost 13. He’s going to complain about anything I serve, regardless of whether it’s beautifully plated or not. Ideally, he’d rather all of his meals come wrapped in paper like at a fast food place. (And, yes, I’ve actually thought about doing just that!) These days I just make sure the plates and place mats are color-coordinated, and that there’s a decent variety of colors in our food.


8 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 7:15 am

Katie, this made me laugh!


9 Summer Merrill January 23, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I take my daughters (3 and 7) to the grocery store with me and let them each pick out two to 3 vegetables to go along with our dinners for the week. I’ll let them know what I’m making, turkey burgers, stuffed peppers, etc., and they get to choose a vegetable to go with it. We also include fruit, but they have to eat their veggies too! My 7 year old will eat anything. My 3 year old is picky, so I let her help me prep and make the dishes which sometimes gets her to eat it too!


10 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 7:16 am

Summer, that’s so smart. I love how you’re involving them in the process. They must get so much out of it!


11 Andrea sayer January 23, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Dinner time has been a successful family time since my kids were babes. We started off (when they were old enough) sitting at the table with us, feeding them what we eat for dinner out of a baby food grinder. Fast forward til now, they eat *most* things. One kid doesn’t like tomato chunks, the other hates hot dogs. But we always sit together. They tell us about their days, we laugh, and I try to teach them to not burp at the dinner table. We have had plenty of battles, but for the most part, they eat a variety, are healthy, and love talking at the table.


12 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 7:17 am

Andrea, this gives me so much hope – we’re planning on doing the same dinner plan with our little one when he hits solid food. And I’m so glad the dinner table conversation isn’t dead – it was easily my favorite thing about dinner growing up. They’re surely going to remember it all so fondly.


13 Heidi January 23, 2013 at 8:48 pm

I try to make dinner look appetizing, but let’s be honest…kids are a lot more likely to eat their vegetables at dinner if they know that they get the leftovers for breakfast!


14 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 7:22 am

Hahaha Heidi, what a fantastic truth.


15 Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker January 23, 2013 at 10:23 pm

We have 7 children ages 11 and under, and we plate every meal (including lunch, since I homeschool my children). We started it in the beginning because it was just easier to cut up everyone’s food at once, rather than trying to cut up all of the food at the table and make them wait, but I really like it.

We don’t go out to eat, but plating out food makes it feel like you’re at a restaurant. I grow plenty of fresh herbs, which are really nice on top of a meal.

As soon as my lettuce grows in (it just sprouted in the garden today! The children were all so happy about it today. I heard lots of “Yeah! I love salad!” from them when I told them the lettuce would be ready in a few weeks.) I will be doing two plates for each child, with salad as the first course. We also are waiting for a sale on some small glass bowls to go with out plates; we are flying through the bowls here, with soup at lunch and oatmeal or yogurt at several (though not all) breakfasts. We run the dishwasher after every two meals, because it is full (18 plates and 18 bowls plus silverware and mixing cups/cooking utensils).

I am also planting more flowers in the garden so that we can have flowers on the table all the time.


16 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 7:21 am

Brandy, this is so wonderful. I love how you’re getting them so excited about food – straight from the seed!


17 Martha January 24, 2013 at 1:22 am

Love this post, I think about this all the time…and not just because I’m a rabid Top Chef fan! I find less is more, too much food on a plate overwhelms my kids. Then I serve more as they chow down.


18 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 7:20 am

Martha – how smart! Plus we all have been schooled by Top Chef (and our mothers) that food is never supposed to be on the rim – small portions are always ALWAYS the better option. (Unless it’s ice cream or cake, in which I’d opt for the whole plate full anyway! Probably not healthy…)


19 Susan January 24, 2013 at 7:06 am

Great article. I plate right from the stove. With 2 kids with Celiac disease plus one withdiabetes. First I serve/measure food for diabetic/celiac guy then serve extra skinny guy/celiac extra food and then plate food for my daughter, husband and myself with foods that contain wheat. It is a little tricky making sure I don’t use utensils on gluten free food that I have served food that contains wheat. Last night we had the dressing for all those who could eat it and I had to remember to keep that spoon out of everything else. Sounds simple but when you are serving 6 different things it’s not:)


20 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 7:19 am

Susan, that sounds so tricky, but it seems like you’ve got it down to a fine art.


21 Becky January 24, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I’m her nanny, since she was little, I’ve made it my personal mission to help this kid have a happy, healthy, loving relationship with her food. It’s one of my greatest pleasures in life, and I wanted to share that with her. Now she’s a toddler and when it’s just the two of us for dinner I offer the meal in courses. First: veggie in the form of a pretty soup or salad. I put the soup in a small white bowl. Salad is the greens laid out on the plate, topped with fruit or nuts and perhaps a light dressing. I don’t know if she’s liking veggies more, or soup, or maybe it’s just because she’s hungry at the start of a meal- we get in lots of veggies this way! And then the protein and grain – small servings on one small white plate. Sometimes piled, sometimes totally separate. I like to “present” it to her, naming what’s there. We talk about it as she takes bites, her word for “spicy” is hilarious! Depending on what she likes, she’ll often request more of something before moving on. Sometimes we have more in a serving bowl, sometimes I’ve only made a small amount, in which case I make a mental note that she really enjoyed it – success! And then after the meal – a treat awaits. It’s a big deal to her because it’s her favorite food groups: fruit and dairy. I’ll cut fruit in an unconventional way, top it with yogurt. Maybe whole berries surrounded by cheese cubes. I like it to feel like something you’d gaze at through a glass window. Perhaps I’ve been inspired by the truffle displays I drooled over as a kid. It’s simple to make good, fresh food look appetizing. Having a special meal together is one of the highlights of the day!
I was inspired greatly by the book “French Kids Eat Everything” if you’d like a good reference on creating a happy food culture at home – the French certainly have it down!


22 Raleigh-Elizabeth January 24, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Becky – all totally brilliant! I love how you course the meal. It reminds me so much of how my stepmom (French – I feel like I should be adding an “of course” here) paced our meals growing up. What a lucky child she is to have you there caring so much not just for her health and happiness, but for her healthy and happy relationship with food! A lifelong foodie in the works : )


23 Cheri January 30, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Around our house, we just eat up. Plating is something I find rather obnoxious – I don’t even like it at the restaurants. My way of thinking is that it doesn’t have to be fancy, just taste good. Some of my favorite meals look terrible when served up and there is no way to “plate” them so they will look more appealing – yet they’re the best tasting meals.


24 domonique | a bowl full of simple January 28, 2014 at 11:25 am

It doesn’t always go well in our house, but I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to make separate meals. Only requirement is to try a bite of everything on your plate. I plate most of the meals, some are make-your-own style like tostadas or baked potatoes. Keep it fresh for the kids and simple for mom is my motto.


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