How Our Weekly Dinner Calendar Gets My Kid in the Game

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Maa Hoo/Stocksy)

Some kids are notorious for craving predictability at dinnertime. They like the same pasta served in a particular bowl. Or they only eat tofu pho, which sounds adventurous, without green things, from one Vietnamese restaurant, and only on Thursday nights. (We’d like the table by the window, please.) Or they eat gyoza, but only at a certain friend’s house, because her dad really does make it best, and in that case he’ll have 20.

I have one of these children.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

It would be misleading to call him picky, because he does eat a wide variety of foods, but he certainly doesn’t eat everything. As a cookbook author — someone reliably plopping new and/or unusual things on the dinner table most nights — it has historically meant that I often cook two meals, to satisfy the requirements of both my job as a recipe tester and my job as a mom. Until last year, when, right after my child really learned to read, I discovered a stick-on wall chalkboard that allowed me to write down a family dinner plan for every day of the week.

Here’s how it works: The board is stuck to the wall at kid height, and has permanent sections for each day of the week, starting with Sunday. Every Sunday morning, my son wipes the board clean. We take out a quiver of multicolored chalk markers, each of which stands for a different thing — white for the day’s date, orange for time with friends, blue for after-school activities, and green for dinner. We map out the week, crowning each day with a dinner decision. It means he can request something — he loves salmon and roasted chicken — and immediately see that he’s getting his way at least a couple of times each week. It also means that in the moment, on Sunday mornings, he recognizes that by choosing both Wednesday and Thursday nights’ meals, he should probably concede to Korean rice bowls on Friday. We often talk through how I can make it in a way he likes — in Friday’s case, splaying out the chicken and rice and grilled bok choy on a plate, so that he can eat them all separately.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

With the calendar, dinner becomes predictable for both of us. He knows that if he agreed to chicken noodle soup at the beginning of the week, I’ve already decided on it and shopped for it — which means we’re having soup for dinner, even if he doesn’t really love it. And if, the next day, I realize we’re having roasted chicken with plain asparagus and brown rice for the 11th Monday night in a row, I can’t complain, either.

Welcome to Dinner with Kids

This series explore the shifting dynamics of the dinner table when kids are involved. We asked families of all shapes and size their tips for meal time success. You’ll learn a few things, laugh a whole lot, and find that when kids are involved, dinnertime is always a little more eventful.