(This post contains affiliate links.)
Dinnertime is a special time of day. After a day spent apart, reconnecting over our evening meal is both a priority and a tradition for our family. But it’s also often fraught with stress and frustration. Busy weeknights require quick dishes. Picky eaters require careful consideration—it has not been uncommon for a tantrum to erupt when the menu is announced.
Over the years we’ve tried different approaches to meal planning. For the past few years, we’ve found ourselves with a predictable rotation of widely acceptable meals: taco night, pasta night, pizza night, rinse, lather, repeat.
But even with this predictable, kid-approved rotation, there was still drama. The adults were lamenting the loss of diversity in our menus. And our Picky Eater had dug in his heels and was beginning to reject even the tried and true favorites. It was time for a change.
Enter The Fresh 20.*
I’m not quite sure where I stumbled upon this treasure, but I am so glad I did. The premise is simple: 20 fresh ingredients (think perimeter of the grocery store) plus a well-stocked pantry yields five dinners (recipes serve 4 adults, but our family of five always ends up with a bit leftover). Ingredients are used multiple times throughout the weekly cycle, reducing waste. Average cost is about $4.00 per serving. We’re in!
The Fresh 20 website offers a free week of recipes. (And vegetarian, Paleo, and gluten-free versions are available.) We started there. And quite naturally, we began rating each meal. It didn’t hurt at all that the first meal in that free week was a slam dunk with my family: balsamic pork tenderloin, sweet potatoes, and maple-kale. Together we scored that meal a 9/10, and a new direction was set!
Next, I purchased the cookbook from Amazon. (Note: this is an Amazon affiliate link- my first ever- meaning that if you buy it with this link a portion of the sale goes to me!) The menus are organized seasonally, and the book offers 4 weekly rotations per season. Rather than approaching the book linearly, I asked the kids to pick a few weeks that looked good. This clever marketing strategy gleaned excitement and endorsement even before we began cooking.
This happy switch also required some negotiations with the Picky Eater. I had a hunch that this was more a power struggle than a palate issue. And my intuition was confirmed on a chairlift heart-to-heart a few weeks ago when Picky Eater confirmed that yes, he wasn’t going to admit it even if he did like dinner because we made him eat it. Reasonable.
But I had a counterargument: my background in Farm to School taught me that it often takes our tastebuds (and brains) many encounters with an unknown food to decide that it’s safe (and that we may even like it). So I explained this whole theory and suggested a compromise: after years of refusing to make a special meal for anyone, we agreed to let Picky make (and clean up after making) his own PB&J after he voluntarily, with no discussion (or sound effects), tried dinner. While there have been many PB&Js made in the past few weeks, there have been decidedly fewer tantrums as well. I’ll take it.
Recently, I took the plunge and went in for the annual Fresh 20 subscription. This plan not only sends me a new menu each week but also allows me access to the entire PDF archive (a couple of years!) of past weekly menus. I waited until there was a sale going on and saved $20 on the advertised rate. Score.
We’re still making our way through kid-selected weekly menus. We’ve tried things I’ve never dared attempt to feed the children before: French onion soup, shrimp & grits! We rate each meal on a scale of 1-10 and take notes for next time. Often, I tweak the recipes a bit, adding more protein or vegetables, or upping the seasoning. Since there are only five meals each week, we still have time to fit in old favorites, like burger or pizza night. Best of all, everyone knows what’s for dinner and there are no more (well, fewer) tantrums.
Note: For the purposes of this post I labeled my child Picky Eater, however, when I am being my best self (which is totally not always), I try to refrain from labeling my children anything. He’s growing and has distinctive tastes. His palate may expand as he grows. Or not. Regardless, we’ve brought more peace to the dinner table, and that’s what matters.
*Note: The Fresh 20 and Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you purchase I get a small portion of the sale.