Cmeal timehildren can be finicky. Most go through phases where all they want to eat is hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, or some similarly unhealthy barely-even-food. Try to put something healthy in front of them and they frequently refuse to eat it—sometimes loudly..

This junk food affection can make it difficult to plan a good family meal, especially when parents work full time or are single parents.

A good way to help combat this is to get the children involved in the meal planning. Dr. Nimali Fernando endorses this approach, as well.

“Get kids involved!” she says. “In my experience kids who help choose meals and participate in cooking them are more likely to try new foods. When shopping I sometimes let my kids choose a new fruit or vegetable that we have never tried before.”

Most kids have a fruit or veggie (or two) that they already like that can be incorporated into meals. Children enjoy having a say in things, so start by planning a meal around that one thing. If they like peas, for instance, some baked chicken with peas and rice is a nice easy meal to put together.

From there it can be challenging to introduce even veggies with similar flavor profiles, so again, get the kids involved. Bring them shopping and show them everything you might buy. Let them help prep and cook the food at home. Make a big family event out of it—most kids love to help out in the kitchen.

If you slowly expand your repertoire of meals, you can have your little chefs discover the joys of snacking during prep, which will teach them awesome lessons like, “red bell peppers are actually very sweet.” Seriously, they might not stop eating those once they try them.

If there are multiple children in the household you can easily divvy the help by age—older ones can help chop stuff, younger ones can help measure and mix ingredients.

Getting in the Kitchen

The espresso balsamic stir-fry recipe included with this story hits all of the right notes. It is customizable to taste and can get the kids involved in the planning and shopping stages. Any meat will work with this recipe, and vegetables can be swapped in or out to suit individuals.

Espresso Balsamic Stir Fry

Meat marinade:
2 oz espresso balsamic vinegar
1 oz sweet vermouth (optional, can sub teriyaki)
1 tbsp cornstarch

Main sauce:
4 oz espresso balsamic vinegar
2 oz soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp flour

1.5-2 lbs chicken breast or beef (flank steak, skirt steak, top round, etc.)

1 red, orange and yellow pepper
4 stalks bok choy
6 carrots
1 large onion
2 large heads broccoli
½ lb snow peas
Bean sprouts, mushrooms and watercress are good additions too.

Heat the wok—or a large frying pan—with a small amount of oil (peanut is recommended if allergies aren’t an issue).

Cut meat into 2-3 inch thin strips. Mix marinade and set meat in it one hour prior to cooking. Cut carrots into chips, broccoli and bok choy into bite size chunks and the onions and peppers into strips (these can all be purchased already prepped!). Mix main sauce and set aside.

In the wok, add ginger to taste. Add broccoli, bok choy and carrots and cook for 90 seconds. Toss/stir frequently. Add onions, peppers, peas to the wok for another 90 seconds. Remove from heat and set the aside.

Place a little more oil in the wok and add meat. Cook for five minutes, tossing/stirring constantly. Stir in veggies., Pour main sauce over the whole mixture. Cook for three more minutes, or until the broccoli and carrots reach desired tenderness. Serve over rice or noodles.

The secret ingredient (espresso balsamic vinegar) can be found at Taste: Oil, Vinegar, Spice at 815 Caroline Street. Other flavors available there may make for equally delicious substitutions.