looking to have more fun with food and encourage your kids to try new things? yeah, me too. that’s why I created the food+fun challenge. each week, we plan out a week of fun themes and play with our food. read on for more information about how we do it and for a list of 35+ ideas to jump start your food+fun journey.
a few weeks ago, after the eleven billionth argument with my eldest around (not) eating the dinner in front of her, i decided it was time to try a different approach to food and eating in our house.
because clearly the one where we nag her to eat her fecking dinner or remind her that she needs actual nutrients from the food she’s eating in order to grow and have enough energy to do the things she wants to do, isn’t actually working. we’ve gone so far as to bribe both kids with something special when they do eat their actual food. something i do not recommend.
all that did for us was create a lot of tension and arguments in the house.
and it sucked.
so i set out to make food (and dinner time specifically) FUN. i wanted to hear laughter at the kitchen table instead of yelling. and i wanted both of my kids to get excited about food and trying new things.
and then i remembered that my oldest loves watching youtube kids and is always telling us about some challenge the vloggers that she watches are doing. she’s asked repeatedly to have different food challenges in our house and while we’ve tried it on for size a few times (we’ve done a salad challenge where we tried different dressings to see which we liked best, and a few others that i can’t remember), none have ever really stuck.
but i’m a planner at heart and love a good theme to work with, so i began to really think about how i could make this work. i took to the internet and looked up different kid-friendly themed days that we could get excited about. i also called a family meeting where we all brainstormed ideas and different themes for us to try and made a giant list. i found a list of the national (and international) food holidays and printed those out, too. the next day, the kids and i sat down to pick which themes we wanted to try first and found a list of recipes that would work for each theme. the kids were less thrilled about that part, to be honest, but they stuck with it and we put together our very first themed menu plan.
and then, like every parent does when they want their kids to do something, i hyped the shit out of it. i spent the next two days talking about everything we were going to eat, how much fun we were going to have with each day’s theme, and what days and meals i was most excited about. and then monday came and i kicked off yellow day with all the yellow songs i could think of (yellow by coldplay, mellow yellow by donovan, and yellow submarine by the beatles) and we ate our yellow foods. the next day, i brought the same amount of enthusiasm to the table. and the more excited i was, the more excited they were.
i also made a point to not be angry or upset if they didn’t like something. the entire point of food+fun was to have FUN and keep things playful. so if they didn’t like something, they could just get up and make something else. which they did a few times. but overall, they were brave and open to trying all of the things i put in front of them.
and that, friends, how food+fun was born.
the building blocks for food+fun:
- kid-friendly themes to choose from (see below)
- a list of the national (and international) food holidays for the month
- a menu planner template
the kid-friendly food themes we came up with:
- eating by color
- picnic on the deck night
- movie-inspired meals
- cake for breakfast
- new ingredient challenge
- food letter day (eat all food with A, B, C…)
- restaurant day (aka going out to eat)
- music-inspired food
- festival food
- crunchy food day
- potluck (everyone in the house gets to make something)
- ramen night
- family choice (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins get to choose what we eat that day)
- sweets for dinner
- try something new
- veg*n night (vegetarian or vegan)
- eat like a celebrity
- food around the world (pick a different country to try the cuisine)
- random food holidays
- use it up food challenge (aka leftovers)
- pantry clean-out
- freezer finds
- secret ingredient day
- heart day (everything is in the shape of a heart or is heart-healthy)
- bowl day (everything is eaten in a bowl)
- simple sandwiches
- potato bar
- trader joe’s day (everything has to be from TJ’s)
- eat like a rabbit
- holidays (eating foods that are associated with different holidays like cinco de mayo, thanksgiving, etc)
- upside down and inside out day
- mini foods
- super bowl party
- favorite foods day (eat one persons favorite foods all day long)
- disney day (all foods found at disney)
here’s how we put together our weekly food+fun menu:
every saturday after we finish breakfast (or sometimes during), i sit everyone down and ask what themes they want on the menu for the week, making sure everyone gets at least one of their choices on the list. i keep our big list of themes on the table and read through it so the little can get in on the fun. it generally takes us 5-10 minutes to get the outline of the week together and then another 5-10 minutes to research recipes and pull our shopping list together.
here are the menus from our first three weeks:
so far the kids have been most excited about secret ingredient day — they always love trying to guess what surprises i have in store for them. and i am having a blast sneaking in vegetables into places they don’t belong or just plain trying to trick them. it’s been such a big hit that they have requested we do it every single week.
other themes that have been a big hit: the pantry challenge, out to eat day (we hit up a favorite restaurant AND went out for dessert), mini food day, and eat like a celeb day.
things that haven’t been as much fun: switching up their regular breakfast routine. the days where we have meals planned for the whole day like color days and mini food day, the kids were a little peeved that they didn’t get their regular breakfast. and i wasn’t thrilled to have to make a more involved breakfast because it felt like i was spending the entire day in the kitchen. so i’ve tried to limit those days or schedule them for the weekend so it isn’t as disruptive for us.
stay tuned for more posts with the specific recipes i chose for each day/theme!
and if you’d like to use the monster-themed menu plan that i’m using, you can find that here (along with a bunch of other free menu planner templates)