January 29, 2023

How to Serve Dinner to Please Your Whole Family

It’s Easier Than You May Think:

  • Please your whole family without making two meals.
  • Get your children to eat more vegetables and try new foods more easily.
  • Figure out what's for dinner.
  • And keep your family at the table long enough to have a meaningful conversation.
Photo By Anne Liew

The key is to serve dinner in courses—just like when you go out to a nice restaurant and order a first course, then a main dish, and treat yourself to dessert. Or if you’ve ever been to dinner at a French or Italian home, chances are they served you in courses. One delicious dish after the next.

These meals may have been elaborate or fancy, but you can serve in courses to make everyday family dinners easier and more enjoyable too.

How to Please Everyone

Serving your meal in courses can please everyone because it offers a lot of variety. For example, start with a salad and if the kids don’t care for salad, serve them their favorite vegetables like carrot sticks or cucumbers. You can serve them plain, sliced, and drizzled with olive oil and sea salt or pesto, which is full of flavor and loaded with nutrients.

Pesto, basil flowers, and carrots from the farmers market. You can eat the carrot stems. They're full of nutrients.

Next, you can serve soup like butternut squash bisque or roasted onions, shallots, and potatoes.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Homemade Croutons

When you make a batch of soup once or twice a month and freeze it, it’s quick to warm, and it is ready to serve for dinner in minutes.

Souper Cube Freezer Storage Containers

That’s two courses so far and not much cooking. While the soup is warming, you can make a simple main dish if you want to add it to the meal. An omelette, pan-seared steak, or baked fish is fast and easy to make with only about 5 minutes of prep time.

Pan Seared Steak with Garlic and Parsley
Omelette Baveuse
Fish en Papillote

You won’t need a side dish when you add a third course. Serve the last course in French and Italian style. Offer a small slice or two of bread and cheese, a scoop of yogurt or ricotta and honey, or fresh fruit of the season.

After dinner cheese tray in France
Hand-dipped ricotta and honey.
Rainier cherries in a bowl
Ranier Cherries

This menu offers a lot of variety and creates a balanced meal. There is very little cooking, and there is something for everyone. The vegetarian or someone with a lighter appetite can enjoy the first course, soup, and dessert and pass on the main dish. Those with a hearty appetite can enjoy everything. And the picky eaters can have their favorite vegetables, soup, and a healthy dessert.

Courses are Good for Kids

When you serve in courses and offer raw veggies or salad to your kids at the start of the meal, it makes it easier to get them to eat their veggies. First, they are hungry and more likely to eat what is offered. But more importantly, it is a tough contest to win for carrot sticks when they are right next to chicken and fruit on the same plate. So try starting with the veggies alone, then move on to the next course.

Throughout the meal, you can offer a small taste of the other dishes. A tip that might help is telling them that a small taste is just part of the meal - as is dessert. Once you are done with the first course, you move on to the next course. The excitement of what’s coming next for each course can be a game changer for getting kids more interested in eating dinner.

Figure Out What’s for Dinner

It can save you time in the kitchen by serving several small, simple courses instead of one elaborate dish that is more time-consuming to prepare. You can use leftovers and simple ingredients to make small courses, avoiding food waste and spending on unnecessary carryout. Preparing simple courses with what’s on hand can also be faster and less expensive than getting takeout, and it can save you time and money.

Bruschettas are great for using leftovers and making a course. They are especially easy when you have pre-sliced bread in the freezer. Pop it in the oven to toast, then rub with a clove of garlic- the key to fabulous bruschetta- and top with whatever you have on hand- leftover steak, chicken, cheese, pesto, or ham. I have used leftover tomato sauce as a spread and topped it with cheese.

Tartines on a wooden board topped with pesto, ham, and cheese
Tartines with various toppings
Tomato Fontina Tartines
Toasted baguette with fresh tomato sauce sliced dry saucisson and French olives
Tomato Sauce on Bruscettas with Dried Sausage

Save your leftovers. Two pieces of leftover quiche is a course for a family of four. Served with a salad and soup from the freezer, cherries for dessert, and dinner is made. If you aren’t sure what to do with a leftover to make a course, write to me here. I’d be happy to help you come up with an easy and delicious idea. A good tip to remember is that anything goes with pasta, and a small plate of pasta is an excellent course.

Aglio e Olio - Pasta with Olive Oil and Fresh Garlic
Ratatouille and Pasta
Leftover Lamb Rosemary Pasta
A bowl of penne pasta with salmon
Leftover Salmon Pasta

This week try serving dinner in courses, and let me know what you experience.

A Sweet Ending

Serving dinner in courses also naturally spreads out the meal. It’s impossible to eat two or three courses in 5-10 minutes if you eat slowly, chew well, and wait for everyone to eat the first course before moving on to the main dish.

Food is the best tool you have as a parent to bring your family together every day. You have to eat every day, after all. And how you do it has the power to nourish your family’s minds and spirits as well as their bodies. The food can be simple. What’s important is to create a wholesome, balanced meal and enjoy it together.

Like Sophia, a friend in France, once told me, “We have to sit down every night. I cannot imagine life without it. Even if it is just a bowl of soup, then fried eggs, followed by some fruit, we have to sit and eat together. It’s when we talk.”

If you want to learn about cheese as a third course and simple 3-course menus, that will be posted next week. Click here to be notified, so you don’t miss this delicious idea.

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