My good friend Ann, told me something that her Mom had told her. It stuck with me. She said, after raising a bunch of little kids that were very close in age, if she had it to do over again, she would have made a lot more grilled cheese sandwiches.
The way she put it was certainly more poetic. But the idea is that when the kids are little, they don't care. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen, spend it doing things that matter.
This doesn't mean feeding them junk. There is not a more important time (in my view) to be feeding them good quality food, than now, when their little brains and bodies are developing at lightening speed.
So make it quick and easy, but at the same time- make it nutritious. Make the sandwich on wheat bread, instead of white. Try new vegetables on the side, with ranch dressing to dip them in. Have milk or water instead of juice.
For my kids (who were white bread addicts) the wheat bread was a hard sell. I had to take baby steps. We started out with some "Granny's" brand, where there was hardly a speck of wheat to be found. But at least the color was brownish, so we were heading in the right direction. I made sure to cut the crusts off, and serve this bread with lots of jam, to sweeten the deal. After a few months with the "fake wheat", we moved to a "Great Harvest" type of honey oat bread. Again, I cut crusts off, and served extra honey or jam, to make the transition easier. I kept doing tuna and deli meats on tortillas or bagels. After a few months with the oat bread, I was able to switch all the sandwiches over to wheat bread. I still buy local bread that is fresh, meaning that it's nice and soft. I make sure that the ingredients are simple. One day I hope to do something as radical as nine grain, but I think that my kids might have a seizure on the spot if they saw a sunflower seed in their bread right now.
And as for salad- Shelby hated lettuce from day one.
So we would do veggies and dip for her. Slowly I started to put one or two pieces of lettuce that were the size of a business card on her plate with the veggies. At first she just pushed them to the far edge of the plate, reminding me that she "hates lettuce". But after a few meals, I started with bribes. "You know Shelby, if you eat just one piece of lettuce today with your other vegetables, you can have double desert." Poof...the lettuce was gone. A few of those, and I could begin putting together actual salads for her. And now she eats them. I know that the "Double Deserts" tactic works because Dalton's best friend, who HATES tomatoes, ate one from my garden for double deserts...and now he asks for them.
As with anything...it's about exposing them repeatedly, and making the experiences positive. SO, I am all for an extra little shot of sugar in the beginning because the means justify the ends. They aren't going to get diabetes from an extra Popsicle. But they will loose out on a lot of nutrients through out their childhoods if they are not getting greens and vegetables.
So, even though my kids have always eaten healthy food, there have been times when I have worried that my seven meal repertoire was not good enough for them. And then I remember Ann's Mom.
Right now it's all about ease and survival.
There are some people who get a great sense of joy from creating in the kitchen. I am not one of them. I get a great sense of joy from opening up a carton of Dublin Mudslide at the end of the day.
So until I have children who are old enough to appreciate fillet minion, it's the simple stuff for us. Simple, and healthy.