When it comes to eating, my two daughters couldn’t be more different. Ira, who’s one, is trying new foods every day and eats almost as much as my husband, Nick, and I do. I don’t even know where it all goes! She loves butternut squash so much we had a squash-themed party for her birthday this year. On the other hand, Bernie is a textbook four-year-old. One day she’ll be obsessed with something (lately homemade chicken noodle soup, mac and cheese, or pot stickers). The next day she’ll hate that food and won’t want to see it anywhere near her.
Rather than make separate meals for each of them, I keep their preferences in mind when planning for the week. Kids love to make their own decisions, so putting out ingredients buffet-style allows everyone to craft their own plate. First I start with a protein. Then I’ll add in at least one thing I know will appeal to each person. If it’s taco night, I’ll set out ground meat and a variety of toppings, including lettuce, sauces, and shredded cheese. When soup is on the menu, I’ll serve it alongside a snack board with prosciutto, bread, and cheese options for Bernie, and heated veggies with soft textures that Ira can eat with her hands.
I want my daughters to look forward to our meals together and develop enjoyable relationships with food. When I was growing up, my family always ate around the dinner table together. Keeping that tradition alive was important to me once I started my own family. And I wondered if there was a way to reinvent one of our regulars—turkey burger night—for my girls.
Maybe it was a ’90s thing, but my mom believed ground turkey was the healthiest option, so she put it in everything. I remember dreading turkey burger night, especially because the meat was going to be as dry as a desert. Could I make it tastier? And could I make it flexible enough for each of us? While developing recipes for my Food Network cooking show, Girl Meets Farm, I had a light bulb moment and decided to mix ground turkey in the same way I make my meatballs: with breadcrumbs and eggs to add texture and moisture.
Since I love falafel, I also added those spices into the recipe. It became an instant favorite. Bernie loves the yummy flavors and the patty is tender enough for Ira to nibble on with her tiny teeth. I give them the chance to choose what they want from the spread by setting out all the ingredients on the table, including Greek yogurt sauce, greens, cheese, thinly sliced Persian cucumbers, onions, quartered cherry tomatoes, peppers, avocados, and other veggies that can either become burger toppings or a makeshift salad on the side.
If you look at our plates, they’re all slight variations of one another. Bernie likes her burger plain, sometimes with cheese. Ira’s is broken up into little crumbles with a small piece of bun. Nick will usually eat any toppings as long as ketchup or raw onions aren’t involved. I like everything piled up on mine: lots of sauce and crunchy veggies eaten in big sloppy bites. Creating our own versions of the same meal leaves everybody satisfied. And that’s a win in my book.