Family Meals: Instagram Versus Reality

Moms, if scrolling through Instagram has you feeling the pressure to...

...have it all together in the kitchen,

...become an expert chef, food stylist and food photographer, or

...create the perfectly curated Instagram feed full of picture-perfect dinnertime moments

...you’re not alone! But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to have it all together in the kitchen (or pretend that you do) to have family meal success. As a mom of three, I’ve pulled together my list of “Instagram versus Reality” scenarios – with a few tips and recipes sprinkled throughout – for all of us who struggle with the reality of getting simple and nutritious family meals on the table.

Perfect Meals That Even Please Picky Eaters

Instagram: That photo of your happy kiddos sitting politely at the dinner table, willingly trying everything that you put on their plate.

Reality: A true dinnertime win is making family meals a priority, even if there are the “I don’t like that” and “I’m not hungry” remarks thrown in the mix. Research indicates that kiddos who regularly sit down to meals with their family have better overall diet quality. And the benefits of family meals go far beyond nutrition!

Tip: Aim for easy, kid-friendly and family favorite meals. Throw in some dairy, fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein for balance and call it a win. My kids’ new favorite go-to? A kid-friendly Charcuterie board – a delicious yet balanced MyPlate meal with all five food groups. No cooking required. And remember, it often takes 10 to 12 introductions of a new food before a kid will willingly enjoy it. Be patient.

All Meal, No Mess

Instagram: A beautiful picture of the nutritious and delicious meal you slaved over the stove all afternoon to prepare.

Reality: A heaping pile of dirty dishes just outside of the photo frame.

Tip: I’m a working mom, so slow cooker dishes, easy 30-minute recipes and freezer meals are my saving graces – and the fewer pots and pans, the better. Make it easy, especially on those busy weeknights. I frequently prepare easy tacos, spaghetti with meatballs, homemade pizza and dinner salads (the kids enjoy their salad deconstructed, but hey, rotisserie chicken, lettuce and shredded carrots with ranch, diced strawberries and a glass of milk isn’t such a bad dinner).

Cute Culinary Creations

Instagram: A photo of the Pinterest-inspired super cute foods that look like animals (think Caterpillar Fruit Kabobs with Yogurt Dip or Bunny English Muffin Toast).

Reality: While totally fun and creative, not a reality most of the time. In fact, the few times I’ve made animal- or character-themed foods (Santa pancakes for dinner, anyone?), my kiddos were only mildly excited, ate part of it and probably asked for cereal with milk, or lunch meat and cheese roll-ups instead.

Tip: Can you get your inspiration from some of your favorite Instagram-famous chefs, registered dietitians and foodie mom bloggers? Sure! But it’s time we acknowledge that feeding little humans doesn’t need to be stressful, difficult or Instagram-worthy (gasp).

Cooking With Kids

Instagram: That photo of apron-wearing kiddos standing next to mom or dad, the littlest of which is on their tiptoes on a stool, helping to prepare a meal or snack.

Reality: Cooking with kids at my house includes fighting over who gets to stand closest to mom and who gets to stir, add an ingredient or put muffin liners in the muffin tin – often ending with something spilled, stirred over the top of the bowl or eaten in the process.

Tip: Cooking with kids can be a whole lot of fun and a whole lot of mess, but it has tons of benefits. Not only do kids get to practice reading, math and science when they cook, they are also more inclined to try new foods if they’ve helped prepare them. So forget about the flawless photo, let go of the need to clean and get your kids in the kitchen with these six tips.

While idealistic food photos are inspirational, my reality is not Instagram-perfect. Instead, my kitchen provides the space to create together, make messes together, eat meals together and laugh together. Memories are made in the minds and hearts of the ones creating them, not through flawless curation on Instagram.

Need more family meal tips? Check out Meal Planning Made Easier: 4 Tips From a Busy Mom and try these family-friendly recipes.

By Jenna Allen, MS, RDN

Jenna is a registered dietitian with a passion for communicating science in an approachable way. She has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2008. When she isn't working, Jenna is trying out new recipes with her three kids and working on her food photography. Learn more about Jenna.

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