Remember when you were a kid and your mom served a multicourse dinner every night — always starting with a salad and ending with a freshly baked dessert?

No, I don’t remember that, either, but it’s certainly the Norman Rockwell image of dinner in America back in the day.

While most of us lived a different reality, the idea of getting vegetables in front of the family before the rest of the meal doesn’t have to be a fantasy today. In fact, it can make our lives much easier, our meals much healthier and our dinner table much more peaceful.

Serving the vegetables ahead of the meat and potatoes, or whatever protein and starch is on the menu, improves the odds that your kids will finally get that balanced meal we all dream about. If the vegetables are the first thing available to eat when the kids are at their hungriest, they’re much more likely to devour them without even thinking, much less arguing.

The concept is simple, but I must admit, it isn’t one I thought about much when my kids were young. I wish I had, as it makes perfect sense. Food is always more appetizing and tastes better when you’re hungry. When vegetables are placed in front of a child at the same time as the often more enticing meat, pasta, potatoes or bread, they often get pushed to the side while everything else is consumed first, making a now-satiated child far less interested in sticking to the FDA’s nutritional guidelines, and much more likely to dig in their heels and turn up their noses.

Salad seems a natural first course, but there are other ways to approach this concept. Just decide what works best for you. You certainly can make the vegetable that would normally accompany the meal and set it down on the table first, allowing everyone a chance to eat it as the rest of the dinner finishes cooking. An even easier approach would be to whisk together your kids’ favorite dip and set it on the counter with a plate full of vegetables for them to snack on as you make dinner.

I like this approach, as it saves time and stifles the “I’m hungry” cries which often come to a crescendo while you’re standing at the stove, waiting for the pasta water to boil.

What dip you make is up to you. A lovely vinaigrette is a nice option, but let’s face it, kids love ranch. The out-of-the-bottle version is full of fat, sodium and other things I can’t pronounce, but the good news is that making your own lighter homemade ranch couldn’t be easier. I like to make a big batch and have it around for the week — ready to be set out with a variety of veggie dippers before dinner, or whenever anyone needs a quick snack.


Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at Follow her on Twitter: @meredithdeeds.