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Make Your Own Meal: The YOYO Night

We have a term in our house called YOYO Night. In a nutshell, YOYO stands for “you’re on your own,” and it means that you make your own food for dinner.

Of course, YOYO could be used for any meal or snack with which you’d like your child to be more independent.

I announce YOYO Night periodically to my family.

I’ll say, “Tonight’s a YOYO Night,” or I’ll say, “I have a meeting so it’s a YOYO Night.”

Everyone in my family knows exactly what this means.

Make your own meal with a YOYO night.

How a Build Your Own Meal Approach Can Help

A YOYO night refers to independence with making dinner. It means you’ve put your child in charge of everything about food – what to eat and how to prepare it.

It could be used at breakfast, lunch or dinner. And since I have older kids, it’s frequently used for snack time.

YOYO, aka, ‘make your own food’ gives me a break from preparing, cooking…and thinking about food. 

And let’s face it—we all need a break sometimes, especially when you’re feeling burnout.

Make Your Own Meal is Not Disengaging from Your Role

YOYO meals are not a free for all. And don’t confuse independent dinner making with uninvolved feeding—or the feeding style that places very low priority on food and eating — that’s not the intent at all.

There are boundaries and expectations with letting kids make their own meals, such as giving your child guidance on what food groups to include in the meal, or what is not available to make for a meal.

Setting boundaries and expectations is consistent with being a diplomatic feeder, something we should all strive to be.

I set parameters around what is available to eat, which could be leftovers, breakfast for dinner, or another simple meal idea.

I let the kids decide what they will eat and they are in charge of preparing it (and cleaning up!).

Make Your Own Food Supports Good Eaters

Using the concept of build your own meals can help your child in many ways, while giving you a bit of a break, too. Here are 6 important ways YOYO meals can lend you a hand in the food parenting department.

1. Kids Get to Practice their Cooking Skills

Letting the kids have a YOYO Night, or for any other meal, lets them experiment, create, and practice their skills at food combinations, cooking and cleaning up.

2. Kids Build Independence and Confidence

With a YOYO night, kids get better at navigating the kitchen independently and confidently. Not only do they get better at feeding themselves, they become confident over time in choosing foods to eat.

One way to bring more independence in meals is to let your child pack his own lunch or make his own snack. It’s a great place to begin shifting some of the meal prep to your child, while guiding them in their food choices.

3. Kids Get that Restaurant Feel

If you think that it takes a restaurant to satisfy each individual family member’s preferences, think again. Make your own meals can do the same! Your child can have the meal he or she wants, much like eating at a restaurant.

4. Kids Make Uncomplicated Meals

Kids tend to make simple food items, or they may heat up leftovers and add some fruit or veggies to the meal.

Overall, meals can be uncomplicated, but they may be messy, especially if your child decides it’s time to experiment in the kitchen.

5. Kids Learn about Food

The more kids are exposed to food and engage with it, the more they learn about variety, flavor, texture, and how to put food together to make a delicious dish. Building a meal gives kids the opportunity to learn about food balance, as well.

6. A Break for Parents 

A YOYO night can give you a night off. You might be surprised to see how well your child does when given the freedom to make his own food.

I know as a parent and a child nutrition expert, if you really want to raise a good eater, you need to have a feeding strategy that works. 

Using a YOYO night and encouraging kids to make their own snacks and meals from time to time can be a tool in your overall family food and feeding strategy.

Have you tried a YOYO Night?

For more information on setting up a food system and feeding strategy for your family, check out my flagship course, The Nourished Child Blueprint.

This post was originally posted in August, 2018 and updated April 11, 2020.

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  1. My mom used to call it “Scavenger Night” and I think she basically used it to clean the fridge of any leftovers from the week so there was less waste. We got to create meals from leftover and pantry items, or just simply reheat something that we enjoyed early in the week.