Family Dinner Without the Struggle

Any method to get kids to eat beyond “the big three” (mac and cheese, chicken nuggets and pizza), I have tried. There’s the No-Thank-You-Bite, bribery with dessert, various songs and dances, but none of them motivated my kids to run to the salad bar. They might have tried something out of obligation or because they would get ice cream, but it wasn’t creating a desire to try it again. They would choke down a piece of broccoli as if it was torture and right away look for the reward. I was teaching them that healthy things stink and the only reason you eat it is to get a treat. And then there was the barfing incident. On purpose. On the table.

That’s when I decided it was time to make a change.

Kids want control. Not sure if you have noticed, but kids like to tell you in any way they want, what they want. Suddenly, here comes dinner. A meal that has been predetermined by someone other than them, a portion size they did not select and an arrangement and variety they would have never decided on if it were up to them.

And you know how the rest goes.

I remember talking once to my friend and school psychologist about dinnertime with her children, of which she has three. I told her how at the time, I was making only one dinner- they could choose to eat it or not. That was that. But my nights were becoming more and more stressful and the payoff of my children trying a new food once every six months did not seem worth the agony of something that was supposed to be a nice family ritual. When I asked her how she managed dinner with three kids, one of which was extremely picky, she replied, “I just don’t get into the battles with my kids. I don’t pick that fight.”

This baffled me. How is one supposed to eat like a grown up when their kids dislike everything they make and “not get into the battles.”

Through more reading and more trials of different ways to approach this, I have finally figured out the answer.

My friend was right the whole time.

The dinner table is not a battleground. It’s a gathering place. It’s a place to talk about your day and tell stories and laugh and decompress, for all of us. The kids have had a long day and the grown ups have, too.

So my new approach and the foundation onto which this blog is founded is this:

I make one main dinner with side options so that everyone has at least one thing they like at the table. It will always be served family style. The children will help themselves, therefore attaining control over their food choices and at the same time learning the table manners of passing food and making sure everyone gets what they want.

There are days when my kids eat fruit and bread for dinner. I breathe and know that its OK. I know they will make up for it in the morning with the three bowls of cereal they have at breakfast time. There’s definitely encouragement from us to try something new: “Who wants to try this super delicious asparagus?” and they either take the bait or they leave it.

The miracle of this is that I’ve seen change. We’ve gone from a family who dreads dinner to a family who loves to come to the table. Sarina Behar Natkin from the parent coaching blog, Grow Parenting gave this advice in her post about raising healthy eaters. She says that, “Your job is to put healthy food options on the table, their job is to choose whether or not to eat and how much to eat.” I couldn’t agree more.

This is a blog of celebrated recipes- some winners with the grown ups in the family, some with the kids, but  hopefully most will be for everyone at the table.

And remember, it can take a child up to 17 bites of a new food before they like it. All we need is a deep breath and a little bit of patience.

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11 thoughts on “Family Dinner Without the Struggle

  1. As a child who hated new foods, but am now challening myself to cook those foods that I hate in a way that I will eat it AND “forcing” my parents to try new things too.. I love everything about your page!

    1. Wow-thanks so much! It’s funny- my mother tells me that I used to eat everything. I used to open the refrigerator and take out raw cauliflower myself as a toddler and eat it! And then I had kids and it is nothing like that at all. Trying to enjoy a passion while having a peaceful family dinner. It’s a challenge for sure! So glad to hear that you like what your reading!

  2. This has been going on forever I remember my sister hating peas and sitting at the dinner table for HOURS and falling asleep there on those occasions more than not-Good idea about family style! Now I have grand children and they are doing the same thing…..life, doesn’t change much does it?

    1. Haha- no, it doesn’t! What CAN change, though, is our feelings about picky eating and what is most important. And for me, that’s sitting with my family and chatting about our day. Gentle encouragement to expand their choices mixed in is as far as I will go. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. I worry so much about my son’s eating habits (my 4 mo old daughter is nursing, so I don’t have to start worrying about hers for another couple months LOL). I feel like I’m feeding 3 toddlers, because my husband is picky about his vegetables and thinks nothing of 3 kinds of meat on his breakfast plate, while my mom (who lives with us) needs everything 10 times softer than we like it because she has fewer teeth than my 2 year old and she’s put to sleep by too many carbs. My toddler’s tried and true menu is pizza, pasta, and PBJ with few exceptions. We have a very tight budget, so I’m testing one “offbeat” healthy food at a time. I still feel like I’m fumbling in this cooking thing though. I’m more adventurous with food and find it all rather tasty, but I get mixed reviews from the family more often than not. I look forward to taking this journey with you towards healthy, fight-free meals and ultimately less stress. Gotta remember to breathe even when I’m close to tears.

    1. Katy,
      Absolutely! I don’t force anything. I put several options on the table and there is always something I know my kids will eat. I know they won’t starve. Sounds like you have an extra tricky situation- but you are right- just remember to breathe and remember, it’s only dinner. Point is to be around a table- whatever is on it is bonus! Thanks for stopping by! Hope you enjoy it!

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