Over the years, I’ve had some pretty honest discussions with moms about how their picky eaters make dinnertime super complicated. Over and over, I meet folks who are putting too much pressure on themselves to please others, usually their kiddos. Shocking, right? Often, this ‘pressure’ is simply a feeling of responsibility to offer food that everyone loves. In my experience, this is THE biggest obstacle to meal planning, especially when you’re trying to plan around busy family schedules. Seriously, who would ever want to sit down to plan 5 meals for 4 people, each of whom has difference preferences and expects to be catered to each night of the week? Not this mama.
Over the span of a couple of long, exhausting months, I reached my breaking point with dinnertime and my own picky eaters. I have always been the mom that was proud to say I didn’t cook different meals for my kids. We all eat together and, for a while, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t catering to individual preferences. And, then…I became aware of the word ‘modifications’. I started an exercise program during the summer and the kids worked out alongside me. My daughter was the ‘coach’ and always mentioned how this one lady on the video, Kat, was modifying her exercises. Hmmm….modifying. Making small adjustments to better suit different preferences. That’s what I had been doing at mealtime!
Here’s how I had been modifying:
- Oh, little man doesn’t really eat much meat, so I’ll put hummus in his taco (gross, I know).
- Well…little lady doesn’t like mashed potatoes, so I’ll leave some of the potatoes in cubes before mashing them.
- And, the hubs’ least favorite seafood happens to be the fastest one to cook, shrimp. Salmon cakes it is.
- Man, I would love to whip up that super easy Slow Cooker Lasagna, but the kids will think it’s weird with all the sauce, meat, and cheese in one place. Very similar to a pizza, which they love, but OH SO DIFFERENT.
And on, and on, and on.
The kids were changing their tastes so quickly that I couldn’t keep up. One week my little guy liked french fries, the next week, not a chance. One week, my daughter loved the homemade fish nuggets I made. The next week, too crunchy. Just so you know, it’s not lost on me that it’s not their ‘tastes’ that were changing or that they were, in fact, ‘picky eaters’. They were just playing a fun game with me, of which I was completely unaware.
At about the same time, my daughter started switching the days of the week that she bought lunch. Last year, it was always on pizza Friday, which made sense. A couple of weeks ago I asked her what she ate for lunch. ‘Steak nuggets’. What the what?? The next week? A cheeseburger. Seriously…these are foods she wouldn’t TOUCH at home. I had had it. I knew something had to give.
So, here’s what I tried:
We tried tying how well they ate to their getting a treat at the end of the week. That resulted in ridiculous amounts of negotiation about how many green beans they’d need to eat, about how much of a bite actually counts as ‘trying it’ and what really constitutes a bite. Too much math.
We tried keeping a fun tally sheet of who had tried new foods. Dumb idea. I’m horrible about keeping up with CHARTS. Chore charts, responsibility charts, etc…I LOVE creating them, but suck at the follow through. So, this idea failed early on in week #1.
Another friend suggested serving meals family style. Two weeks later, this was our text conversation.
My huge ah-ha!
Then, in September, when we were celebrating my granddaddy’s 90th birthday, the topic of dinners came up. My uncle mentioned that the only options my Grandma ever gave them were to eat or not to eat. That hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m a huge proponent of living life more simply, spending more time with family, and I am always interested in hearing about how our moms and grandmoms approached dinner. The truth is, the reason I’m a huge fan of meal planning is because it helps our family live more simply and slows our pace a bit in this fast-paced, busy world. We even went so far as to break up with Costco in an effort to simplify. At that moment, I realized that how I was approaching dinner was in conflict with how I wanted to raise our kids.
So, one night at dinner I lost my mind. 🙂 I banished my son from the table because he said ‘YUCK’ at whatever I had served him. I now dreaded the end of the day because I knew I’d be spending time cooking just to have the little people complain about what I made. Then, night after night, in an awful twist of fate, I’d have to clean up the mess I had made while preparing the food they hadn’t eaten. This mama was DONE.
I was done modifying, done making separate meals, done dirtying more dishes in an effort to serve dinner family style….whatever words I wanted to use to make myself feel better about expending a crap-ton of energy for very little reward. And, I was pretty well convinced that I was most likely damaging my kids forever by teaching them that they will always have ideal choices in life. Sometimes, kiddos, life is about having OK choices and making the best of them or creating ideal choices of your own.
So, here’s what’s happening at my home these days.
- I’m no longer modifying, except sometimes with burpees. I have a responsibility to feed my children, and I take that responsibility very seriously, but I am not obligated to make their favorite meals every night of the week.
- I refuse to beg my kids to eat when we’re at the dinner table. There have been times I’ve been at meals where the majority of the conversation was centered around the mom enticing their child to have ‘one more bite’. In fact, I’ve been the proud author of this comment: ‘OK, take a couple more bites of your hot dog and then you can have some ice cream.’ SO MANY THINGS wrong with that statement. I don’t want to talk about dinner, at dinner, unless someone’s asking me for a recipe.
- Then again, I’m not a total a-hole. I do make sure that I offer a veggie and a fruit that the kids like. However, IF the veggie is mixed into a pasta dish, I’m not in charge of picking it out and separating it. I can’t. I just can’t.
- Eat or don’t eat. Friday night is treat night and, as long as you’ve acted your age for the majority of the week, it’s yours for the taking.
So, where am I now in my meal making adventures?
For me, I’m far more relaxed as the dinner prepping time approaches. I’ve released the idea that I will please everyone and, instead, cook dinner as a means to feeding my family. I now look forward to meal planning because I’m not constantly editing my ideas of what to cook based on who’s eating what this week. And, the kids? Well, they still aren’t eating everything I put in front of them BUT, they’re also not complaining, not losing weight from starving themselves, and we’re really enjoying dinnertime. A few weeks ago we decided to go around the table and have everyone share their favorite part of the day. This has become something we do almost every meal. And, I’ll take hearing my 4-year old tell me that he loved going to the playground with me over a shake down about broccoli spears any night of the week.
I’d love to hear how you approach feeding your picky eaters in the comments section. I have friends that keep a stash of foods their kiddos will eat on hand so that can sub those in whenever they need. I have other friends who feed their kids first and then the parents eat after the kids are in bed. Talk to me….any tips and tricks that you’ve found to make dinner simpler with opinionated little people? 🙂 And, if you’re still in the throes of figuring out your approach, please share this article so we can all benefit from different perspectives. Finally, if you’d like to jump-start your own meal planning system, sign up below to get the weekly and monthly planning pages that I use for our family.
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