While I loved having dinner as a family and taking that time to gather and build relationships, I was often hit with the challenge of how to handle the child who did not care for what I fixed for dinner. With seven in our family, it was rare to be able to hit everyone’s favorites all in the same meal.
You can try begging, pleading, demanding, but you are still going to wind up with some situations where the peace at the family dinner table is shattered.
What’s a mom to do?
We needed some guidelines to insure that mealtime would be a pleasant experience for everyone. Here is the path that proved workable for our crew:
- Include everyone in the planning. Each child had a weekday that they were to help with dinner, so they were allowed to assist in the planning of that meal ahead of time. This gave each child the opportunity to choose a favorite meal. We did have some boundaries on this, but it gave our kids an opportunity to select some of their favorites to be served. Dad’s night was Sunday night—he would prepare a heavy snack-type meal since the noon meal was larger. This was a wonderful reprieve for me!
Post the menu. Kids don’t like to be surprised. So especially if your child can read, post the weekly menu so he knows what’s for dinner ahead of time. This alleviates any outbursts of disappointment when he questions you about what’s for dinner tonight—and it cuts down on the number of times that question is asked in the course of a week.
Always be polite. Teach your child to watch her words. Especially if a meal is not one she prefers, help her to realize that negative comments and bad attitudes about what is being served are not acceptable. Best to help her learn this at home rather than suffering embarrassment when eating at a friend’s home.
Just two bites. When your child doesn’t like what’s for dinner tonight, that is OK. He is never going to love everything that’s put on his plate. Our response to this was to tell him all he had to eat was a portion—just two bites. If the child never developed a taste for a food as he grew older, we would allow him to pass on that particular dish. It’s amazing how many times our children said they did not like something, but after tasting, realized it wasn’t so bad—maybe even delicious! My husband says after tasting a food for thirteen days, you begin to develop a taste for it. So there is hope!
Provide limited nutritional options. When we knew something was being fixed that one of our children would not eat, we aimed to fix side dishes that she did like. Our goal was not to have her leave the table hungry, but to get enough nutrition from the meal as well as to have her try new eats.
We also offered a standard alternative for nourishment if the main dish was not palatable for one of our children. As long as the required two bites were eaten, we provided the option for him to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. No other choices were allowed, since even leftovers requires individual warming and more work for the cook. Anything you do for one of them you must be willing to do for all, so even doing leftovers can add up to a lot of extra work for mom.
Always be thankful. My husband was a great leader in teaching all of our crew to thank the chef for dinner. Even if a child didn’t prefer the meal that was served, he had to say thank you for the effort in preparing. This was an amazing habit to instill in them, and it left me feeling good even if some of the children had fixed a PB&J sandwich instead.
In our family of seven, we needed some structure to make life flow smoothly for all of us. Having these guidelines actually produced children that were not as picky with food, were able to be polite when foods that were less familiar were served, and gave us a lot more fun at the dinner table. Not to mention how much easier it made meal planning for me! So give it a try.
Question: How have you trained your child to be less picky at mealtime? Share your answer in the comments below.