I had a moment the other night when my son told me he was hungry as I tucked him into his bed. I cringed thinking, “am I really sending my child to bed hungry?!” I also cringed at the thought of the amount of food I had wasted at dinner just a few hours before bedtime. That was one of the first times this scene has played out in our house since I’ve implemented the “no short-order cooking” rule for my family. Personally, I found that making separate meals was not only exhausting as the head chef in our house, but it enabled picky eating. So how did I make the transition from toddler favorites like chicken nuggets and buttered corn to plating one meal for the entire family? It took some trial and error, but here’s how:
- I let my children help with the meal plan. Granted the oldest just turned four, but he certainly knows the difference between spaghetti and meatballs and grilled chicken and broccoli and rice. I can tell you he certainly doesn’t know when I finely chop mushrooms and peppers to our spaghetti sauce, so that’s a win for Mom! I just can’t forget the extra Parmesan cheese on top of his serving.
- I always serve something familiar on my children’s plates. One of my most successful tips when it comes to pleasing picky eaters is to serve a favorite food with a new food or recipe. Children are more likely to try a new food if it’s served with something they already enjoy eating.
- Serve it their way. Think about it this way: when I make a taco salad for dinner, I deconstruct the salad for my children. My salad looks like an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of meal, theirs is separated by food or salad component. That’s where divided plates come in handy!
- Be adventurous, but not too much. If you decide 5 out of 7 nights one week you are going to try all new recipes and flavors your child has NEVER tasted before, you might want to think twice. That hasn’t worked out in my favor… so I find that picking 1-2 new recipes a week and keeping a list of old standbys has made healthy meal planning simpler, but it’s also a happy medium between me wanting my children to try new foods and also getting them to eat the healthy foods they already enjoy.
- Think about what they are eating throughout the day or week. And that might make you feel a little better if they decide to skip out on a meal or snack that isn’t their favorite. One meal is not going to send them into a hunger strike or nutrient deficiency. They might just be ready for a big breakfast when they wake up for the morning!
By stopping a short-order cook mentality in your house, you are not only making mealtime less hectic on you, but also teaching your child an important lesson: not every meal is going to be their favorite— and that’s OK!