“I don’t like this dinner! It’s not my favorite! I’m not gonna eat it!”
This is a phrase I have heard at least 800 times over the past couple of years. Living with a 4-year-old and an almost-2-year-old means that there are a lot of culinary opinions flying around. Before becoming a parent myself, I always thought that it was the parent’s fault if a kid was a picky eater. I swore that I would never be one of those moms who catered to my kids’ meal-time desires. I would make healthy, well-balanced meals and they would eat it. End of story.
Any parent reading this probably realizes that my thinking was idealistic at best and idiotic at worst. I now know that some kids (OK, most kids) are just picky. My daughter was a great eater up until the time she turned 2, and then we started the downhill slope into pickiness. Suddenly foods she had liked just days before made her gag. She was repulsed by anything green or anything with protein. I kept on trying, but slowly started making concessions to cook things that I knew she would be more likely to eat.
Most nights, that meant cooking something different from what my husband and I were eating. I would usually make something with similar ingredients to what we were already having, but it was still a different meal nonetheless. As you can imagine, this was exhausting — especially for a mama who already doesn’t love to cook. But what choice did I have other than letting her go to bed hungry?
As my second child got older, I quickly found that this short-order cook thing really wasn’t going to work. My son turned out to be much pickier and more stubborn than his sister ever was, and he also let us know his opinions much sooner. Every night I was chopping and sautéing so many different things that I often had every burner going.
Until one day, I finally decided I’d had enough.
I stopped with the special orders. I cooked whatever I had planned to make and if my kids liked it, great. And if they didn’t? Well that was fine, too. I finally realized that I couldn’t control my kids — well, at least not what they decide to eat.
When I finally embraced this, it alleviated so much of my stress. I no longer had to negotiate with them over food. Eating dinner is now in their court and it is up to them if they choose to eat it or not.
We do require them to at least try one bite of whatever is served, but after that, they are free to decide if they want more or not. If they don’t want to try that one bite for dinner, it will be saved for them to try at breakfast. Thankfully, that’s never happened, as they would rather just try it and get it over with.
The result of this is not that my kids have suddenly become less picky and more amenable to eat whatever I serve. Rather, they often choose not to eat dinner at all.
But you know what? They’re not starving, so I refuse to allow myself to feel guilty about it. Both of my kids are in the 90th percentile for height and weight, and eat plenty of other food throughout the day. I don’t let them snack much in an effort to encourage an appetite at dinner, but I do make things at breakfast and lunch that I know they will be more willing to eat.
I am so glad I finally let go of the dinner-time struggle. Even though I do wish they would eat more, I’m not willing to cater to them to make it happen.