Help! My family won’t agree on the same meal!

So many of us can relate. I know I can.

My husband eats just about anything.

My 7 year old son will, too. But it requires lots of coaxing and positive reinforcement before he will even try it. And still, there are foods he won’t touch. Normal “no touch zone” kid foods – onions, peppers, zucchini, squash, and oddly enough- potatoes (unless they’re french fries.) He loves black olives though, go figure.

Let’s talk about my 4 year old. When he was a baby, he couldn’t get enough. I had to feed him eight ounces of baby food three times a day. He ate it all, pureed turkey included. I was optimistic. Until we introduced table food. You know that saying “they’ll eat when they’re hungry?” It’s not true for this guy. He would rather starve than eat a food that didn’t look right, smell right, or taste right to him. He rarely gets to the “taste right”  stage if it didn’t “smell right.” The kid smells frozen waffles and has the nose of a hound dog on the hunt. I can name about ten foods he will rotate and another ten he likes on occasion.

And for me? Well, I’m not a big meat eater. I’m not fond of leftovers once they’ve been sitting in the freezer for months on end. But other than that, I’ll eat it if I could get the rest of the family to agree. And therein lies the problem. The problem many of you have voiced. In attempts to solve the mystery for myself and to help a fellow momma out, I’ve come up with a few tips (and recipes) to prevent the insanity we all know as dinner.

  1. Set the same time and day to plan your meals for each week. Make it a family meeting. If your husband is like mine and doesn’t care, then at least involve your children. This doesn’t mean you are going to get everyone on the same page for every meal. However, it does mean you are more likely to get everyone on to agree to try each meal. There won’t be any surprises when you set brussel sprouts on the table this Tuesday night because they knew it was coming.
  2. Make easily modified meals rather than two or three separate meals. You probably didn’t have a special meal prepared for you just because you didn’t like what was cooked. I don’t remember ever, not once getting a choice for dinner as a child. If I didn’t want to be hungry, I ate. The only preference that mattered was my dad’s. That’s who my mother cooked for. My parents have been married for 34 years. That tells me something important. For example, we have stir fry meals quite often. My four year old is not going to touch a mixed dish like that. However, he loves rice with butter mixed in. He gets the rice, we get the stir fry on the rice. Same with pasta. He gets butter pasta while the rest of us get a more interesting pasta dish with vegetables and meat sauce. I always offer him the rest on his plate. Why? Because it takes a minimum of seven offerings before you can say your child truly doesn’t like a food item. SEVEN. I can say this with 100% accuracy that it’s been true for my oldest child who now eats cabbage when the first time he literally gagged it down. Remember we are teaching them important rules about nutrition in these early years. I know if my children had a choice, it would be pop-tarts, french fries, and candy all day long.
  3. Opt in for a farm bag co-op. For a low price, you can have farm fresh fruits and vegetables delivered right to your doorstep every week. Usually you do not choose what you get because you truly get whatever is freshly grown in season. I cannot tell you how exciting this is for my children. Often, we get items no one in the family has tried before and it becomes a sweet family experience. Plus, there is something about eating fresh and ripe that just makes fruits and vegetables taste better. Your kids will notice.
  4. Involve them in the cooking process. I know it can be aggravating because they are messy, they do things slower, and you have to take extra steps to make sure they don’t cut a finger off or burn themselves. But if you want your children to eat, let them be a part of the process. The pride they feel in something they created is often enough to get them to at least try it and when they try it, they may go ahead and eat it.
  5. Don’t stress if they’ve tried it, but didn’t eat it. Remember when your parents made you clean your plate? One of the most difficult habits for an overweight adult to break is to not leave food on their plate, regardless of hunger. I assure you, the world hunger problems will still exist regardless if you leave food on your plate. There are organizations you can donate to if you want to make a real difference. We need to be okay with food left on the plate. Children are very good at gaging their hunger and satiety cues, let them do it.

This is hard stuff, I know. But you’ve got enough stress in your life. Dinner shouldn’t be one of them. One day we will all look back on these times as the best in our lives and wonder where it all went. Enjoy your family, their differences and all!

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LD