Picture it. A busy kitchen. Dirty dishes from cooking piled up in the sink. Big brother saying he doesn’t like dinner and making gagging noises. Little sister playing with her food and making a mess. Meanwhile, the baby is throwing food (and making a HUGE mess!) and mom and dad are trying desperately to have an adult conversation and have officially reached stressed out status. I think a similar situation plays out in many homes across the country every night. That could easily be our family, but it’s not. At least not anymore. After doing the food battles for a while, we decided it was a battle we didn’t think was worth fighting. Our dinner time has become a pleasant experience in our home. At least most nights.
Our youngest received that dreaded Failure to Thrive diagnosis when she was 9 months old. She’s still incredibly tiny (we’re in the process of ruling out any medical reasons). Because of that, we’ve met with nutritionists over the years and they’ve said our job is to offer healthy food and her job is to eat it. Despite her tiny size, the professionals were telling us to simply offer food and leave the rest up to her. No food battles. Ever. Well, that seemed easy enough. Plus, I really had no interest in playing the battles of the wills with any of my children. So, we made dinner (with an extra serving of butter for the youngest), sat at the table as a family and enjoyed each other’s company. Sometimes all the kids would eat and ask for more. Sometimes they barely took a bite. But I didn’t care. This was a way better dining experience and made our home a happier place. Plus, if they were truly hungry they would eventually eat.
We’ve since changed our stance a little bit. There’s certain things I don’t like as a grown up. Sea food, anyone? Sometimes, I’m just not in the mood for something even though I like it. I would be upset if someone put a plate of food in front of me that I didn’t like and expected me to eat it. If I go to a restaurant, I get to choose my meal. I don’t have to finish it either. There’s nobody telling me “just 3 more bites.” In our home, my husband and I decide what we’re having for dinner. It’s nice to have that choice. So now we give our kids that choice too and get them involved in meal planning and prepping too. This one might seem shocking to some, but sometimes we even eat different meals. I don’t feel like a short order cook and that was never my intention, but yes, on occasion, I make multiple meals. If my husband and I are having steak and the kids don’t want it, you better believe I’m not going to waste a good piece of meat on them. I’ll happily whip up a box of mac and cheese. They are also able to make themselves a sandwich with fruit and vegetables on the side if they so wish. If they’re simply not hungry, that’s okay too. They still sit with us at the table but can get themselves dinner later. To me, quality family time at the table is more important than the food we eat.
Often kids have little to no choice on a lot of issues. That’s hard. Kids are smart and we don’t always give them enough credit. My kids know what food is healthy and what food isn’t and they usually make appropriate choices. If they chose what to eat (especially if they helped prepare it), I’ve found that they are a lot more likely to enjoy it.
For some people, the food battle is very much worth it and I respect their choices. But to me? It’s just not. I don’t like cucumbers or tomatoes. My kids love them. I love mushrooms and Brussel sprouts. My kids don’t. I’ll eat what I enjoy and they can eat what they prefer and we can all enjoy a nice meal together. We all like that.