There are few things more demoralizing than planning and preparing a meal only to have it deemed “disgusting.” Wheedling or threatening kids to “eat, or else!” turns pleasant family time into a battle. If you’re dealing with this night after night, don’t give up.
Small children in particular are developmentally finicky, and it’s not a foregone conclusion that your kids will be picky eaters forever. Most people learn to like more foods as they are exposed to different tastes and good eating habits. Those often-frustrating family dinners are actually the best way to tempt your kids into trying new foods.
Here are a few ideas to reduce dinner drama.
Stop nagging. Years ago my pediatrician, a woman with two grown daughters, told me: “It’s your job to make a variety of healthy foods available; it’s your child’s job to choose whether or not to eat them.” Research shows that kids need to taste flavors up to 15 times in order to like them, so I suggest they try everything. But then I force myself to shut up about it and enjoy my own meal.
Praise them for what they do eat. Your kid hates everything green except broccoli? Say, “It’s so cool you like broccoli!” Your kid took a bite of salmon and didn’t make a display of gagging? “Wow, you’re adventurous tonight!”
Enlist their help. People are amazed by what kids will eat when they help make it. Let kids plan meals occasionally and accompany you to the store to buy ingredients. Then give them age-appropriate tasks (peeling, stirring) and talk up how delicious “their” dish is going to be.
Deconstruct and serve meals family style. Keep family meals simple, and serve the ingredients separately. If pasta with vegetables is what’s for dinner, serve a bowl of pasta alongside some sautéed asparagus, bell peppers and garbanzos. And a few raw veggies. Let the kids assemble plates for themselves with what they like. Almost any meal can be deconstructed.
When in doubt, add bacon. Or potatoes. These “bridge foods” soften the blow when kids ask what’s for dinner and the answer is “cod.” Wrap that fish in bacon, or serve it with some crispy roasted potatoes, and you should get fewer complaints.