Tired of being a short-order cook? Here’s how you can stop (TONIGHT!) and how to make it work.
I was an extremely picky eater as a child, largely existing on buttered noodles, canned tuna, and Laverne & Shirley reruns for much of my childhood (read: I Was a Picky Eater. Here’s What I Want You To Know.). My very kind, sweet mother routinely made me a separate meal at dinner when I refused whatever she was making (which was frequently).
When I had my own kids, I decided that I wasn’t going to make separate meals at dinnertime, because I worried it would perpetuate the same kind of finicky eating that marked so many years of my life.
So now, when I talk to parents about mealtime strategies, this is my number-one piece of advice: Make one meal for everyone at the table.
Here’s why this is life-changing
- You aren’t scrambling to prepare multiple meals like a short-order cook.
- If your kids aren’t guaranteed a special PB&J (or, ahem, bowl of buttered noodles) when they don’t like what’s on the table, they have more motivation to try what everyone else is having.
- Your kids are learning an important lesson: Not every meal is going to be their favorite–and that’s the way life goes.
How to Make This Work
Make one meal for everyone but tailor the dinner to suit preferences. You can serve things separately—like warm tortillas with the fixings in little bowls, or a pot of brown rice with the veggies and sauce served alongside so they can be mixed (or not). I’ve even ladled out a bowl of plain broth with soup meat on the side. Because it still means that I’ve made just one meal.
Aways be sure there’s something on the table your child likes, even if it’s simply the tortillas and some fruit. If your child doesn’t like the main dish or component of the meal, remind them that there are other choices on the table.
Be okay with the fact that sometimes, your child will only eat a tortilla and fruit for dinner. And that’s okay.
The exception to the rule
There’s one exception to my dinnertime rule: The clean-out-the-fridge dinners we have about once a week or so, when I’m not so much cooking as simply pulling random things out of the fridge to heat up. On those nights, we’re still eating together but each of us may be having something different–and we all get to choose what we want from what’s available.
And on those rare nights when I’m cooking for nobody but myself, I still occasionally make myself a bowl of buttered noodles. You know, for old times’ sake.