All kids (especially picky eaters) need to learn this crucial dinner table lesson so they can become happy, healthy, and flexible eaters.
Since I’m a dietitian, you might expect this lesson would be “Include a variety of food groups” or “Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables”.
Those lessons are important too. But the one I’m determined to teach my kids is this:
Every meal can’t be your favorite.
I first heard the phrase “make do with less favorable foods” years ago from psychologist Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D. in describing the traits of a “Successful Eater“. Her words have stuck with me ever since. And I’ve realized that this “making do” with less-than-favorite meals is an crucial skill to learn–preferably at a young age. Because…
…you will eat at a friend’s house and the food won’t be familiar.
…you will go to parties where different foods are served.
…you live with other people who have different preferences.
Making do is an especially important dinner table lesson for picky eaters. Because the more exposure kids have to foods they deem less-than-favorite, the more familiar (and maybe even liked) those foods become.
And it goes without saying, but you can’t teach this lesson if you’re making your picky eater a separate meal most nights of the week!
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Case in point: enchiladas. I loooove enchiladas. My kids, not so much. But I kept making them because they’re one of my favorite meals. There was a time my third grader wouldn’t even take a single bite. Now he says “yay!” when I tell him we’re having enchiladas.
The moral of the story is that making do with less-than-favorites sometimes creates a new favorite. (Or at least gets you a “yay!”) And you shouldn’t stop serving YOUR favorites because your family only feels meh about them.
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Though my boys, now 8 and 12, have come a long way, occasionally someone will express disappointment when the meal isn’t what they were hoping for. That’s when I trot out the lesson: Every meal can’t be your favorite. I emphasize that everyone has different favorites. And I assure them that we will have THEIR favorite soon too. Sometimes we even make a plan for it, which usually diffuses disappointment and lightens the mood. (And I always make sure there’s at least something on the table I know my kids will reliably eat, even if it’s just fruit or bread.)
Recently I even had “Favorites Week”. Over four nights that week, we had somebody’s favorite meal each night. It made everyone feel a little bit special and sent the message that we all have different preferences–and that we should all respect those preferences too.