It’s hard to prepare dinner food for kids when they’re super picky. Learn why Heather started making separate meals, then decided to stop.
I used to make separate dinner food for my kids.
If I didn’t, they picked at their plates and only ate bites the size of a mouse’s nose.
For example, if there was anything chewy, hard, squishy, weird-colored (which could mean any color at all), too hot, too cold, in the wrong cup, on the wrong plate… they didn’t like it.
Then one day we stopped making separate food for kids, and had them eat what the family was eating.
And guess what?
They didn’t die. And they didn’t even complain that much. (I was shocked).
Here’s how it all happened:
Why I Made Separate Meals In The First Place
My Daughter Had Texture/Sensory Issues
Of course, I made separate meals when they were babies and only learning to eat.
But early on, my somewhat-sensory-sensitive oldest daughter shaped the way I cooked dinners. She had issues with texture, plus she choked/gagged on mandarin orange strings a few times when she was pretty young.
After that, she refused anything remotely chewy or stringy.
I can’t blame her because it’s pretty freaky to get orange strings stuck down the back of your throat, making you gag.
I shudder at the thought.
During her twos and threes, she was pretty good at trying new foods, but wouldn’t eat more than a bite or two.
And if she didn’t eat, then 15 minutes after dinner was over she would be asking for a snack.
We Wanted To Eat Foods We Enjoyed
The whole situation was really frustrating as parents because my husband and I wanted to cook and eat things that we loved.
To do that, though, we came to accept that our child (our only at the time) wasn’t going to eat it.
So I gradually fell into making separate meals because it started out easier. I could make something I wanted, then pop in a few frozen mini corn dogs or a hot dog into the microwave and that would be her dinner.
Life Was Super Crazy
I call this season the “make separate meals” era.
Those were the years my oldest was 3-6 years old. My younger two were born during that span, and the craziness of those years probably explains why I was just in survive mode and my creativity in the kitchen stalled out.
I mentioned in my recent post (the one on how much I love my iRobot) just what a crazy season that was.
From moving three times– including twice across the country– to having two babies 14 months apart– including two c-sections– life was a blur.
The crazy of it all did one thing though, and that was spur me on to become more organized and on top of things like meal planning.
*SIDENOTE* I do want to say that if you’re in one of “those” seasons where your spouse is deployed, you just had another baby, you’re working from home with kids in virtual school, it’s a global pandemic, or whatever…. please GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK.
I beg you.
Don’t be hard on yourself.
Let them watch TV. Eat chicken nuggets. It’s not going to kill you, but living in self-condemnation, comparison and guilt will eat you alive. (link a good mother)
You’ll get through that season, and at that point a lot of my articles and free downloads are here and waiting to help!
Making the Transition To Family Meals
Back to my story.
Towards the end of that crazy season, I realized (not sure why it took me so long) that if I focused on kid friendly meals that they would like AND that my husband and I enjoyed, we could eat the same meal.
And that turned out so be so much easier!
So when we’d moved from San Diego and got settled into our home in the Seattle area, I acknowledged that I was killing myself by making separate meals for the kids.
Not only that, the meals weren’t very healthy– stuff like corn dogs, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese– very basic kid food and the bare minimum on nutrition.
We talked to some friends who have teenage boys and how they taught their kids to eat what was served.
Of course, they did kind of luck out with kids who weren’t very picky or have the sensory issues that my oldest had.
But still, I learned a lot from their perspective on dinner for kids.
Here’s what we changed:
- After that we set out to plan our dinners with family friendly meals, but not make it ‘Kid food.”
- We set out to teach the kids how to eat what was served out of respect for those who prepared it.
- We started teaching them more on how to express their dislikes (and when not to)
- I implemented the “Thank You Bite” technique shared by Amy Melquist in this interview I did with her last summer
- We implemented Taco night, which isn’t always on Tuesday but sometimes is. Tacos are typically a food kids love, and you can make it into so many varieties. Try burritos or soft tacos, nachos, or just each item such as beans, cheese, meat, etc, individually on a plate.
- I try to make kid friendly dinners where the kids have a lot of choices, and always at least one thing they’ll like and eat a lot of.
For more of what we changed and the results, be sure to check out the post about what happened when I stopped making separate meals! (coming soon!)
Learning By Doing
Honestly, it seems so obvious now, but that’s me looking back on 7+ years of being a mom.
Things aren’t so obvious while going through it.
And there’s something satisfying about going through it and figuring it out.
It feels good to find the “thing” or the system that really works for you and you love. I’m glad I finally did, though I still am constantly tweaking my own system to get the kids eating food that is healthy and yummy.
And in case you’re in a phase where you want some tips instead of figuring it all out from scratch, that’s why I’m here!
Hopefully you can gather some tips and encouragement to press on and get a bit more organized.
In my next post, I’m going to share what actually happened when we stopped and how it all played out!
So stay tuned!
If you’re looking for some quick easy meals that kids love, don’t miss what’s on my Trader Joe’s Grocery List. Click this button to download: