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How many dinners do you make?

Our grocery bill conversation has led me to realize that we often make more than one dinner every night: something the girls like and something the adults like.  Just last night, inspired to cook up something fresh and new and only use the bits and pieces in the pantry or fridge, I made a big pot of soup.  We set the table and sat down to eat.  My oldest child doth protested: "I want Chinese Chicken!" referring to the three packages of the stuff that we bought from Trader Joe's the day before.  Deflated, I made some.  But, she ate some of my homemade lentil potato soup also.  I think she could sense my deflation.

I am so glad I'm the only one who makes different dinners for the different palates around the table.  Shannon shared:

I totally get what you're saying.  I'm so sick of being a short order cook that by the time I've made the boys what they'll eat, I just don't cook and tell the man, who busts his arse everyday, to suck it. No, not really...but close.  I'm this close to doing the "this is what's for dinner, eat it or not" but, one kid is vegetarian, kind of, and one likes bland, the other spicy,etc...it's so overwhelming.

Then, says Leah:

I think the "short order cook" issue is a big one for a lot of families...how do you tackle that? One thing my mom did when we were kids (there were 5 of us, and she never made a special meal for anyone--we ate what we were served, period) was she would ask us what we wanted for dinner that week and she cooked accordingly. Maybe getting your kids on board with the menu for the week would help?

How many dinners do you make to meet the needs and preferences of all the family members?  Do you just make one big meal?  What if some don't eat or "don't like" it?  How do we make it easier on ourselves so as not to make dining a completely a la carte experience?

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Tough question, and definitely an issue at our house. Our 3 yo is fairly picky but I really try not to make her a separate meal. I try to balance it out by often making meals that I think or know she likes, and on the nights that I know she won't eat what my husband and I are eating, I try to either provide an easy modification for her (she can pick the onions etc out of the pasta, or have whatever it is without the sauce) or I offer a meal with several components, some of which I know she'll eat (DD refuses all soup, so if we're having soup we'll also have bread, cheese, steamed broccoli with it and she can make her meal out of that). I look forward to hearing others' tips!

i never thought my kids would be picky eaters...i made all their baby food, gave them anything and everything they'd eat, then slowly they'd refuse to eat one thing after another. they are 4 and 3 now and the 3yo copies everything the 4yo does. so if 4 won't touch something, neither will 3. usually. then 3 will surprise me and eat a bowl of stew, but won't touch a burrito. not sure if it's a texture thing going on or what. also, i can reason with 4 and get him to taste something, but 3 won't have any of it and will pitch a fit if i don't get him what he wants. after a 9-10 hour day with them (and the baby!) i give in...i guess it's my fault at this point, but i don't know how to turn it around. i've heard they won't starve themselves, but 3....until you see him in action, there's no describing the fury.
OTOH, they'll eat whatever grandma gives them. typical, i suppose.

I often find myself making something special for my 2-1/2 year old. She is picky, picky, picky. One trick I have learned is that she will eat peas, corn and blueberries straight out of the freezer. So, sometimes when she won't eat what we are having I just shake some peas right out of the freezer bag onto her plate. I also try to get her involved in preparing the meal but have had mixed results.

Oh lordy, what a topic. Since I don't want to eat pizza, quesadillas, or Morningstar chix patties and plain pasta every night as do my 3 and 5 years olds, I do make a separate meal for them. Although it's a choice I've made (willingly or not), I REALLY resent it. I'm not sure how to change the situation without a HUGE battle (and I'm not sure that I could change how picky they are, change would just mean less cooking for me). We also have an infant and work outside the home and I just don't have the energy to endure all the hysterics at the dinner table about not liking the meal (as well as the sobbing at bed time about being starving). I'm not so worried about nutrition (they'll eat salad, carrots, smoothies, etc. to round out the main course), it's just more about the monotony of it all and being a slave to their short list of acceptable entrees. I have NO answers...are there any success stoiries out there????

Wow, I feel really lucky. Since our elder son was born, the three & now-four of us have sat down to a shared dinner every evening. We all sit down, pray together, talk together and, very importantly, we all eat from the same core menu. (I eat fish but no other meat, so the 'picky' eater who gets special treatment is usually me.) My boys, now 8 and 6, eat what we eat, and if they only want a small taste of one entree or side dish, they eat more of the other dishes and never go hungry. We all love salmon and broccoli and green salad and burgers (veggie for me; turkey or beef for them) and pizza and veggie lasagne and carrots and peas and baked breaded fish and rice and roasted chicken and take-out pad thai or tofu-veggie curry and mashed potatoes and ... well, there are so many delicious, nutritious things we all love. We cut out a few dishes we grown-ups like that the kids don't, and don't miss 'em. We hear "I hate this" sometimes, but don't cave in and don't make a big deal of it and just ask that three small bites of it get eaten and heap on bigger servings of the other parts of the meal.
I watch my sister-in-law, who was allowed to eat kid food as a kid while her parents ate real food, STILL eating exclusively from the chicken nuggets and fries kiddie menu as an 18-year-old and it sickens me. If there are ways to find at least a few core entrees and healthy side dishes and salads that you parents like to eat that kids will eat too... maybe along the lines of what Leah suggested, where each kid gets to influence one night's menu... so that the answer to "I don't want lentil-potato soup, I want Chinese chicken!" can become that everybody enjoys the soup tonight, everybody enjoys the Chinese chicken the next evening and mom gets a break from cooking multiple micro meals every evening....
(One small way we cater to kiddo tastes: Ketchup is allowed on any dish if requested, mainly fish.)

Our 2 1/2 year old has always been underweight and we've always been concerned about getting food into her body. Our solution has been to give her toddler-friendly versions of what we're eating (leaving the spicy curry sauce out of her version of sauteed veggies, for example). So essentially we're presenting food to her that we know she *can* eat (omitting her allergy foods, omitting spicy foods), not necessarily limiting her dinner to foods she *will* eat.

We have food all plated up for her before she hits the dining chair. The rule is that she has to have one bite of everything on her plate before she can ask for something else. That "something else" is typically cheese & crackers, yogurt, raw veggies, canned beans, etc.... stuff that takes less than a minute to grab from the fridge while we're in the middle of dinner. Sometimes she'll take a look at her plate and ask for something else immediately, but when we remind her that she has to have at least one bite of everything first, she usually keeps eating. Fortunately her experience has informed her that we won't let her starve AND that we won't make her finish everything that's sitting before her, so for now she's pretty trusting and dinnertime is relatively easy.

For what it's worth, I grew up as an extremely picky eater and can look back now with great appreciation for my mother who accommodated my food quirks when I was growing up. I'm not picky at all anymore, by the way!

My kids are older now. I did cater to them some as littles but once they were capable of making their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or their own bowl of cereal, I got out of the habit. Yes,it was harsh the first few meal with the new rules but truthfully, they most of the time would rather try what was already in front of them than get their own. Laziness, I'm not sure? The other thing that helped the picky eater was to make sure she was good and hungry at mealtime. For instance, I took her to the park for two hours several afternoons just before dinnertime with no snacks in tow. Funny how tasty some food got when she was actually hungry.

Yes, I am a stay at home mom, but not a servant or short order cook.

a topic i'm passionate about! family meal time is important to us. i'm not a short-order cook, period, and my 2-year old is presented with what we eat when we eat it. i don't have anything new to add - we do a lot of the same things mentioned above, especially leaving out the spice in my son's portion of the meal, allowing ketchup and other dips, letting him cook, and making sure he's good and hungry. my son is a good eater and i feel fortunate for that, but i don't know where on the nature/nuture divide that fact falls. i know SO many parents who say "he'll only eat french fries," and believe me, my son would love to only eat french fries. but that's simply not a choice, and i am willing to wage the battle for my own sanity (and for the sanity of his future partner ;-) )

This is so interesting. I just have myself and my 3.5 y/o to cook for, so it's not too overwhelming. I guess I do make separate meals for us a lot, but we also eat the same thing a lot. My main problem is that I truly forget to feed myself sometimes. I am in such a rush to get him fed, bathed, pajama-d, etc., that I will lay down at night realizing my "dinner" was the few bites of his food he didn't finish. Do you mamas ever forget to eat?

We have nearly always been a family of two, and I'm not a great cook (nor do I really enjoy it). I refuse to make multiple meals. It has nothing to do with not liking to cook--it was important to me to have family meal time, I didn't want to go insane making two meals, and I knew I'd be doing my daughter a disservice by exclusively feeding her "kid food".

Although, because she is a better vegetable eater than I am, I do tend to make my daughter an additional or different vegetable than the one(s) I'm having, just so she doesn't get stuck in a 5 vegetable rut like I am. Or sometimes I'll make her fish (which I don't eat), and I'll have some sort of protein alternative. Ummmm...I guess I'm the picky eater in the house!

If she has needed a condiment to make what I've cooked palatable, there is always plenty of ketchup, mustard, salsa, hummus and pesto in the fridge.

Since it's just the two of us, if I don't have anything planned or am feeling uninspired, I will ask my daughter what she would like (although I do get veto power). The majority of the time, she'll pick something that we both like and is acceptably nutritious. Although her choices are currently very pesto-centric. I got rid of the dregs of our Thanksgiving leftovers last year by mixing pesto into the mashed potatoes and slathering the turkey with pesto as well.

forget to eat? all.the.time. and when i do eat, it's usually their nasty leftovers, a bowl of cereal or a PB & butter sandwich at midnight cause i'm too tired to get the jelly out. i'm only lazy when it comes to me. i knock myself out all day with them and don't do anything for myself...another topic, i suppose. mama neglect!

My husband and I have a 2(boy) & 4(girl) year old. I make one meal for dinner and we all sit at the table and eat the same meal. I've been consistent with this since my oldest one just started eating, so maybe that has worked in my favor. Even if my kids tell me they don't like something--they may see it again the following week. I've explained to my 4 1/2 year old--and she gets it--that she has to try something 10 times before she will truly know if she likes it or not. So, the first time I make something(recently Curry Chicken w/vegetables), she tried it, but said she didn't like it. That's fine, she ate her bread, fruit, and milk for dinner that night. My 2 year old LOVED it. The next time I made it, my daughter tried it again and she decided she liked it. I truly tell them that they don't have to eat it, but that is our meal for the evening and we'll probably have it again sometime, so they should at least try it. I hope that doesn't sound mean--because I don't mean for it to be. I want our dinnertime to be a family time that is enjoyable. We also talk about why we eat the foods we do, why they are good for us and help us grow, and all of that stuff. I think it's sometimes hard because we want our kids to eat and not be hungry. Sometimes I think we don't give them enough credit as they may want to try new things but maybe aren't given the chance. It can truly take trying something 10 times to know... Just my 2 centS!

One dinner! Our 5 year old is generally a great eater, and we generally avoid battles on purpose. I don't want to cause issues with control and food. We/he started this game where he tells me how much he likes things on his plate (little, medium, lot). But while he's monologuing that he only likes brussel sprouts "little", he'll eat all 5 of them and ask for more. We never made a thing out of his eating veggies, etc, and so he eats them often, though he prefers them raw.
If I have to, I feign not caring about whether he eats his food or not - if he starts up the refusals, I shrug my shoulders and say "well, hey, (enter reasoning here), but that's up to you" then he will usually eat up food he was tentative about. I don't reward him either, just simply say "wow!" admirably, ask him how he liked it, and let him talk about it.
Every kiddo is different - but I never started up control issues about his/our food, and I do think that's helped.

I used to do alternatives for the kids when they were younger, but now that they're 5 and 8 I'm done with that. We all sit down to dinner and what I've made is what there is.

Now, granted, I know what they like and I try to cook things I think will appeal to everyone. But if one of the kids decides he doesn't want to eat the supper I've made - well, tough beans, pal. I'm not a short order cook (the old refrain!). Sometimes they choose to go without supper rather than eating what I've made. But that doesn't happen often.

My husband figures a meal isn't complete without meat, my 4 year old won't touch meat, and my two year old will eat anything. So, do I cook multiple meals? No way. One meal, lots of components, eat it or don't. Nobody in this family is going to starve because they don't like what I fix for dinner and there's no way I'm catering to everyone over food. I really believe boundaries help create safety for children, and this is just one of those boundaries for me. Breakfast and lunch tend to be a little more personalized toward their own preferences, but dinner is dinner.

I love family meals. We sit down for dinner every night (breakfast and lunch too, for that matter) as a family. I make sure there's bread and fruit on the table, which everyone will eat, or I make mods that folks have already mentioned. If the dinner is really not child friendly, I'll add in some yogurt or something else like that, or I'll pull out leftovers that I know will be liked. But, if it's not on the table, it's not for dinner. We encourage tasting of everything, and a little of everything is on everyone's plate (even when I know they have no intention to touch it). I don't require any eating of anything in order to get anything else, although we really do encourage it. I learned long ago "if it goes into them or comes out of them, you won't win," which guides my philosophy about this. We've always done it this way, so in terms of choosing battles, it really isn't one. It's just how it is, sort of like we just go to bed at night and wear our jackets when it rains. Sometimes someone likes dinner more than someone else.

When I was a child, if you didn't eat dinner you didn't have snack or dessert. And sometimes my mom did the "sit there in front of it until you eat thing," which I just refuse to do. So, if everyone's eaten a reasonable dinner, sometimes there's a dessert that's connected to dinner. Sometimes there isn't, regardless of the quality of dinner. The boys haven't figured out the connection yet, so there's no motivation to eat or not! But there's always a little snack before bedtime. Sometimes it's the fruit that didn't get eaten at dinner, sometimes it's crackers or raisins, etc. But I have never been good at "you'll go to bed without dinner if you don't eat."

My son has always been a pretty good eater. My husband is the picky one, but stays quiet about it and has snacks later. I just cannot cook more than one dinner. My son and husband chime in over the weekend when I'm making menus and grocery lists. They help me to shop which makes them more likely to eat what we're serving. When my son (or husband) doesn't like something I'm serving, they must take a "no thank you bite" EVERY time. I try to pick out onions from tomato sauce for my son and he likes to have each separate component on his plate rather than one big mixed-up dinner. But aside from that, we eat what is served or wait until breakfast. Some weeks, he'll gobble down salads and veggies. Some weeks he takes one bite and passes on the rest. The motivation of a dessert is nice once in awhile. I figure we're all pretty healthy, and it's good to learn to be flexible with your diet in this world.

I have 2 kids 2 and 7 who are both pretty picky. A friend told me about a theory she had read in a parenting book: "Parents decide when and what the child eats and the child decides how much."

After a few days of us not nagging or even coaxing them they both ate more. I think it becomes a subconscious control thing after a while. We (the parents)just get creative about presentation and keep our mouths shut. It works.

Nothing much different to add...my 3 y/o generally doesn't like food that is "touching." So, for example, on taco night, he'll get a (plain) taco shell, a scoop of meat, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, all separately on his plate. I figure one day, he'll want to eat it all together (or not), but I'm not exactly making him a different meal, so it's no biggie.

My 5 y/o will love something one week, and "hate" it the following week. I'm pretty much of the "suck it up" camp, and if he doesn't want to eat it, I'll tell him to clear his plate and get his jammies on. He'll usually end up eating a few bites, at least.

I do, however, make sure there is at least one thing everyone likes. Lately it's been fruit salad with dinner, lots of times (esp. in the winter) it's green beans. At least this way I know the boys are eating a little something.

shayne, that comes from "Child of Mine" by Ellen Satter. A good book, IMO.

hmmm. reading w/interest i was really hoping someone would talk about how their kid went from picky to eating a variety of foods. we have always done the family meal and my son ate everything put in front of him (a large variety of vegetables, meats, fruits) until he was about 3. now he's almost 4 and hardly eats anything. we try not to push and don't make a big deal out of it but he would rather skip eating all together than even try a bite of something he liked a few months ago. if it's not cheese or pasta/bread/tortilla he has no interest, with the exception of a few fruits and sushi. since he is really small for his age and acts/feels like hell if he doesn't eat regularly i feel stuck feeding him something he will eat. we still eat a wide variety of foods and calmly ask him to try them. he has no interest and i am desperately hoping it is just a phase that will pass. i feel like i have tried being firm about tying things or not making anything different for him and it just doesn't work in our case. i am much more worried about the ramifications of making food a battle/control issue with him but the thought of him being a picky eater for more than another year or so makes me insane. ug.

Aarin, I think there's something about the age that makes this happen. My 4 year old has a few things he'll eat and that's about it. It used to be a much longer list. He seems to even be hit or miss on hot dogs and sausage lately, which is a huge surprise because they used to be sure things. I asked my doctor about the pickiness, in terms of getting enough nutrition, and she said that his daily lunch of PB&J on whole wheat with a glass of milk, and his willingness to eat fruit, made her very unconcerned. I'm trying to follow her lead.

When my older son was younger, he subsisted on fruit, dairy and some starch but that was about it. I was convinced that we'd have to just accept the fact that he would be a picky eater for the rest of his life. Things started changing for my older son when he started preschool. They served vegan meals which meant that if there wasn't fruit or a starch it was slim pickings for him. Basically the mantra was "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit." Either he ate lunch or would have to wait until snack before getting something to his liking. Needless to say, he was always famished by the time we picked him up. I think it helped him to see his friends eating veggies which encouraged him to be a bit more adventurous. It also helped that we didn't pack his lunch which meant that we couldn't further cater to his pickiness. But I am convinced that because the school had this amazing edible garden, it sort of demystified food and it's origins. By the summer of his preschool year, he was eating peas straight from our garden and nibbling on lettuce like a rabbit. This from a kid who gagged at the site of anything green. He has come a long way from being a picky eater to eating spinach, salad, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Stuff that I never imagined he would eat.

I know this is a long prelude to get at the main question. We (myself and/or husband) will cook one meal. Everyone in the family for the most part eats the same thing. If they don't like something, they don't have to eat it. It just helps for them to see it on their plate. I don't think my older son touched a mushroom until seeing it for the 50th time. Also, if they don't eat anything and want something else, they know that the next meal is breakfast.

I sometimes offer dessert as a reward for finishing a meal, however, it is up to the eater to decide. And sometimes my son will say, "No thankful, I'm full" and pass it up without finishing his dinner and that is perfectly acceptable.

My younger son is a bit pickier, but having gone through the first one, I feel like it has lot to do with his age. And I am seeing signs of improvement as far as his willingness to try more foods. Probably because he sees his big brother eating better.

Lastly, another thing I've realized is that when kids are distracted, they will not eat. Over the last couple of months, I have insisted that we sit down as a family for dinner and everyone has to remain at the table until they are excused or when the entire family is done eating. This has made mealtime much more pleasurable rather than an epic battle.

who's in charge?????
my kiddo gets what she's served
if she chooses not to eat it, she chooses to be hungry
your letting your kids rule your world
it has to stop
YOUR THE PARENT

I agree!

My kid has never been picky, but she has always been small (tall but VERY lean). Now at 10 1/2, she swims competitively, practices 4-5 days per week, and although she eats a wide variety of foods, I do feel like I have to watch her caloric intake to make certain she's getting enough.

I bought some inexpensive "cafeteria" style trays for her meals at home. Our "rule" is that each of the five sections of the tray must be filled with a different food (e.g., we don't fill three sections with carrots, although we may fill three sections with three different veggies). It helps both of us be mindful of the amount and variety of food she needs.

I guess I fall into the hard-liner camp on this one. Nobody is forced to eat anything, or finish everything, but what's on the table is what's for dinner, and you have to give everything at least a teeny stick-your-tongue-in-it taste. There is always the bread or rice or couscous or pasta or something that can be had plain. That with water or cow/soy/rice milk is more than many many children get for dinner in this world (or here in Portland), and it'll get you through the night. There's always tomorrow.

Unlike the condition of the clothes they wear or whether they've drawn all over their faces with marking pens, it is really important to me that my children learn to be flexible, to be good guests if they're somewhere else for dinner, and to be able to travel anywhere with them and take them out and not put up with food battles and pickiness. They do get to help out at the store and we talk about what we might have in the upcoming week, and I try to get a list of weekly menus posted on the fridge (for my own sanity) so there aren't major surprises and they have time to work through any "I don't want that" reaction before we actually sit down.

The only special dinners are those that I sometimes make after we get the kids to bed so we can have a quiet candlelight dinner with wine and a real conversation. Sometimes we don't sit down until well after 9, but it's cheaper than going out and beats marriage counseling.

Like several other mamas, I do take (limited) orders for breakfasts and lunches, especially during the week. Big weekend family breakfasts are one-meal-fits-all, but we often cook together and the kids get to help choose the menu.

I grew up in Korea and I don't think my parents ever struggled with me or my siblings over food. What was on the table for everyone in the family was what there was for that meal. Although I grew up with a live-in cook when I was little, I don't remember food being cooked only and specially for the children. My parents never required us to try any food or make us finish any food. The way Korean food is served is that each person gets a bowl of rice, and the rest of the food is served in common bowls in the middle of the table. For each meal, there is generally one main stew or stir-fry and then three or four side dishes, like condiments, pickles, soup or marinated vegetables. This way, each person eats what he/she feels like eating and the portion she wants to eat. I am 41, very healthy and love eating and trying all types of foods. I wonder if the source of that attitude is that my parents trusted me--my own internal body knowledge--to know what I like to eat and how much of it to eat.

Now that I have two little daugters of my own (ages 5 and 2), I try to remember this when I feel "pressured" by all the literature and talk out there about making sure that children eat balanced meals etc. At our family, we don't require children to try any food or finish any portion. Only thing we do limit is snacks in between meals and sweets before sleep. On the flip side, we don't cook things separately for the kids. I don't cook Korean style so we generally have only one main dish with rice, pasta or bread, and may be one side dish. There have been many evenings that my 5 year old has had rice and plain yogurt for dinner, because she did not like what was cooked for dinner. Sometimes I get upset because I want her to try what I've cooked, and sometimes I worry whether she is eating a balanced diet. But I also know that she is growing well, doesn't get sick often and is an active, happy person, so I keep those thoughts to myself and look at the bigger picture.

May be if the value concept that it's important to make sure kids eat a balanced and health diet is replaced with the value concept that it's important for kids to learn to discover and listen to their own body's cues on what's health and enough for them, then the struggle goes away.

Our family gets one dinner at night. I may separate out the different ingredients for the kids. May add a cup of yogurt, something like that. Basically, it's their choice to eat or not to eat. If they don't eat, I make it clear that there will be no snacks, etc. later. That's it. It does mean that our meals are less than adventurous sometimes, but I refuse to make multiple meals. Absolutely refuse. The evening is the only time I have to relax and I won't be spending it in the kitchen. No way no how.

I find myself in total agreement with the "you get what's on the table tonight" camp, but with one child allergic to wheat and dairy, the other to nuts and many fruits, me avoiding all those foods and trying to follow a veggie-heavy diet, and my omnivore husband getting home later than the girls can hold out for dinner, what can I do? Our practice is so much different than my values.

Hey Jenny,

I'd highly recommend two blogs: Shauna Ahern's (http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com) and Heidi Swansen's (http://101cookbooks.com). Both feature recipes for fresh, seasonal food that should help you.

One thing Shauna talks a lot about in her book, "Gluten-free Girl", is expanding your palate to include world cuisines. There are so many options out there, I think you can manage to feed the whole crew and accommodate their allergies. I highly recommend getting a copy.

As for the kids, we have 7 and 9 year olds who've been w/us for nearly a year now. They eat what we eat, or they don't eat. I *was* doing less spice for the younger one, until I watched him *lick the bag* that some spicy corn chips were in. Since then, I do what I like. To their credit, though, they're pretty open to trying things.

Do your kids like to help cook? Mine are much more willing to try it if they helped create it.

I'm always so amazed when I hear of people in other countries like Suk who say that there is no special "kid food" and kids just eat normal food with the family. That's how it was when I was growing up. I always attributed my flexibility as an eater to the fact that there were 5 of us & there wasn't always enough food to go around. I remember being hungry a lot as a child. As a teenager/young adult I traveled a lot and being flexible was really helpful (meaning if someone else cooked it & puts it in front of me I don't complain, I eat it with pleasure).

Now I'm the cook in the family and we eat mostly Mexican food. When making something spicy I do compensate for the children, putting aside some tomato salsa before adding chiles or leaving meat plain & pouring salsa on top rather than stewing the meat in the salsa. However, sometimes they'll eat the meat and sometimes they won't. Regardless there are always 2 options besides the main dish (basically a rice/noodle/potato and a vegetable). Kids don't need to eat nearly as much as many parents seem to think they do and I believe firmly that forcing a child to eat will only cause problems later on.

I also do childcare and I could understand completely the parents of the underweight child who were worried about how much their child eats. I couldn't understand the parents of the pudgy child who would ask worriedly if he'd eaten or not. Sometimes children are hungry, sometimes they aren't. Sometimes they feel like eating a particular food, sometimes they don't. I always put at least 3 things on the plate so that if they aren't interested in one thing there may be something else they like, but I don't fix special meals. I have resorted to "you have to finish what's on your plate to get seconds" but I make sure that there's a reasonable amount of everything in the first helping. And even that doesn't feel quite right to me but I stick to it because I also have noticed that 3 & 4 year old seem to get really picky and only want to eat certain foods; it seems like my 4 year old only wants to eat things that she can name. Sometimes I'll make a dish we haven't eaten in a while and she'll say "what's this? oh, I remember, wow, I like it!". So I do struggle with finding a way to encourage them to try new things without forcing.

there are just 3 of us - mama, papa & kiddo.
like several others who posted, everything changed when kiddo was about 3 years old. in our house it all happened gradually until now at age 5 she often has a different dinner than we're having. we don't look at it as a problem though since her dinners are easy to prepare along with ours and we do sit down to a meal together. it also didn't seem logical for us to pull the "this is what's for dinner like it or not" thing because since i'm an omnivore and papa's a pescotarian i might be making myself chicken & him faux chicken which is also catering to different tastes.
as with all parenting topics i believe it's important to do what works for your family. if it's causing resentment, then it probably isn't the right thing to do. but if it means making different dinners and you don't mind, then what's the problem?
as an example, when i was little and had dinner at my grandma's she would make me sit there for hours until my plate was clean or it was dark out. now that's what i remember from dinner at her house. i honestly can't tell you what was on my plate or what we talked about when everyone else sat at the table. needless to say, it's not a happy memory. the only point is see there is a power struggle.
just my 2 cents.

we MAKE one dinner, but allow for other foods if they want to make their own or eat something that does not need to be made. we also make a meal plan and let them help with the planning, the shopping, and the cooking... this makes it more attractive to them to eat something they otherwise might not try. remember, your kids will not starve for not eating a meal or two, and it's really very normal for them to go days and only want one type of food... it will regulate over time.

Since you reposted this to Twitter, I'm replying. :-) I don't do it, and never really have (with the exception of leftovers night). Even with babies, we usually just gave them mashed or minced versions of what we were eating (although we did use baby food sometimes).

I do allow people to fix their own sandwich or something if they don't want to eat what I've cooked. But I don't fix it for them.

I don't want to raise children who believe that their whims will be catered to. That's not how life is and I think it's unfair to them in the long run to treat them as if they will always get their way. I make one dinner and we all sit to eat it. We always thank the cook because they took the time and spent the effort to make the meal. If they don't like what is being served they must try it and if they still don't like it, they are welcome to root around and eat the bits they do like.

In our family of three I make one meal and everyone eats that meal. I have some food intolerances so we often have meals that are broken down into their various parts i.e. vegi, pasta, cheese, meat and then put together by each person to their liking or needs. My 7 y/o daughter really enjoys having control over her food in this way. I do require a couple of bites of everything in order to get all the food groups in but otherwise I let her eat what she likes from what I have cooked. I do not make her finish a plate of food as I have found that there are times she eats a ton and times she eats like a bird (don' t we all) and I would like her to continue to have a relationship with food that is nourishing the body with what she needs not just eating what is put in front of you. I am hoping that this will foster a much healthier relationship with food than I have.

In our house, it's also only one meal per night. And my kids don't even think to ask if they can make their own separate sandwich or what-not, so if they don't eat the dinner I or my spouse has made, they don't eat. I don't feel badly because they eat HUGE breakfasts and lunches and I figure that over time they'll wear down and eat more things if they are accustomed to seeing them every night.

We were just talking at dinner tonight (over lemony baked tofu, baked sweet potatoes, brown rice, and salad (I know, bring on the carbs!)) about how as a non-meat eating family (at home at least) we used to be all about the one-dish meal: stews, braises, sautes of veggies, beans, grains, etc. Now we much more often do the "meat and potatoes" type meal, sans meat (beans, tofu, or eggs as a main; veg and carb on side). This works much better for us too in the sense that everyone usually can find something in the dinner they like. We still have those plates with dividers and sometimes filling each of them up with something (even if it's a handful of nuts on the side) makes dinner overall a bit more appetizing for our mixing-phobic children.

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