I've been preparing meals for my children for 13 years and almost every evening, I dread the question, "what's for dinner?" I don't like to have to make the decision of what to make, I don't like to cook, and I really don't like it when my kids reply to my response with, "eww," or "awwww," or "again?" Doing it all on my own, night after night, during Hortio's long 21 month deployment is tiring.
I have found there are a few key elements to successful mealtime with picky kids.
First and foremost, ban the complaints. In my kitchen, if you complain about the meal, you get one chance to back down, after that, the offender will suffer consequences, such as loss of dessert, which follows dinner. (More on dessert, later.)
Require a "No Thank-You helping." Kids should have to try what is served to them. Trying new things is good for expanding their tastes and teaches them good manners for when they are not at home. If they try everything at home, they are likely to make a good impression when served something new while out to eat.
Always include one acceptable item. I make sure that each meal includes at least one item each of the kids will eat. This way, I know they won't go to bed hungry. If I am serving a new recipe, I might also offer rice on the table. All of the boys like rice, so even if they don't like black bean meatless loaf, after their no-thank-you helping, they can fill up on rice and satiate their appetites.
Dessert follows dinner. Dessert is not tied to what or how much the child eats. It is not a reward, it is just part of the meal. It took me many years to get to this point. We tried making the kids eat everything on their plates to get dessert. We tried making them eat at least so many bites to get dessert. You get the picture. None of these tactics worked. They only served to make it a mind game for everyone at the table. It drove us all crazy. So, now, as long as the kids eat a no-thank-you helping of each food served at dinner, without complaining about it, they get dessert.
Sticking to these guidelines helps make meal time enjoyable for my family and it can for yours, too. With so many tasks to juggle, as a temporarily single mom, making the rules clear and constant makes my life easier and the kids' life more predictable in a time of uncertainty during their Dad's deployment. It doesn't always go smoothly, but usually it does and we are all happier for it.