Chicago mom: How to win the food wars

I’m going to admit something and by doing so I’m sure I’m breaking rule #9,032 of the strict parenting handbook but here it goes: I cook separate dinners for my family almost every night.

There, I said it. And I don’t even feel bad about it.

I realize that a lot of parents take the “I only cook one meal and if you don’t like it then you can wait until breakfast” approach, but I’m not one of them.

First of all, I tend to eat different foods than the rest of my family, so most of the time it’s me making myself something different for dinner. I don’t eat any red meat, but I do eat a lot of fish. My husband and kids on the other hand don’t eat fish. So while they’re eating burgers or pork chops, I cook something different for myself.

Next, if my kids truly don’t like a food, I’m not going to make them eat it. If they’ve never tried the food before and are already declaring that they hate it, then that’s a different story. I insist that they try one or two bites of the food and if they truly don’t like it then they don’t have to eat it.

Here’s the way I look at it – I’m not going to cook a meal that I really don’t like and force myself to eat it, so why would I cook a meal that my kids truly don’t like and make them eat it? Kids are picky. They are kids. Their tastes will expand as they grow – trust me.

So, I usually cook fish or salad for myself and some kind of meat and veggies for my kids and husband. And even then my younger son usually complains, so he ends up eating oatmeal or mac and cheese.

I believe that it’s important for kids to have a healthy relationship with food. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t eat it. If you’re full, stop eating. There’s no “clean plate” club in our house.

I do continue to offer my kids healthy foods that they don’t think they enjoy – namely, vegetables. I always put a small amount of veggies on their plate whether it’s broccoli, carrots, corn, green beans, etc. They know that they must eat at least one bite or choose a veggie that they enjoy to eat.

I watch a school-age girl in the afternoons and she usually eats dinner with us. Since I am not her mom, I don’t ask her to eat her veggies but I put them on her plate every time. She usually avoids the vegetables like the plague, but the other day I looked over at her plate and she ate every single carrot. Every single one. Granted, she dipped them all in ketchup, but she still ate them.

Forcing your child to eat a food they dislike isn’t the answer. Keep offering healthy foods and a variety of foods and let them figure out what they like. After seeing that broccoli on their plate for the 1,389 time, maybe they’ll just eat it.

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