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Tips for cooking just 1 meal for the whole family when feeding picky eaters

Today I’m sharing some tips for how to make just one single meal for the whole family. And end “short-order cook syndrome,” that’s so common when feeding kids. So read on if:

>>You’re stuck planning your meals around kid-friendly food. You'd love to try new recipes, but you know your kids won't eat them. So you make the same three recipes over and over…..

>> You make multiple dinners each night: one "adult meal" and one "kid meal." Or maybe more than 1 kid meal, if you have more than 1 kid!

>> You get stuck bringing out back-up food when your child doesn't eat dinner. Because you don't want them to go hungry or wake up in the middle of the night crying for food.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to just make one meal and be able to try new recipes? And quit worrying that your child isn’t eating enough and enjoy a more peaceful dinner without the complaints. YES!

I understand why parents get in the trap of making separate meals or bringing out back up food. You feel like it's your job to get your child to eat…. to make sure they get enough food and the right foods to grow their best.

And this starts early, even from the starting-solids age. If babe didn't try any of the offered food, mom brings out a banana. Because she knows her baby will almost always eat a banana - they are the current fave. And all of a sudden baby is eating bananas for 3 meals a day! Until they move onto the next favorite food!

And that quickly turns into the toddler that only eats fries, chicken nuggets and KD. Maybe you have one of these kids yourself! And there are lots of reasons for picky eating, from oral to sensory issues. But a big piece of the picky eating puzzle can be how the caregivers deal with it.

And I'm not blaming you if you have a picky eater. Your child was likely born stubborn and going to have selective eating habits, regardless.

But how you manage fussy eating can make it better or worse. And by making multiple meals or offering backup foods, your child quickly learns that they can get what they want. So why would they even try anything else?

But you still think: "You don’t know my child. There’s no way they will eat the same food as I do. They would rather starve." Right?!

Yet I've helped lots of families with the same thoughts. The goal is to first help make dinners more peaceful and easy for both the parents and the child. Which is THE most important thing.

And when these strategies are implemented and the pressure is gone, your child will often branch out on their own. No tricks required on your part to taste new foods. This is good news, right?!

It can take a whole comprehensive, multidisciplinary strategy and tools for many families to get there (which is what I teach in my  “End Picky Eating” group coaching program). But today I'm going to share two tips to get you started with making 1 meal. And ending short-order cook syndrome.

1) Get the kids involved

I know you've heard this a million times, but have you actually tried it? Like more than once? It's more time consuming and messy, so most parents just avoid having the kids in the kitchen. I totally get that, I have kids too!

But it's not just the cooking: from picking out a recipe, to choosing a side vegetable at the store, setting the table - there are LOTS Of ways to get your kids involved.

This gives them pride and ownership in the meal. And they will be more likely to try something they had a hand in creating. But it takes patience and consistency on your part - play the long game!

2) Serve family-style meals

Family style meals are when all of the foods offered for a meal are placed in the centre of the table. Everyone gets to choose what to put on their own plate, and how much.

This is in contrast to serving your child’s food already plated. Which almost immediately starts the: "yuck, I don't like that’s".

By allowing your child to choose what to put on their plate, it results in less complaining. And again, they like having some choice and feeling some ownership in their decision.

And if your child does finally decide to put something new on their plate, that's great. They like to do what you and their siblings are doing, right?!

And I know you're excited - but don't even comment on it. There are lots of hidden ways we pressure our kids to eat, and this is a common subtle one.

Family-style can work for all meals. But it’s easy to start this with something like make your own pizza night, or tacos and everyone chooses their toppings. Give it a try a few times in this next week and let me know below how it goes!


Want more help with ending the dinnertime battle? Grab my 3-part video series for tips with how to manage picky eaters here.

Jennifer House is a Registered Dietitian, author & mom of 3. From Baby-led weaning to picky eating and meal planning, she helps you to make feeding your family easier

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