There are a lot of things that stress me out every day: getting my kids to school on time, managing the onslaught of daily errands and phone calls, finishing the next chapter of the book I’m writing, thinking about how we are ever going to be able to afford to put two kids through college, let alone ever retire. But the stress that I feel about these things does not even begin to compare to the stress that I feel about what to serve my children for dinner each and every night.
I loathe dinner time. Breakfast is relatively easy, lunch I can handle, but dinner is the bane of my existence. It’s not just that I don’t like to cook, or that I don’t really have time to cook. Though both of these things are true, they’re not insurmountable. No, what makes dinner so unpleasant for me is the nightly battle that I have with my daughter over what, and how much, she must eat. It generally goes something like this: she asks me what’s for dinner, and I tell her. If my answer does not include macaroni and cheese, cheese quesadilla, plain pasta or chicken tenders, her answer is always aww-uh. And then the negotiations begin. How many bites do I have to eat? Will you give me something else if I don’t like it? Can I have dessert? Most nights, she ends up hungry, and in tears, and I end up furious and ready to strangle her. Well, this week, I decided to end it. Not only do I fear that I am laying the groundwork for a future eating disorder, but I also just can’t take it anymore.
I went on Amazon and ordered two books* on the subject of children and food that seemed helpful. And when they arrived a few days later, I devoured them the way my daughter devours a plate of plain spaghetti with nothing on it. And what I learned is that, when it comes to dinner, I have been doing everything one hundred percent wrong. It turns out that forcing her to try new foods will only make her less willing to explore new tastes on her own. Similarly, forcing her to eat ten bites of food she doesn’t like in order to get dessert, will only make desserts seem that much more enticing. I also discovered that, in not always offering her something I know she likes, I am setting the stage for her to begin hoarding food when what she likes is available. Let me tell you, I’m feeling pretty good about myself as a mother right now. Oh yeah.
But I am nothing if not eager to correct my mistakes, and the solutions offered by the books are simple and easy. So, first thing, I apologized to my daughter for making her eat foods that cause her to gag and retch and cry, and I promised her that from now on, there would always be something on the table that she will like. It might just be bread, but it will be there, and she can have as much of it as she wants. She was thrilled. I also explained to her that, effective immediately, dessert would be served with dinner, and she can choose to eat it before, during or after the rest of her meal. This, too, went over well. In fact, we were at a birthday party the next day, and she announced her good fortune to the entire table. We have new food rules in our house, she shouted, and my mommy said that I can eat dessert before dinner if I want to! I’m trying to de-fetishize sweets, I explained to the other moms, who were shooting fire out of their eyes at me. Good thing I was wearing a flame-retardant sweater. Finally, I told Harper that, starting that evening, the kitchen was going to “close” at bathtime, so she’d better make sure that she’s full before then, or she’ll just have to wait until breakfast to eat. I asked her if we had a deal, and we shook on it.
I’m very excited to report that so far, so good. Not only have we not fought at dinner all week, but I also feel like I’ve been freed from the shackles of her pickiness. Now, if I want to serve, say, the turkey lasagna that I bought at Trader Joe’s for dinner, I can do it without forcing her to eat it, or without having to make her her own, separate meal. I just put some bread and fruit on the table for everyone, and I don’t worry about her. Well, of course I do worry about her, but I don’t admit that I am worrying. The idea is that, eventually, she’ll get tired of eating bread and fruit for dinner every night, and she’ll start trying the other foods on the table on her own. Yeah, I know, I’ll believe it when I see it. The day my kid tries a bite of turkey lasagna of her own accord is the day that the paparazzi stop following Britney Spears around. But it’s worth a shot. And besides, it’s one less thing for me to stress about, and what mom wouldn’t want that?
* If you’re interested, the books I got are called Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming  by Ellyn Satter, and Taking the Fight out of Food  by Donna Fish.