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"Food Games"

Lately at least 3 times a week my kids decide at dinnertime, they don't like what I've fixed or will only eat one part of the meal. I'm getting very frustrated at these "games" they are playing. Our oldest is 12, the youngest is 9 (both girls). I'm trying not to take it personally. I know they are growing up and what they like & don't like will change many times. I'm just extremely frustrated when I've worked all day & have to come home, cook dinner, clean up, etc...& they won't eat.

I have a rule that if they don't like what I've made, they can make thier own dinner. I won't cook them a separate meal.

Each week I ask for input on meals they would like to have, so it's not like they don't have any say about what we eat. They also help me cook on a regular basis. Most of the time, I'm serving a tried & true meal. When trying a new recipe I consult with everyone first to make sure they will try it.

They are not normally picky eaters, but lately getting them to eat is like pulling teeth. Both are usually willing to try new foods & like grocery shopping with me. I don't know if it's just a power struggle of sorts or if they truly don't like the food they previously liked. It seems like they'd rather eat ramen or cereal.

I'm not quite sure what else to do. I guess just stay on the track I'm on & wait for them to grow out of it. It's just so irritating! How have other CHer's handled this with their kids?

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  1. I grew up in the age of "you eat what is on your plate, or you don't, but there are no other options".

    If the children are giving their input on the meal planning, then there should be no sudden surpises for them to not eat. If they know they can just go make something else, it is too easy.

    Of course, that is just my opinion :)

    My child went through the "I don't like that" phase. She was a very stubborn child, but I was a more stubborn mom. The general rule was that something needed to at least be tried, and to try meant to take three bites. She surprised herself quite a few times by liking something she had just insisted she hated.

    1. When I was a child, my parents operated on the "you eat it" philosophy. There was no alternative meals, or even the option to not eat. I remember starting out as a picky eater, but then soon grew accustomed to eating things, even if I didn't like them.

      However, with trying new things, I started to dislike things less... I'm now not a picky eater anymore!

      1. My mother allowed us to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if we didn't like dinner. That was our only option. Usually worked.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Parrotgal

          Same here. We ate the ONE meal that was made or, if we were lucky, we were able to make a PB&J. More often than not, however, if we said we didn't like dinner, we were told that was it. Or nothing.

          jcattles - have you tried having the kids be involved IN the cooking, not just in deciding what sounds good to eat a week before? How about if you set aside a night and say "it's family cooking night - don't care what we have, but we're ALL cooking dinner!" Perhaps when they are part of making the meal, they'd be more willing to actually eat it.

          1. re: LindaWhit

            That's a great idea. The younger one cooks with me alot. The older one will if she likes what we're having. Or when she's not being a moody, mouthy tween (which is few & far between lately) :)

            1. re: jcattles

              This, too, shall pass Mom. ;-) We were ALL moody mouthy tweens once. Well, except me. (Yeah, I'd bet my mother would have something to say about THAT! LOL)

        2. Hi there!

          I certainly feel your pain.

          I have to say though that I think by telling them they can make their own dinner if they don't like what you've made - is a huge mistake.
          The biggest issue I have with that is that is promotes food wastage, and that should be stopped immediately.
          Another thing though is that I am sure they feel mighty important if they can say they don't like it, and then have the power to chooses what they want and then prepare it themselves!
          I would in fact suggest that this rule of yours has actually encouraged them to be more "picky" about their meals.

          That is not to say that I have the perfect answer either!

          I am the step-mum to a (now grown) very picky child. When he was young, I used to cook him something else if he did not like what I prepared.
          I am pretty sure I did not do the right thing there, and he is still a very picky eater.
          Would he still be so picky if I had more forcefully "encouraged" him to eat what I made?
          Who knows?
          I don't think I believe in forcing a child to eat something they don't like either.

          There has to be a happy medium somewhere!

          You say they have a say in meal planning, so perhaps when the meals are being discussed you can STRESS that they will not be able to change their minds after the food is prepared, and you can explain about how that would be wasting precious food etc. and will no longer be tolerated.
          If they refuse to eat their dinner AFTER you have had this discussion with them, then you should choose to let them go hungry for a few nights and I am sure their attitudes will soon change!
          This isnt cruel because they would have already choosen this meal (it's not like you are springing liver on them at the last minute!!)

          Good luck!

          6 Replies
          1. re: NellyNel

            "Another thing though is that I am sure they feel mighty important if they can say they don't like it, and then have the power to chooses what they want and then prepare it themselves!
            I would in fact suggest that this rule of yours has actually encouraged them to be more "picky" about their meals."

            The more I think about what you said, the more I can see how right you are. Lately I have been so fed up I'm ready to tell them "eat it or not but this is it for dinner & no snacking if you don't eat dinner" There is a part of me that knows it would be a good thing to do, but then "mom guilt" creeps in & casts doubt. Somedays are just harder than others you know?

            1. re: jcattles

              Oh gosh -
              I know how you feel! I have been in kind of the same boat - so I know
              (I truly do believe in not wasting food, so I only cooked something separate a few times for him - but I repeated the same 4 meals over & over & over whenever he was with us!Yikes!!!)

              But really - I think if you have a heart to heart with them - and decide to make a new rule, they are both old enough to understand that what you say will actually make sense. Let them know that when they are discussing meals it is an important issue not to be taken friviously, and that wasting food is something to really be guilty about. You really do need to teach the girls that lesson. There are children really starving in the world.
              Just try to remember that, and that your girls have the incredible luxury of actually having a say in meal plans! They are lucky enough in that sense alone!

              Maybe you can make real "girl time" out of it - looking through recipes together etc....
              I think you are are the right track in many ways already.. (letting them help cook, discussing new things w/ them etc..)
              You just need to firm up on that one issue!

              I know it's hard, but I think in the end they will stop being so fussy and eat what is in front of them, but you have to be strong!! I know you can do it!
              I am sure they will get the point soon enough.
              I really think they will be better for it in the end. In many senses.

              I hope you report back in a few weeks with some positive stuff!!!
              Good luck again!!

              PS sorry for all the typos above -
              I did try to edit the post but it didn't take - darn - my edited post was worded allot better and made allot more sense - but I'm glad you got my point!!

              1. re: jcattles

                jcattles - try and leave the Mom guilt by the wayside. Kids will eat when they're hungry.

                1. re: LindaWhit

                  lol Linda - so simply put as opposed to my babble!
                  But same point really!

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    I know, I know. I keep telling myself that!

                    1. re: jcattles

                      First off...mom guilt SUCKS!!

                      Mine are younger than yours, 8 and 5. We do the PB & J option if they don't like dinner as well. I cook one dinner, that's it. I kind of agree that allowing them to cook their own might encourage pickiness. Or, rather, allow them to cook something else they may like better. We've tried to stress to our kids that there is a difference between something you genuinely "don't like" and something you "don't prefer". Not every dinner will be your favorite. Allowing them the option of making something else gives them the choice of picking something that could be their favorite.

                      Ultimately, it sounds like a power struggle. I wouldn't get too upset about them not wanting what you've prepared though. I don't think it's actually about the food; probably more about what they can control.

                      That said, I think ultimately you have to know your own kid and the motivation behind what they do. My kids could not be more different. If my son says he doesn't like something, he genuinely doesn't like it. If my daughter says that, most of the time it's because she's looking for a fight. I think it's my job to not give it to her. She can choose whether or not to eat, but if she doesn't, she doesn't get dessert after, and then the next day won't get afternoon snacks, to help ensure she'll eat her dinner. I don't fight with her about eating, I just lay out the options. It usually straightens that issue out fairly quickly.

                      For a while, anyway. :)

              2. A friend of ours is a very adventurous eater, just like us. His children are now grown, but he tells a very interesting story:

                When his kids were in their teens, they started giving him an "Ewww, gross!" everytime he served anything remotely interesting (i.e. spinach, seafood, etc). His response? For six months he cooked shellfish, offal, parsnips, turnips, stinky cheeses, and all manner of interesting food. Nothing plain. Nothing mild. And he stopped buying any snackfood, so the only food they had in the house were things that were outside of their norms. They were never forced to eat anything. But they weren't given any alternatives to what he put on the table either, so they had the choice - you can eat it, or you can not eat it. But there's nothing else for dinner.

                These kids are now adults, and are all very adventurous eaters. Remember, it's your job to train your kids for life. It's not their job to train you.