There I was sitting in a restaurant, begging my toddler to eat anything. I showed her several options. I was desperate. It felt like she was on a hunger strike and I was the enemy. A little old lady sitting nearby smiled at me and asked about the problem. I explained and she smiled again – not a judgemental smile but a kind, sweet smile. She told me she had raised 11 children and none of them had ever starved themselves. She instructed me to make the meal, give it to my toddler and if she didn’t want to eat it, to take it away. I shouldn’t scramble through my fridge and pantry trying to find anything that she would eat. I appreciated the advice and tried it. It took a couple of days, but my little one finally started eating again.

Now, several years later and with 3 kids in our household, there are very few meals that I can prepare that all three enjoy while also offering nutritional value and remaining on some sort of a budget. I don’t think my kids are all that picky. They all like some foods – it’s just a question of finding the foods that they all have in common. While it would be great to have the time and energy to prepare a full smorgasbord of options each night, we do have to be realistic. Typically, I try to choose one meal a week that each of the kids like. Of course, on those nights, the other two tend to complain – but they know their turn is coming and there is usually a side dish that they like, so they do get fed.

I encourage all three kids to try everything on their plate – even if they think they don’t like it. I’ve been amazed that their tastes really do change over time. I always thought that was just a line my mom fed me when I didn’t want to eat cooked carrots. My little hunger striker vowed and declared she didn’t like pasta for years. Then, she finally took the leap and tried a bite of homemade cheesy baked ziti. It’s now one of her favourites. My broccoli hater has started to really enjoy it and I thoroughly enjoy freshly picked cooked carrots!

Another tactic that I’ve started to use with my older children is to engage them in the meal planning and the preparation. If they are part of the plan, they are a little faster to buy-in. I’ve also been educating the older two about the health benefits of particular foods and why it’s important to eat a variety of foods. It seems that with knowledge, they are more accepting and actually asking if we’re eating enough of the important foods.

I’ve also tried dressing vegetables up a bit. Sometimes the carrots are just steamed and sometimes they’re glazed with butter and brown sugar. Brussels seem to be much more appreciated if they’re blanched and then sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Cauliflower roasted with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic and then topped with parmesan cheese means that my kids eat about double the amount they would eat if I just steamed it.

After almost 12 years of parenthood, I’ve also come to realize that sometimes, kids just aren’t that hungry and I don’t force them to eat. Whether they’ve had a lazy day or they are not in a growth spurt or whatever it is, I make sure they’ve had nutritious food throughout the day and I don’t worry if they eat very little dinner.  As the lady in the restaurant told me many meals ago, they’ll eat if they’re hungry.

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