How to Stop Making Three Different Meals at Dinnertime

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My seven-year-old is a picky eater. I guess I have gotten lucky with my first three kids: they will eat anything I put in front of them. The youngest is the total opposite. I have been making special meals for her, and I’m tired of it. In addition, my other children have started to request special meals. Once that started happening, I realized how unmanageable this is. What do I do? -Janine, Tipp City, Ohio


I love answering this question because this answer illustrates and demonstrates so many important essential understandings about parenting that go against the conventional wisdom commonplace in our nonsensical parenting culture:

1) It is the job of a parent to keep kids healthy and safe. It is not the job of a parent to make their kids comfortable at all times.

2) It is the job of a parent to provide their kids with nutritional food. It is not the job of a parent to make special meals for each child.

3) It is the job of a parent to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their kids.

So, with these understandings in mind, here is how I would deal with your picky eater at the dinner table:

Kid Whisperer: Hey, family. I made quesadillas, baked carrots, and stewed tomatoes.

Kid: This fare is for commoners. I wish to be served food more befitting a fancy person like myself. I demand and expect peanut butter and jelly post-haste.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. I’m glad this came up. I’m going to start taking better care of myself. In order to do this, I’m going to make one meal for everyone, and that’s all that I will be making. You are all free to it or not eat it, and you can eat as much or as little as you want. It’s all up to you.

Kid: Whatever. I want peanut butter and jelly RIGHT NOW!

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. I don’t argue. Anyway, each day I will have a couple of “anytime snacks” available all day. These snacks will take no time for me to prepare and they will be extremely healthy. You can eat these instead of the meal I prepared, but you are not allowed to eat anything else until our next meal. Today the snacks are apples and raisins. Tomorrow it may be peanut butter and milk. The next day it might be oranges and granola. These items will keep you alive until the next meal. Hopefully you like something I serve at that time.

Kid: I hate everything you just mentioned. Why are you so mean?!!?!?

Kid Whisperer: And what did I say?

Kid: Wait. What?

Kid Whisperer: Thank you all for understanding. From now on, you all will have input on meals when we plan out the weekly trip to the grocery store.

Of course, make sure that the anytime snacks and the meals themselves are nutritious and that any special dietary needs are considered.

Notice that I didn’t allow myself to get sucked into a power struggle by biting on the argument hook that was being dangled in front of me. Notice that I am keeping the family safe and healthy, while not trying to make them feel comfortable. Also notice that I took great care of myself by cutting my workload before every meal every day until all of the kids move out of