Overcoming the Short Order Cook Dilemma


Recently in my ScreamFree Online Coaching series one mom expressed her frustration with having to provide three different meals for her family each evening – one for her and her hubby, one for child 1 and one for child 2.  Then inevitably one child would decide that the additional meal was not what he wanted.

She was at her breaking point, but was not sure what else to do and didn’t want to deal with the evening drama and honestly was just too tired to do anything else.

I get it – that evening dinner hour is horrendous.  Mom’s are tired, frustrated and trying to maintain some dignity in the whole ordeal!  But as with any pattern there are always two participants.  So I let her know that when she was ready to try something different I would be here to share with her some ideas on how she could change her part of the pattern.

As with anything, you cannot control your child or the choices that they will make, BUT we can change our actions and responses to situations.  That is the good news.  So even in this frustrating situation of her children not liking what she served for dinner there were options for her other than preparing meal after meal until one was sufficient.

In my house it was always – eat what is served or you may have a peanut butter sandwich – not PB & J, just Peanut Butter (I didn’t want to make the “other” option really appealing, otherwise you do get into a situation where your child could in fact eat PB & J 22 days in a row!)

I started this very early on, my oldest now being 18.  I knew I didn’t want to get caught up in the mealtime battles that can present themselves if not nipped in the bud.

So at dinner time they were presented the dinner I had prepared for everyone, if they decided they didn’t want it, that was okay with me.  They had to try it – at least one teensy, weensy bite, and if they didn’t want that they could go make themselves the PB sandwich.  Notice it wasn’t mom going to make the sandwich.  Even a toddler can rarely do much damage with a butter knife, jar of PB and two slices of bread, so it worked quite nice.

I didn’t have to leave my meal and “cater” to their desire to not eat what I prepared.  A few critical words around using this approach:

You cannot take their desire to NOT eat your meal personal – plain and simple.

You have given them a choice and you have allowed them to make a choice, so let it go at that.

If they choose the sandwich or to not eat at all, that is their choice.

They will challenge you hard the first few days of this new expectation to see if they can break you.  It has worked for them in the past, so they will continue to see if it will work again.

Be consistent in your offering, do not go through a list of choices, you are sabotaging your expectation.

Eating can become the biggest power struggle for some families and if you are experiencing this ‘drama’ around dinner maybe it is time to do something different.  This routine will not automatically cure itself – so the longer you wait the harder it will be to change.

Here are a few key areas to consider if you are ready to throw in the apron!

  • Pick another food option they can have AFTER they have tried what you are serving
  • Pick only ONE item – not two choices. The two choices already are EAT WHAT I MADE or ________.
  • Pick something that is somewhat nutritious – I chose PB only because of the protein and it was easy for little   ones to make.
  • You have to be consistent – everyday it is the same NO MATTER what they decide to say, do or behave. Do not give in to their drama, fits of anger – because they will be angry.
    Explain to them ahead of time that things are changing at dinner time and set up the expectation, answer any questions and even make a little sign to post on the frig outlining your expectation.
  • If they in fact TRY what you are serving and then choose the other option, I would still allow them to have a small snack later if that is something you do in your home. Do not penalize by choosing the “other” option.  But if they chose to not eat at all, then no other food should be allowed the rest of the night.
  • Your child will not starve to death by missing one or even two meals!

It is easy to get caught up in the “OH NO, they are not eating and he will go to bed hungry.” Yep, and going to bed hungry has never hurt a child – it hurts us far more than them!  I can say that if he does go to bed hungry that lesson will stick with him much longer than our words or lectures.

The good news here – with this “rule” in our home I have to say I can only recall maybe 6 times in the past 18 years where my children chose to make their own sandwich!

What part are you playing in the dinnertime battle?

What is one change you can make starting today which will positively influence the situation?

Moms, what has worked in your home to overcome this problem area? 


This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Help Susan Help These Children!