How do you prepare meals when you have more than one child and everyone has different tastes?
This is a question I hear all the time. And, just last week, one of my clients with two children was having a struggle over breakfast.
Her kids were making lots of different requests and she was caught in the trap of wanting to support her kids’ cravings, but ended up acting like their short-order cook.
Even though she knew her job was to decide what food would be served, she slipped back into her old habit of catering to her kids’ wishes – making toast for her daughter and cereal for her son. That is, until her son spotted the toast, ditched his cereal and started begging for toast.
In this scenario, her son’s reaction to seeing his older sister’s breakfast was perfectly reasonable and expected.
The real problem is that when we cater to our kids, no one ever wins. The kids feel anxious that they are – essentially – in control of feeding themselves, and we feel helpless and exhausted by succumbing to their wishes.
The solution? Prepare one meal for everyone. Taking requests is fine and supportive, but that should be done during a separate, calmer time… not right before preparing a meal.
You can even be proactive about this and initiate a fun conversation with your kids about food they love and want you to prepare for them. A beautiful result is that they are more likely to accept meals that are not necessarily their favorite when they know you are actually planning to make their favorite another day soon.
So, back to serving one meal for everyone. It is so important that this meal be served family style (with each food uniquely separated into bowls/plates at the center of the table). This enables your children to take however much they want, thereby strengthening their natural ability to eat the amount of food that their bodies need.
And, it supports them by offering a variety of choices without catering.
Here’s an example. My client likes to make toast and fruit for breakfast, and her kids are always requesting various spreads – usually whatever is NOT already on the table. In the past, she would pop up to get whatever they asked for. But, I suggested that she choose, in advance, 2 to 3 spreads, like butter, jam and cream cheese (which is her kids’ favorite) to put on the table with a plate of toast and a large bowl of fruit.
If her kids request a spread that’s not already on the table, like almond butter, she can tell them that these are their choices for today, but she will be sure to include it another time really soon. And, then, following through with it is key.
This demonstrates to her kids in a firm, yet gentle way, that she is both in charge of what food is being served, and that she also respects and supports their tastes.
Doing this creates both trust and a feeling of safety for kids, demonstrating that mom and/or dad are taking care of feeding them in a thoughtful way, so they don’t have to think about it. It also ensures them that even though they are small, their needs and wishes are important and worthy of their parents’ attention, effort and support.
What are some ways that you support your kids’ cravings without catering to them? Leave your advice in the comments so everyone can benefit!