Dear Dinner Confidential

Dear Dinner Confidential,
I hate cooking. There, I said it…I have three kids with very different opinions on what good food is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a horrible cook, but how can I get past…what one likes, the other does not? If only they would just keep their sweet little opinions to themselves I might actually like cooking…I realize this is a behavioral issue and not a cooking issue…or is it?
Sincerely, frustrated and ready to run away to Italy…or France….or Greece

Dear EGH,

Questions: would you enjoy cooking if it were just you and your husband eating? Does he appreciate your efforts? Is it typical that you give in to particular likes/dislikes and serve three (or four) different meals? Are there any dinners that the team agrees on? If not are there any food groups the team agrees on? ie does everybody like chicken, broccoli, etc. Can you send me a 2 minute video of dinner time at your house? Or a play by play of one dinner in particular?

Cooking/eating/behavioral issues can be hard to separate.

Here is my Right off the Bat advice:

I think that the most important part of making dinner is that you are THANKED. If the diner is eight years old, this might just be eating what is served without choking and a “thanks, Mom” when dinner is done. Get them to start the habit. It is the same kind of thing when I had to tell my husband way back when, “Look, I am going to talk now, I’m probably going to cry now, and here’s what I want you to do: listen, no advice, and either hold my hand or hug me. Or both.” My husband said to me, “But that might not be what I want to do.” And I said, “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

However–and feel free to kick this to the curb–I think it is critical for the success of any dinner meant for a crowd, particularly a crowd with no shame in expressing unedited feelings, to pick your battles. For instance it might not be the best choice to serve fish if nobody likes fish. If Ferdinand really hates something I have learned not to try to make him eat it. For my own well being. I know there are people out there who run a clean plate club and I’m not one of them. I always ask Ferdinand if he would like to try something that might be new on the table, and I take him for his word if he says no. If I feel like he is judging too quickly, I get him to smell it. If there is a food that I know he will tolerate, but isn’t crazy about–visible pieces of onion say–I lay down the law. He has to eat it. Otherwise it gets ridiculous. There is no reason why you should have to eat food with no flavor.

My suggestions: Make the rules and stick to them. If you have to, write them down so you can remember them. (the kids will remember but they aren’t going to help you remember.) Make the rules possible to stick to. My rule is that we all have to eat 5-6 fruit and veg a day. I don’t bend on that. Also, I don’t go for Ferd’s need to have all of his food separate. I don’t mind making a pasta with only ingredients that he likes, but he is going to eat from the same platter that we do. I used to make tiny little piles of individual ingredients and it drove me out of my mind. If your rule is that everyone has to eat what is served, or they don’t eat until the next meal, than that’s it.

Have everyone make a list of their favorite foods and their favorite food ingredients. From that, make a list of all the dinners that you make already that generate general happiness. If no one can agree on anything, but some of the ingredients on the no can do list are things like “toast” or “foods that touch”, explain that everybody has to stretch a little. Only foods they absolutely cannot tolerate are allowed.
One of the ways I cope at a dinner party where there are restrictions from various guests is to make a few different plates, with something like roast chicken as a center piece. Let them pick and choose. Or a “build your own.” You can build your own burgers, build your own tortillas, even build your own soup. Kids love the control and they will shock you at what they put on the plate. If you are feeling really generous, you can always say that one day a week, when you make food that is what YOU really want to eat, they can have a bowl of cereal.

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