When my twins were born I vowed to do a lot of things. One of them was to never make a separate kid's meal from what I was serving myself and my husband.
Of course I wouldn’t serve sushi to a preschooler, but I vowed never to cut off their sandwich crusts and things like that. Our kids would eat whatever I had served just as my mother had expected of me and my brother because I refused to have high-maintenance kids. Granted my youngest, at age three, has a ritual of saying “Ewww, I don’t like it!” when presented with most foods, so sticking to our guns is becoming more difficult. But if we made it through the older three we will with him, too.
Growing up my mom insisted that we try new foods, even if it was just a bite. It made me into an adventurous eater, though I’m still not a fan of pickled Harvard beets in the thick, sweet sauce – but I digress.
The world has enough picky eaters. I’m always shocked when adults will say things like, “Ewww, seafood, I hate it.” If I ask what they don’t like about it they often reply, “I’ve never tried it, it just seems gross.” I have to figure this might be a kid who had his crusts cut from his school sandwiches and had mac and cheese waiting in the wings if he didn’t like what was on the docket for dinner that night.
As a parent to four boys, I don’t have the luxury, nor the desire, to be a short order cook. My kitchen is not a restaurant. My attitude is: try it, if you don’t like it there’s always salad to fill up on. This starts from the first solid foods that pass their little lips. To me, the issue is deeper than just a kid’s vs. adult meal. Making a separate meal for your child sets the precedent that if they don’t like something, they'll be offered something they do like, and we all know life doesn’t work that way.
It can also turn into a form of disrespect and ungratefulness. Let’s face it, we have all been guests in people’s homes and been served a positively wretched meal but we eat what we can as a show of respect and thanks for being served and their kind effort. Training your kids to be flexible and roll with things – including food – is a key life skill.
One of our twin’s friends joined us for a BBQ and complained that there were grill marks on the hot dog. He refused to eat them, or anything else, so sat there eating a plain hot dog bun. It was pretty embarrassing considering his age. We were once served quail eggs at a child’s birthday party. It was considered a tremendous delicacy in their culture. All of us (including my kids) took one, thanked our friend, and tried a bite.
As stalwart as I was with my “no separate meal” stance I did have a son with special needs who was extremely thin and I worried. He started to refuse dinner so his doctor referred us to a nutritionist who specialized in children with medical issues like our son. I was so frantic to get him to eat I was contemplating making him the dreaded separate kid’s meal. The nutritionist sat me down and said, “Don’t do it. Children don’t starve themselves – even children with medical issues like your son. He will eat when he’s hungry. If he refuses dinner, then he’ll be mighty hungry for breakfast the next morning!”
Because she came recommended by our pediatrician and he agreed with her advice, as did my son’s specialists, I kept a steady course and it turned out that she was right. Sure he went without dinner for a while and I lost a lot of sleep over it, some nights almost barging into his room with a bowl of ice cream because I was worried.
He did eventually get the message and started eating up at dinnertime. Today he is 14 years old and is almost always the last child at the table happily gobbling up two or three helpings of whatever I’ve served. He had an issue with shrimp for a while there, but one New Year’s Eve at our annual raw bar he decided to go for and it actually liked it! Two thumbs up!
Sure, giving in to chicken nuggets or pizza would have been easier in the short run but long term, not so much. Our other twin ordered roasted goose at the restaurant where we celebrated their 14th birthday this past winter. It wasn’t what he expected exactly but he ate almost all of it.
“Happy to have tried it once in my life,” he said. If I had made him chicken nuggets or mac and cheese every night this may never have happened!
Because my kids have known from day one that a separate meal wasn’t an option there has been some moaning and complaining but overall it has worked. Yes, I know certain foods they don’t prefer but they usually take a few bites anyway as sometimes things you didn’t like as a kid you end up liking later (hello, shrimp!). The effort is worth the end result.