How and Why to Give Up Short Order Cooking
Have you ever had to scramble during dinner to cook your child a different meal because they refused the one prepared? Do you regularly plan and cook a separate meal for your child in anticipation they won’t like what is served? Do you serve your picky eater a separate meal to avoid a dinnertime meltdown? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a short-order cook. Being a short-order cook is one of the most common (and well-intentioned) mistakes parents make during mealtimes. Whether it is done to ensure your child doesn’t go to bed hungry, please taste buds, or avoid mealtime meltdowns, catering to your children’s food preferences can do more harm than good.
Consequences of Short Order Cooking
Short order cooking can result in short and long term consequences.
Your Children Call the Shots
It is your job to decide where, when, and what healthy foods to serve to your family. Your child then decides how much and whether or not to eat based on what is provided. (Read more here about the division of responsibility during meal times). When you cater to your child’s food requests, they are the ones controlling what is for dinner! The roles are reversed which can lead to power struggles during meal times. Your child will learn that if they don’t want to eat or try what is served, they can easily refuse and get served a meal of their choosing.
Decreased Food Variety
Catering often leads to repetitive meals, which results in reduced exposure to different foods. Just like adults, children need a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, and protein sources to keep nourished and grow appropriately. The wider variety of foods your child eats, the more nutrients they will receive. More nutrients = healthy and happy children.
Encourages Picky Eating
That’s right! Catering to food demands or preferences on a regular basis encourages picky eating behaviours. And the longer picky eating behaviours last, the higher the risk for inadequate nutrition, poor growth and social challenges.
How to Break Away from Short Order Cooking
If you regularly cater to your child’s food preferences, stopping this habit may not be easy. It won’t be impossible either. Be patient and loving. Be firm and consistent.
Get Rid of Plan B
Just like that, it’s gone. Don’t plan a backup or rescue meal for your picky eaters. It’s okay to let your children know there won’t be any special meals (or snacks after the meal). Let your children know the kitchen is closing when the meal is over and then move on to the next scheduled meal or snack. Your child will not starve from refusing to eat at one meal.
Offer Safe Foods
When you’re planning meals, be sure to include one or two “safe” or preferred foods for your little ones alongside unfamiliar foods. This will ensure that there is something on the table that everyone will like. If it’s chicken souvlaki night and you know chicken is a hit and miss for your little one, it’s okay to include another protein source that your child will eat, like hummus or greek yogurt tzatziki. Including safe foods in your meals does not mean you are catering to preferences because everyone at the table can enjoy these alternatives as well!
Serve Family Style
Children like to be in control. But instead of giving them the control to choose what meal they are served, give them the control of putting food on their own plates. Family style means that the entire family can decide which foods and what amount they would like on their plates.
Eat as a Family
Children learn by example. If they see their parents and siblings eating unfamiliar foods, there is a greater chance they will put those foods on their plates (and maybe even try them). Make it a routine to sit down with the family and enjoy a meal together each day. For ideas on how to establish healthy routines, read our previous blog post: Healthy Mealtime Boundaries.
Involve Your Child in Cooking
Involving your children in meal preparation teaches them food skills, independence and exposes them to new and unfamiliar foods. Read our previous blog post on how to involve your children in cooking: Cooking with Kids & Tips for Success.
The FLIP program will be doing a series of blog posts on picky eating. Keep an eye on our blog and subscribe to our newsletter for more information on how to nourish and grow a happy and healthy eater.
For more information on general picky eating tips, check out one of our previous blog posts “Picky Eating: What is it and how to deal with it” or Sarah Remmer’s E-Book “Turning the Tables on Picky Eating”.