Written by Doctor G

When the kids hate what I made for dinner

My kids ARE picky eaters. I don’t mind it that much, since there’s usually 3 out of 4 who will eat what I’ve made and the other can have all the milk and bread and butter he wants.

But what DOES drive me crazy is one of the boys coming in the kitchen to ask what’s for dinner and then crying and saying “Yuck!” Or walking down to dinner only to have a hissy about what we’re having.

I really don’t care if they eat what I make – if they get hungry enough they will – but it infuriates me that they say Yuck and Gross and complain. Because I do work pretty hard to keep them fed healthy, nourishing meals. And it hurts my feelings. I admit it.

How should I react (or not) to these reactions to dinner? you know, before my head explodes.

Blanche, in Manchester, NH

A: This is not actually a food issue. This is a respect issue.

Don’t get me wrong, Blanche. Your kids think it’s about the food, and about their autonomy. Toddlers figure out that there isn’t a “right or wrong” about what food you like. So parents can’t argue if a child says, “I don’t like that.” Deciding they don’t like what is being offered is a game-changer. Kids will do this if they genuinely don’t like it, or want attention, or are bored or tired or cranky or… even hungry!

Here’s the center of the issue: Your child may not like the meal. Fine. Your concern is how they express that opinion. The reaction you describe is rude, and hurtful. So that is the heart of the matter.

Two new rules at your house:

1. First comment after arriving to kitchen or table is, “Thanks for making dinner Mom!” Then, and only then, may they make an INTERNAL value judgment about the quality of the meal. If they are excited, you want to hear about it. If they aren’t, they may ask politely to put the bread and butter on the table. That’s all. That is the code for: “This is the grossest most disgusting-est icky thing you ever asked me to put in my mouth and the smell makes me think of my gym locker.”

2. You may not “yuck” someone else’s “yum.” This goes for cooked food, store bought, toothpaste, I don’t care. It is just disrespectful. So if a parent or sib likes something and you don’t it is ok to mention that it isn’t to your taste, but you can’t declare: “That’s awful.” That can reduce someone else’s enjoyment (especially if the someone who loves artichokes is a younger sib). So be polite or shut up. I mean that in the politest way possible.

Like any new rule, you need to set it out clearly. In this case I recommend a hand-lettered sign near your table. Preferably signs written by your biggest offenders.

You need to make the consequences clear as well. One pointing-to-the-sign reminder, and then (brace yourself): no dinner. That’s right, it is OK to go to bed hungry and it is an EXCELLENT learning experience. The consequence is just a suggestion of course. You could, depending on the child, put them in charge of cooking dinner the next night. Menu supervision by you, though. Or maybe “Yuck” means “I would be happy to do all the dishes and clear the kitchen after dinner while you enjoy your coffee, dear parents.”

Have fun with this. And remember, you are shaping little people who will get invited out more often if they learn this lesson. Which will mean less dinners for you to cook!

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