My six year old Ethan loves salad and has been known to beg me to make it for dinner. There is a spring green salad with feta and a vinaigrette dressing that is his favorite that we pick up when we go to BJ's and the few times that they didn't have it, he was seriously disappointed. Sometimes Ethan and I will split a salad when we go out and my husband and I notice the servers' surprised and disbelieving looks when we order it. I get the feeling that they think we are being really optimistic about what he will eat. After watching Ethan polish of the last bites of lettuce, one server said that was amazing and asked how we get our boys to eat like this. In fact, I get asked that fairly frequently quite understandably since having picky kids is really tricky...
My kids didn't always eat like this. Mac 'n cheese, chicken nuggets, PB&J's, buttered noodles and string cheese were typical kid fare when I was making "real" food for Brian and myself. This lasted for awhile until Matthew started demanding these foods all the time and started turning down stuff that he would have liked or that he had previously liked. At mealtimes, he started trying to put in his "order".
I know that most of us resurrect some phrases that our parents used with us when we were growing up and I have to publicly tell my mom thanks for "I am not a restaurant!". I grew up as the oldest of four kids all two years apart; my mom definitely had her hands full and wisely taught us to eat what was offered. Her phrase became my go-to saying since when our second son, Luke, came along, I decided that I did not want to make multiple meals nor did I want to eat kid food on a regular basis. This was the part that became interesting since when I quite making separate meals and started giving him healthy home-cooked meals, he decided to do what any other self-respecting two year old would do: stage a hunger strike.
After a couple days of struggling with it and begging him to eat only to have him wait until the next meal when he could get something he wanted and hence making no real progress, I realized that I would have to be a little more creative (I am so incredibly thankful for my behavioral/ clinical psychology degree now!). The next dinner, Ethan didn't touch his plate so I covered it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge. It came for breakfast the next morning and I asked him if he wanted it hot or cold. He still didn't touch the food (it was barbecued chicken and veggies so I didn't feel like I was trying to make him eat something weird). Any time that day he started whining that he was hungry, I offered him that food again and, as hard as it was, didn't give it and give him any other snacks. Ethan finally ate it the following morning (score for me, since it wasn't going to be good another meal and I wasn't sure what to do since he would think that he could just outlast the food!). Since then, he tries everything and is one of the naturally healthiest eaters that I have ever seen. Luke tried to do the same thing later, but quickly realized that it always tastes the best the first time it appears at mealtimes and loves some of my favorite things as I wrote about here a while ago.
They sometimes still try to put in their orders for different meals and complaining about what is for dinner so I revert back to "I'm not a restaurant!" They giggle at my answer and that is the end of the conversation. I still can't believe myself when they ask me to make eggplant or fish for dinner. Hurray for peaceful family mealtimes! Thanks again, Mom!