3 Family Dinnertime Tips for Less Stress

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processed_2021-02-28-090025741.jpgCooking for a family dinner looks so easy on television and the internet. In reality, it can be a point of frustration for most families with small children.

Toddlers and preschoolers are notorious for being picky eaters who are prone to meltdowns when they don’t get their way. Add food allergies or special diets to the mix, and a nice family dinner can quickly turn into a recipe for disaster.

I’ve been there so many times: begging and pleading with my son to eat something besides bread, or doing a complete lecture on how why we shouldn’t be eating gluten. It’s tough when everyone in the house seems to be on different pages about what they should be eating.

In my home, our dietary concerns all look different. I avoid foods that flare up fibroid symptoms including soy, dairy, and gluten.

My son, Christian, has some mild reactions to gluten and is super picky. He also loves something one day and completely despises it the next.

Then you have my husband who is ultimately a meat and potatoes type of guy that’s not a big fan of vegetables. I think it’s safe to say that he doesn’t approve of at least half of what I cook. As you can imagine, dinner at my house can quickly turn into a struggle.

At one point I resorted to the short-order cooking style to please everyone, but that’s not a sustainable long-term solution when you’re trying to avoid burnout. The other pitfall was trying to coerce my son or my husband to eat the way I do.

I’ve had some successes, but it was mostly unsuccessful. My husband and/or son would leave the table still hungry or annoyed, and I would leave feeling like a total failure for not being able to wrangle my family into eating a perfectly healthy dinner.

Fortunately, I’ve had some growth in this area over the last several months. The first big shift was realizing that it’s not my responsibility to make everyone eat the way I think they should. However, it is my responsibility to prepare nutritious, balanced meals on the days I cook.

I can also lead with some flexibility, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my convictions about eating well. I don’t always get it right, but when I have a successful night I’ve usually stuck with these 3 tips:

  1. Lean on theme nights.

    Theme nights are a simple yet genius mealtime hack. They take the guesswork out of the dreaded question of “what’s for dinner?” and make it easier to plan ahead. Taco Tuesday is my favorite theme night because it’s kid-friendly. Everyone loves tacos, and it makes sense for us because my husband and son both like crunchy tacos. I simply modify the meal for myself by using lettuce wraps instead of taco shells. Tacos may not be your thing, so consider what foods or cuisine themes are crowd pleasers and build around that. At least theme nights tend to work best.

  2. Stick to one “special request” item.

    I try my best not to make an entirely different meal for one person. Instead, I’ll make an additional item to fill in any gaps or beef up a meal that won’t fully satisfy one person. For example, my son rarely ever likes all of the items that I cook in a meal. Instead of trying to force him to eat the things he doesn’t like, I add an item that I know that he’ll probably eat. Cherry tomatoes or steamed broccoli are typical fill-ins for him that I feel good about him eating. They’re also easy to add to the plate and don’t take up much additional time.

  3. Serve meals family-style.

    This could be a game changer if you have a toddler or preschooler. Allowing Christian to pick out how much he wants to eat something makes a huge difference at mealtime. He’s at that age of wanting to do things for himself. So serving himself gives him a sense of independence. He also really wants to make his own decisions, and putting his food on the plate allows him to decide how much of something he plans to eat. Even if there’s an item that he doesn’t really like, I can usually convince him to put just a little bit of the item on his plate. Sometimes I can even get him to taste the item which I consider a huge win even if he doesn’t eat the entire serving.

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Meals with the family aren’t just about food. They’re an opportunity to learn more about each other and learn more about what we’re putting into our bodies. Sometimes mealtime is also an exercise in patience and acceptance.

Mealtime is accepting that my husband will not be eating the zucchini. Other times it’s patiently waiting as Christian insists on stuffing his taco one-half teaspoon at a time.

Either way, I’m always happy when we can have a conversation at the table that doesn’t involve tension about food. allergies or special diets to the mix, and a nice family dinner can quickly turn into a recipe for disaster.

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One Comment

  1. Yes!!! Love this blog. I am such a people pleaser and also a lover of food. My fiancé is a southern food eater…anything rich and heavy and creamy and meaty. I have struggled to make us healthy meals and get his support. I love these tips! Thank you!

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