Prepare the meals you want to eat, with the help of a dietitian and your mother

Prepare the meals you want to eat, with the help of a dietitian and your mother

Family making dinner together discussing dinner
Jaime Burrows/Stocksy

As I sat at the kitchen table, surrounded by my husband and two wild animals Oh wonderful children, Jack and Thomas, I can’t help but think of the beautiful sacrifice that motherhood brings. When my children were born, I knew immediately that I would do anything in my power to keep them safe, healthy, and happy. As babies become toddlers, it becomes easier and easier to prioritize their needs.

Gradually, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to spend time with became less important. As parents, we can love so hard that we lose ourselves in the process. This has never been more clear to me when it comes to meal times. I’m a dietitian, but like many mothers, I fell into a rut of planning meals based on my kids’ preferences. After all, when so many meals end in food refusals and toddler tantrums, you just want to serve something healthy that your kids will actually eat and maybe even enjoy! When mealtimes become solely about our children’s needs, our own needs and desires can end up taking second place.

But did you know? I’ve learned that embracing the madness and nurturing my own tastes alongside theirs can be a recipe for the joy of a mutual meal.

Taste of freedom

Picture this: It was dinner time, and instead of giving in to my macaroni and cheese obsession, I decided to treat myself like a culinary queen and served up sweet potato and black bean tacos. Instead of making the kids’ plates, I dumped everything on the table and turned it into a DIY taco station, allowing the kids to choose what they wanted to eat. While Jack and Thomas ate grated cheese and tortillas, I treated myself to a delicious adult meal.

As a mother, it’s easy to forget the joy of tasting the foods you love when you’re preoccupied with your child’s nutritional requirements. But here’s the good news: Prioritizing your own taste can improve your child’s eating habits.

When you indulge in your favorite dishes, you introduce a world of exciting flavors to your baby. When they see you enjoying your meal, they are more likely to give unfamiliar foods a chance. After all, children learn best by observing, and your genuine pleasure in eating becomes a powerful incentive for them to explore new tastes. (Kids are surprisingly intuitive, so they can probably tell if you’re faking it or not.)

According to one study, parental imitation of eating behaviors significantly affects children’s enjoyment of food and their openness to trying new foods. So go ahead, taste those delicious morsels – you’re paving the way for a little foodie!

Best of all, taking your food preferences into account will help you enjoy mealtimes again, making for a less stressful experience for everyone.

Family Style Feasts: A Culinary Adventure

So, at this point you may be wondering how you can eat the things you love to eat and keep your baby happy. There is a way to overcome this challenge that supports children’s relationship with food. If you use a self-service, DIY, or family style, where everyone starts with an empty plate and then serves themselves (with the help of little people), you will be more creative with what you serve while also avoiding fights.

At the dinner table, we approached family meals as if they were our own culinary adventure. Jack, my 5-year-old, and Thomas, my 2-year-old Hurricane, were little foodies in the making. With a little help from adults, we allow them to serve themselves. And let me tell you, watching my boys use those little tweezers was pure comedy gold! Did we need to spend a little extra time pulling grated cheese out of Tom’s hair? Yes. But shockingly, children are more capable of serving themselves than you might think.

Watching my kids confidently choose their favorite foods and gingerly explore new dishes fills my heart with pride (and tempers my dietitian’s arrogance). Taco Tuesday? Friday pizza? Saturday salad? Oh yeah, we have it all (including leftovers on Mondays and girls’ dinner on Wednesdays)! Every night there is something to look forward to – we make sure there is something for everyone. Laughter is as abundant as the food.

Add a touch of creativity to your meal planning

Meal planning for a family with diverse tastes can be a “fun” challenge. I’ve found that incorporating variety and creativity into our meals not only meets my culinary needs, but also encourages Jack and Thomas to be more adventurous eaters. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a magic cure for picky eating, but gradually, the children developed curiosity about food and became more confident eaters. Here are some nutritionist-approved tips to make this work for your family:

  • Without expressing it, you can keep each family member in mind, and center the meal around everyone’s favorite things (including yours!) at least once a week. Try not to draw too much attention to your main plan so that the children do not focus on favorite foods.

  • Always make sure there are one or two things included in the meal that your child accepts most of the time. Acceptable foods don’t have to be the star of the meal, either; They can be side dishes. This will ensure that the children feel comfortable at the table and do not feel feelings of deprivation.

  • Provide enough acceptable foods for your child to stay full. Let them eat as much or as little of those foods as they want. This helps them feel in control. There will be days when your child eats only acceptable foods, but don’t worry: If you offer a variety of foods, most children will meet their nutritional needs over the course of a few days.

The beauty of putting yourself first

The journey of motherhood is full of surprises, and learning to savor the family feast together has been a transformative experience. By putting myself first sometimes, embracing family meals, and getting creative with meal planning, joy has returned to the dinner table. I can see that the boys have become confident when eating, just like their mother.

So, here’s a chance to embrace the chaos, laughter, and love around your family table. Through this delicious journey of self-discovery, you’re not only nourishing your body, you’re nourishing your soul as well. Together, we can savor life’s feast, one joyful bite at a time.


Palfreyman Z, Haycraft E, Meyer C. Parental modeling of eating behaviors: observational validation of the Parental Modeling of Eating Behaviors Scale (PARM). appetite. 2015;86:31-37. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.08.008

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