How to Stop Making Multiple Meals While Still Pleasing Your Picky Eater
If you’re making a special meal for your picky eater you’re certainly not alone. But making dinner for your family doesn’t have to be so hard. You can put an end to short-order cooking, get your family eating one meal, and save a ton of time and stress, all while feeling confident your picky eater is getting the nutrition they need.
This article will discuss how you can make one meal for your whole family - your picky eater included.
Why You Need to Be Making Only One Meal for Your Whole Family
I’m a big fan of cooking just one meal for your family to share. For a few reasons. Sharing a family meal:
Allows your child to see what and how others eat (which improves picky eating)
Means lots of opportunities to model eating behavior (which improves picky eating)
Provides your child with exposures to new foods (which improves picky eating)
Allow your family to connect and enjoy food without a focus on eating (yes, they can actually take pressure off of your picky eater, which - guess what - improves eating!)
Is so much more fun and a lot less work than making two or more separate meals
Basically, cooking only one meal for the whole family is not only easier and more fun for you, but it also can improve picky eating.
Making one meal for your whole family is so important that it’s the first step in many of autism picky eating nutrition programs and earned its very own mini program, Mealtime Makeovers.
Now that you know how important it is to get your family eating one meal, I know the only thing holding you back is the HOW. That’s what’s next.
How to Get Your Whole Family Eating One Meal
Respect Your Child’s Sensory Needs
Uncomfortable bodies are not hungry bodies, so the first thing you need to do when including your picky eater with sensory food aversions at the table is make sure they are comfortable. This might mean selecting a supportive chair. Or maybe you need to provide covers to shield foods with big odors.
Always Serve One
Every meal must include at least one food that your child will reliably and willingly eat. That one food can be as simple as a plain pasta, a glass of milk, or a bowl of applesauce. Including a favorite food lets your child know that this is a meal they can handle.
Aim for Three
All meals should have at least one protein, starch, and fruit or vegetable.
Keep It Simple
When it comes to pleasing picky eaters, often the simpler the better. Many picky eaters actually prefer uncomplicated foods to mixed dishes. Keep this in mind if you’re struggling to serve that One Safe Food or hit your three foods groups. Most kids will love to see their favorite crackers, sliced cheese, or a bowl of fruit.
Follow the Division of Responsibility
Created by Ellyn Satter, this should be your golden rule of feeding your children. As the caregiver, it is your responsibility to say when and where mealtimes occur and what is served, As the eater, your child is in charge of how much and if they eat. That means you decide what is for dinner and your child decides how much to eat at that meal. That means you’re not making anything special if your child decides she doesn’t like the chicken. You’re also not pressuring intake. That’s up to your child. As long as you are providing that One Safe Food and offering meals and snacks every few hours you are creating a supportive eating environment.
Keep the Kitchen Closed and End Short Order Cooking
Resist any urge to make a backup meal (short order cooking) or let your child forage for preferred convenience foods. Stick to serving one meal that includes the three food groups and the One Safe Food.
Use “Can” Phrases
“Can” phrases to show your child he is in control and has agency at the meal. Provide tips on how to manage the mealtime so he is comfortable. Suggestions like “you can spit that out if you like” simultaneously empower and educate your child making mealtimes easier and more enjoyable. Some other examples: “you can try the burger,” “you can keep that at the edge of your plate,” and “you can dip the potato in ketchup.”
Get a Learning Plate
I suggest that all of my clients set the table with an empty Learning Plate. I like to serve meals family style and recommend that everyone take at least a bit of every dish on the table. If someone doesn’t want that food on their plate, they can put it on the Learning Plate. The rule is that at the end of the meal you have to actually learn something about those Learning Plate foods. Learning can be smelling, poking, licking, kissing, or any other sensory interaction with the food.
Let Your Child do the Work
Include your child in meal prep. Preparing food is a sensory experience and is shown to increase a child’s desire to eat.
To avoid making a ton of food or what looks like a random hodgepodge, use the 3 food groups and think about smart pairings. If your picky eater likes baked potatoes or corn bread, think chili. If they can’t do without nuggets, add mozzarella and sauce for everyone else to make chicken parm.
By keeping the menu simple, making sure your picky eater is comfortable, and serving at least one food that your picky eater loves, you can start finally stop making multiple meals and just make one meal for your whole family.
It takes the brain 3 days to adjust to new behaviors and routines. Take a look at the list above and add one step to your calendar every 3 days. Within 30 days you’ll be enjoying less food prep, less clean up, and more simplified pleasant family meals.