Over the years, we’ve talked to thousands of families about their biggest family dinner challenges. While no two families are exactly alike, some common themes have emerged, and one of the top five challenges that adds stress to the dinner table is definitely picky eating.
“All they want to eat is pizza, mac and cheese or grilled cheese,” laments one parent, while another adds “The picky eating is a constant challenge.” Trying to figure out how to please all the palates in the household can lead to extra work in planning, shopping and cooking, tension at the table as parents try to encourage kids to try new foods, or even a total breakdown of the family dinner experience. Some parents we’ve met have abandoned trying to gather everyone for a meal altogether, so exhausted and frustrated by picky eating habits that they let everyone eat what they want, when they want it.
It’s understandable that picky eating can scare families away from the table. Few things are as frustrating for parents as putting effort and energy into cooking a nutritious meal, only to have family members turn up their noses. And a recent study found that when parents try to coerce kids to eat what they’re served despite individual preferences, the resulting tension can actually damage the parent-child relationship. But that doesn’t have to mean resigning yourselves to serving up an endless parade of chicken nuggets, or avoiding family dinners altogether to keep the conflict at bay.
Here are our top tips for keeping conflict off the menu, and getting a wider variety of foods onto it, while dealing with picky eating:
For more in-depth advice on dealing with picky eating, see Taking a Leap: Helping Selective Eaters Try New Foods or That’s Disgusting! — Encouraging Picky Eaters.
Meet the Khan family from the UK! Parents Emma and Zed share about their life with two selective young children, and how Sunday dinners have become a cornerstone of their family routine.
Real Family Dinner Projects: The Khan Family
Trying to slowly move your selective eaters away from boxed chicken nuggets? Our homemade version could be a step in the right direction!
Parmesan Crusted Chicken Tenders
Helping kids identify where their food comes from can make new foods seem less daunting. Play a round of “How Many Hands?” to help young diners connect with the foods you serve.
Take the focus off the food and put it onto something fun with these conversation starters about “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
2023 The Family Dinner Project