“What would you like for dinner?”
My generation of parents is the first to ask our children this question.
In fact, we are likely the only culture in the world that does this. Why?
Mealtimes have become so chaotic and rushed, that many of us have not thought about the answer yet. We are reacting to our children’s hunger, rather than preparing for it.
Consequently, the nutritional content of supper suffers.
Another reason we ask this question is in hope of a peaceful mealtime. We imagine that if they choose what to eat, our children will sit quietly through the meal, well-behaved. But it never works. Child A and Child B never want the same thing, and it is usually unacceptable to Parent C. Then you get into making different meals for different people, which is an unsustainable system for any household.
What does the research say?
As a parent, you have the right and responsibility to make decisions on what will be prepared at mealtimes.
Children need to learn to eat the food that is cooked for them, and to trust that their parents knows what is best for their health.
I am one of those parents who got into the habit of asking my children what they would like to eat.
The answer was always the same, and then I would have to back pedal to get myself out of my own suggestion. Now, each of my kids get “their day”, where they get input on the menu (i.e. they choose the vegetable/starch/protein). This solution works for me because I only have two children and it gives me an out on all other food requests.
“Oh you wanted pasta for supper? Well, we can have that on your day.”
It also helps engage my children in the meal preparation, as it is their duty to help cook on the day of their meal.
While ideally they would help every day, cooking with small children requires a level of patience that I cannot find every day.
A final good strategy is to make a weekly meal plan, so that you don’t find yourself scrambling for what to eat for dinner when you get home from work.
-Serena Caner is a registered dietitian who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.