Although my kids eat just about anything I put on their plates today, when my younger daughter was a toddler—and a picky eater—I fell into the trap of being a short order cook.
If she didn’t eat the food I served, or didn’t eat what I thought was “enough,” there were times when I’d pull something different out of the refrigerator that I knew she would eat.
Although this short order cooking made my life a lot easier, I realized that if I made it a habit, it would be a tough one to break.
And more importantly, I wanted her to learn that what I served was the only option, and she could choose to eat it or not.
If you have toddlers or young children who are picky eaters or flat out refuse to eat, chances are, you’ve become a short order cook too.
Here, I’d like you to consider 5 reasons why you should nip it in the bud ASAP.
1. Your child misses out on opportunities to try new foods
The key to raising kids who are healthy and adventurous eaters is giving them plenty of opportunities to try new foods.
The reality is that we can’t expect our kids to instantly love broccoli or take to carrots on the first try.
In fact, studies show it can take serving small portions of the same food 15 to 20 times before kids will even take a bite.
If kids eat the same foods over and over again, they’ll never expand their preferences for new foods they may actually come to love.
2. Being a short order cook is too time consuming
Whether you’re a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, or somewhere in between, life is hectic and you’re exhausted after a long day.
Although short order cooking can make dinnertime less stressful, making one meal for the whole family and an additional meal for your picky eater takes more time—even if it is only opening a package of frozen chicken nuggets.
Something else to consider is that preparing a second meal for your child can also make your life stressful if you have to constantly make sure you have foods on hand that your kid will eat.
If you go to a family or friend’s house for dinner and they serve something you know your kid will refuse, you’ll have to pack foods for him which only reinforces the picky eating.
You start to believe, “my kid is a picky eater,” and will only eat a handful of foods, when in reality, you can’t expect any different when that’s all he’s being served in the first place.
3. Short order cooking creates power struggles
It’s normal for toddlers to be picky eaters and a part of that is their desire for control.
So if you continue to be a short order cook, your child learns that no matter what he wants, you’ll give in.
According to Ellyn Satter, an authority on eating and feeding, it’s the parent’s responsibility to decide the what, when and where of feeding, and the child’s responsibility to decide how much and whether to eat.
4. Short order cooking usually means less nutritious food
I think it’s safe to say that kids who eat separate meals from the rest of the family usually eat foods that aren’t the healthiest.
Boxed macaroni and cheese, kid-friendly frozen meals, pasta with butter, and processed snack foods are usually easy, go-to foods while fruits and vegetables rarely make their way on kids’ plates.
5. Kids may grow up to be picky eating adults
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons not to be a short order cook is that you want to raise kids who will be healthy throughout their lives.
According to an article in the New York Times, 75 percent of adults who call themselves picky eaters say the behaviors started in childhood.
In the U.S., we’re facing sky-high rates of obesity, chronic health conditions like type-2 diabetes, heart disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NALFD), autoimmunity and depression and anxiety.
Not to mention, we have a nation of people who turn to food when they’re stressed, bored or frustrated instead of finding healthy, more effective ways to cope.
Teaching our kids how to eat healthy and have healthy eating habits is important because their lives depend on it now and well into the future.
How Not to Be a Short Order Cook
While scrambled eggs and toast is all you’ll be able to pull together for dinner certain nights, when you do cook meals, try to offer choices.
When kids feel that eating is in their control, they’ll be more likely to make healthy
choices—as long as those choices are offered.
Put out a cooked vegetable and a salad, serve one of your kid’s favorite foods along with a new food, or serve a type of fruit you know your kid will eat—even if he eats nothing else.
Eat meals together
Family dinners may not happen every night, but sitting down as a family to eat any meal can prevent short order cooking.
In fact, children who eat with their families at least 3 times a week are more likely to eat healthy foods, a 2011 meta-analysis published in the journal Pediatrics found.
Cook with your kids
When kids take part in cooking meals, they learn each step of the process and they feel empowered to eat healthy because they had a hand in making the meal.
Cooking with your kids provides another opportunity to expand their palates and try new flavors, tastes and textures.
Teaching kids about healthy foods and healthy eating habits takes consistency—and plenty of patience—at every meal.
Kids who are picky eaters aren’t going to change their ways overnight—and we can’t expect them to.
It’s also important to realize that everyone has their own food preferences so he won’t love what’s being served all of the time.
Just like with anything else that you have rules about or teach your children, they may not like it but that’s the way it goes!