My Secret to Reducing Dinnertime Battles With Kids


The family meal is supposed to be a time for everyone to gather and converse, but for my family of picky eaters dinnertime battles were a regular. Food choices became such a point of contention that before I knew it I was cooking up a minimum of two to three different options per meal.

That’s like nine different meals a day!

Bread and Cheese, Please

My son’s favorite food groups are the dairy and carb group. His meal usually consists of a cheese quesadilla, cut into the shape of his choice (otherwise you know the world would come crashing down). Then we put another cheese item as a side, maybe a piece of crust less bread and maybe applesauce. Don’t forget grilled cheese, or just plain cheese, both key cheese items!

My daughter on the other hand, is a frugivore through and through. Her meals consist of fruit with a side of fruit and maybe a piece of cheese, if she’s feeling a bit crazy!

As a mother, mealtimes and snacks have become a source of anxiety. It has been stressful to figure out how to get my kids to eat and also ensure they are getting enough nutrition throughout the day.

A New Idea for Meals

I told my husband something had to change, because this mama was exhausted over dinnertime battles. While clearing my head by getting some fresh air and walking the family dog, I had an epiphany! A way to make one meal for the whole family and not have it followed by an orchestra of groans and complaints.

And the idea for the “choose your own adventure dinner” was born. 

It was so simple, and honestly I probably put all of those headaches on myself trying to please everyone before.

How an “Adventure Dinner” Works

I make one meal, put it all on the table, and each kid decides what they want to eat. This idea of one meal and being able to take control really sparked curiosity in my kids.

What really won my family over was putting empty plates on the table for my kids, giving them some control over their food choices. I was empowering them to make their own decisions versus telling them what to eat. And this small change had a HUGE impact.

Old me would normally put both meals on their plates on the counter making sure each kid had something they liked and then would place it in front of them. Then the dinnertime battles would begin. With our new “adventure dinner” style, the kids enjoyed the change of being able to choose for themselves.

The fine line of this newfound autonomy also meant I could not micromanage their decisions. This was very difficult for me, as I am a control freak. I really had to step back and just let it be. Some nights they choose only one or two items on their plate, but other evenings their plates are full. They even try NEW things! Overall, it’s been a step in the right direction for our family.

What It Looks Like

For instance, taco night looks like this. I make the toppings, and place everything ala carte on the table and I always include a mini rainbow of fruits and veggies. Whatever we have in the fridge or on hand, some nights the rainbow is less colorful than others. The sides are nice little options to the main dish. We haven’t had to offer the ultimatum of a peanut butter sandwich yet, but with my stubborn toddlers, this could happen sooner than later.

This adventure is still new, but it’s one we are all enjoying. Meal time has become more fun and less stressful for my family, so that is a win in my book! 

Here’s an idea for a choose your own adventure meal.

And for more information on how to help your kids get the nutrition they need see 5 (Sneaky) Ways to Get Vitamins into Your Picky Eater.

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Emily is the most Norwegian Indian you will ever meet. Adopted from New Delhi, India then plunged into the frozen tundra she has called home for her entire life. She is happily married to her husband whom she met waitressing tables at their now event venue RiverHaven in Moorhead. Before becoming a mother to her two tiny humans, Taj (2015) and Revel (2017), she was a dog mom first and foremost. From as far back as she can remember, Emily had a hard time sitting still. She was constantly creating, dreaming, and living true to her little Gemini-free-spirit. Fast forward, and she never took her foot off the gas pedal. She carries a degree in Anthropology from NDSU, teaches as a sculpt fitness instructor at Mojo Fit Studios, and is a full-time Realtor at RE/MAX Legacy Realty in Fargo. Emily treats her clients like family from beginning to friend. She lives life with no regrets, and is willing to jump head-first into anything at least once. She is a family first, traveling, foodie, coffee, libation loving kind of woman who will talk your ear off, while wearing her heart on her sleeve.


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