Let's face it — every parent has found themselves in a situation where they're cooking an incredible, wholesome meal and they just know that their kid is going to turn their nose up at it. Likewise, every parent has found themselves stacking peanut butter crackers or fruit cups in the pantry, just in case the meatloaf on the menu is "yucky" for the preschool set. Children are notorious for flipping their eating habits around with no rhyme or reason, so what your kids actually eat for dinner may not be exactly what you had in mind. (Or, on the other hand, it may be exactly what you had in mind... just not what you were planning on eating yourself.)
So to get a real-life look at what's happening in kitchens all over the world, these moms shared with Romper the plate they fixed their kid to eat versus what their kid actually ate. Turns out, it's not just picky eaters who decide their parents' cooking isn't as delectable as a peanut butter and jelly — it's literally every kid. Some are happy to chow down on what their parents put in front of them, while others are just hoping if they push their food around in big enough circles, it'll look like they ate enough to earn a cookie. (I mean, that's basically my own plan at dinner.)
William, 9 & Joseph, 7
Hayley Carter, an English mom of two boys, tells Romper that in her family, there's a rule that the kids try everything on their plate, even if it's new or if they've tried it before and didn't like it. She notes that she understands obvious dislikes, like a child who doesn't like cheese, and will avoid those ingredients, but generally, her kids eat what they get. If they really don't want it, yogurt's their only option.
But on this particular day, her boys were pretty happy to eat the dinner she made. "Joseph asked for seconds, but his brother wasn't keen on the corn on the cob, even though he eats canned sweet corn," Carter says. "He had to be encouraged to eat some. Joe finished what Will didn't eat. Had to strip it from the cob for both of them." Teamwork, y'all.
Charlie, 22 Months
Mom of 22-month-old Charlie, Alexis Jackson, tells Romper that she's thankful her kid's not a picky eater, but in the beginning, she did choose different meals for her daughter. "At first, I would make her a special dinner with kid-friendly foods (think PB&J, sliced fruit, cheese), but she would always stare at our plates. So unless it is super spicy, or something I fear she might choke on, I make her a mini plate of our food." Jackson says that some of Charlie's favorites include beef spaghetti with zucchini noodles, roasted chicken, BBQ and coleslaw, and meatloaf. For this project, Jackson got a little sneaky, too. "I, like most moms, hide veggies in the food, so tonight we had shrimp and grits. The grits are actually cheesy cauliflower rice with braised shrimp, tomatoes, and okra. She ate everything but the okra."
Ismae, 21 Months
Brittany Cromwell, mom to 21-month-old Ismae, tells Romper, "My kid isn't picky at all. She eats whatever everyone else is eating." Cromwell contributes this to the fact that she's introduced her daughter to a lot of options and allows her child to choose her own snacks. "But for dinner, [she] eats what everyone else is eating. I think she's just an easy kid. She refused purées at 6 months, so we went straight to solids — she breastfed until 19 months. I don't think I've ever seen her turn anything down unless it was too spicy for her tiny tongue."
Jealous, right? For this photo, Cromwell says Ismae had a "self-selected broccoli snack. I offered carrots, grapes, and cheese. She chose broccoli." And you know what? She chowed down.
Lilly, 3 & Evan, 1
Lindsey Johnson, mom of two, made no bones about the meals she fixed her kids. She tells me she tried to document every meal, "but the last two days didn't go as planned." Hard same. For dinner one night, Johnson says she made her kids chicken with peaches and peas. But instead of cleaning their plate, "they both mostly ate peaches and bread." Not going to lie — there are few things more frustrating to me than when I fix my kid a meal I know she'd actually eat, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a side of applesauce, and she still picks at it like it's poison.
Mom of two girls, Amber Brooks, is no stranger to using Disney plates for dinner, and she's no stranger to a kid who won't exactly clean their plate. For one dinner, she tells Romper she made "chicken, rice, and cooked carrots. I don't really know if she ate any of it or just pushed it around?" (Ruby, this is a really great way to make it look like you ate your food. Good work, girl. Keep 'em guessing.)
For a second dinner, Brooks still kept it simple with a cheeseburger, tots, and tomato. I mean, kid-favorite, right?
"She ate the cheese off the burger and all of her tots," Brooks says. I mean, carb-loading, right?
But for another dinner that week, Brooks was totally honest. "Then [one night] we had grilled Polska Kielbasa, rice, and roasted sweet potatoes with onions. They had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches." Now that's how you do dinner with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old.
Elliot, 23 Months
Look at that fancy meal. Cynthia Bancroft, mom to almost 2-year-old Elliot, tells Romper that the dinner she made wasn't exactly easy. "I came home from work and had to cook a meal that really required too much work for a Monday night, but ingredients were going to go bad if I didn’t, so there it is. Garlic shrimp zucchini boats; it could really go either way. Are they fun looking or complicated? We’ll be eating later which means he could be hungry and fussy, or hungry and ready to eat. I have peanut butter crackers already waiting in the rear and serve the dish. In the end, he ate it!"
Yay Elliot! But Bancroft notes that there were some big lessons learned during this meal. "I did have to make some concessions. I spent too long cooking in the kitchen and Elliot needed a little more 'Mommy Time,' (I kind of needed more Elliot time, too) so he ate most of this meal in my lap instead of his chair. Also, when he got squirmy and wanted to get down, I did let him graze from the plate as he was going by. I try not to encourage that because I think it can make dining out harder sometimes, but that’s compromise.
"Lessons learned. While providing a good wholesome meal is important, so is providing quality time with my family in the few precious hours we have together. Tonight, I think we will just grill out together on the deck or microwave some frozen meals and focus on each other instead of our food." Man, if that ain't the truth. A great dinner plate and a kid who will eat it is important, but so is just enjoying that time with your family. And by golly, if that means everyone gets peanut butter crackers on the back porch, so be it.