I’ve read the article “Serving Convenience Foods for Dinner Doesn’t Save Time” at The Atlantic several times over. It is jam-packed with information and statistics about how and what families feed their children in the United States.

While the piece had some very eye-opening statistics on time saved with convenience foods vs. preparing foods from scratch, I found this statement even more interesting.

Even when all members of a family were at home, eating dinner together was a challenge in many households.
Why? There were two reasons. The first was kids weren’t very hungry because they had already indulged in “convenience foods filling refrigerators and cupboards” that “supplied individualized snacks and meals for family members.” Basically, the old adage, “Don’t eat that or you’ll ruin your dinner” has some truth behind it.

The second reason, “family dinnertime often gave way to intergenerational conflicts surrounding children’s food choices,” I found that much more frustrating. The real-life example in the article of a mom who brings home take-out food for dinner and then asks her 8-year-old if she wants something to eat made me want to bang my head against a wall. When the child says she doesn’t want anything from that particular restaurant, the mom then offers to make her child anything she wants. The child still refuses.

This kills me. She has food. In her hands. That’s ready to eat. Why doesn’t she just put it on the table and call the family to dinner?

This mom, who is probably tired after a long day of work, most likely thinks she’s making her day easier by trying to avoid a food fight at dinner. But, if this is a nightly occurrence in her home, she is not making anything easier on her or her child. She is creating a perpetual struggle and allowing her child to be disrespectful. It will never get easier unless she stops engaging in these pre-dinner negotiations and she embraces the fact that she’s the adult and sets the rules.  

Let me share with you a typical conversation in my home around 5:30 p.m. on any given night in my home.

Son: Mom, what’s for dinner?

Me: Chicken picatta.

Son: Is that the lemony stuff?

Me: Yes.

Son: I don’t like that. It’s too lemony. Can you make chicken a different way?

Me: No.

Son: Mom, come on…

Me: Get out of my kitchen. If you can’t come in here and appreciate that I’m cooking dinner to take care of my family then I don’t want you here.

Son: Sorry mom.

That may sound harsh, but I say it with a smile, and it’s the way I believe it should be. Complaining about what I’m making is disrespectful. If you’re going to be in the kitchen with me while I’m cooking, you absolutely will not complain. When it comes time to eat, you sit down, don’t complain, converse, thank the cook when you’re done eating, and help clean up.

There is sometimes the option of my boys eating leftovers from another meal if they really don’t like what I’m making if they prepare the leftovers themselves, don’t get in the way of what I’m cooking while they do it, and eat it at the dinner table with everyone else. I’m okay with being flexible that way because it helps curb food waste and I actually do want my whole family to enjoy the food they’re eating.

It isn’t always easy. It takes consistency. It takes being impervious to puppy dog eyes, boo boo lips, and the occasional, “Nobody else has to…” But the benefits absolutely are worth it. When my family comes to the table, I’m not frustrated from pre-dinner negotiations. I’m happy to have us all around the table and ready to spend some time talking and catching up.

Do you find yourself frustrated by the time you sit down to dinner because you’ve already been a food fight with your family before anyone puts a bite in their mouth? Maybe it’s time to kick them out of your kitchen.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Don't negotiate dinner with kids
If you want to eliminate the frustrations of preparing dinner for the family, don't allow pre-dinner negotiations about what to eat.