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Dinner: Why Should Parents Only Provide One Option?

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Dr. Kenney explains why a child should only be given one option for dinner and shares how this can be accomplished.

Dr. Kenney:
Hi, I am Dr. Lynne Kenney. I am a mom and pediatric psychologist and I specialize in in-home interventions and pediatric psychology in a neuropsychology practice.

You know, I think families need to become a one-dinner family because it’s good for everybody. Let’s think about it for a second – if you are a mom or a dad who is making multiple meals for multiple kids you have to grocery shop more, you’ve got to spend more time cooking and you are not teaching your children how to be a part of the family community and just join in.

So when mom say, “Should I be a one-meal family or should I keep cooking for all the kids?” I always say to them, “Let’s use your commonsense. What do you think is best for you?” So let’s think about some of the advantages of being a one-meal family.

One, you are going to shop less. Two, you are going to spend less. Three, you are going to work less, and four, your kids are going to learn the message of joining in and being part of the family community.

So let’s talk about a family that I once visited in their home, okay? This is a really cool family because the mom had come to me saying, “I am just overwhelmed and stressed out.” She had four young children all under nine years of age and we had a total blast.

We set about making everybody their own place mats so everybody got to draw their own place mat, get their own setting so that when they would come to the table mom could start being organized in space.

Then we took a piece of paper and we wrote down the kids’ favorite meals, alright? Even a three-year-old can tell you what kind of food they like. So they wrote down all the foods that they liked and then mom transferred that into a meal plan for seven days. Now listen, you don’t have to meal plan for 30 – seven days is plenty.

Think about how that created buy in for the children and for the mom. They had their own little place setting, they got to see that their favorite foods have been served for dinner and mom was able to shop less, cook less and be less stressed out.

Let’s talk for a second about buy in. Let’s say that you are going to become a one-meal family but your kids have lots of different tastes and interests – that’s okay because if you’ve got a list of the foods that they like you can go and buy those foods just as side dishes in the one meal.

The other thing you can do is have the kids help you with the preparation. There’s nothing more fun than gathering the children around the kitchen island and participating and making the meal together. So that’s why it’s really beneficial to become a one-meal family.

About Dr. Lynne Kenney, Psy.D.:
Lynne Kenney, Psy.D., is a mother of two, a practicing pediatric psychologist in Scottsdale, AZ, and the author of The Family Coach Method (St Lynn’s Press, Sept 2009). She has advanced fellowship training in forensic psychology and developmental pediatric psychology from Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School and Harbor-UCLA/UCLA Medical School. Dr. Kenney is currently a featured expert for Momtastic.com and Parentsask.com.

Visit Dr. Lynne Kenney at her Website

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EmpowHER Guest

The example Dr. Kenney uses here is an important factor to consider when deciding if this philosophy applies to one's individual situation.

I, personally, don't believe in forcing kids to eat things they don't want or don't like just for my convenience. But I only have one child, and she's already shown an amazing willingness to make good food choices.

If she isn't interested in having the rather advanced choices I make for myself and my husband, I don't see a problem offering easy but healthy alternatives. Ex: I fix pot roast, she doesn't want that. Progresso chicken soup for you then? OK! I fix burritos or enchiladas, too spicy for her, then fish sticks really aren't a problem for me to throw in the oven, served with a side of raw veggies and some yogurt. I'm not even opposed to those kid-oriented tv dinners occasionally. But I guess I'm lucky like that; when my 4year old daughter asks for a sandwich, it isn't a proper sandwich if it isn't on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato on it, and she frequently requests salads, so...

Also, in the cases of older children, why not use this kind of teaching moment to motivate them to do for themselves, rather than force them to see food as such a control issue? It's roast chicken with asparagus and potatoes au gratin? Younger children might not find this appealing, but I don't think 6 is too young to learn to make one's self a p.b.and j., paired with some baby carrots and a glass of 1%milk. NOR is it too hard for a parent for kids younger than 6 to put this together.

Now, when you're talking about 3 or more kids, all clamoring for something different...yeah, that's not a desirable situation. But I personally believe that a better option in THAT case is to make the adult-planned meal, offer ONE alternative kid-friendlier plan, and those who don't get on board with one or the other can lump it till they're hungry enough to choose what YOU"VE decided to offer. I prefer this to Dr. Kenney's "buy-in" plan because, let's face it; you tell kids that they get to choose what's for dinner, then only offer what they've chosen as a "side-dish," then you'll ultimately be in for a situation where all they'll eat is that side-dish, which sets up a not-so-good eating habit. Tell them they HAVE to have some of everything in order to get the side, and it's ultimately the same to them as telling them they have to eat a dinner they don't want.

Frankly, as I get to the end of this article, I find that she closes with a statement that, irrational as it may be, makes it hard for me to take her seriously...."There’s nothing more fun than gathering the children around the kitchen island and participating and making the meal together." Really? First off, who has a kitchen island? Second, what kids are really having fun preparing food that they probably don't actually want, but have to buy in for in order to get a taste of what they do want? Third, what makes her think that herding 3+ kids through the food-prep process of an entire dinner is less work than just fixing them what they want?

Just sayin'.

January 6, 2011 - 11:47am
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