Recently a mom asked me how she could get her kids to eat what she made for dinner.

Despite not wanting to cook different meals for each child, she found herself catering to their requests because it was easier than letting them whine, complain or refuse to eat.

She considered giving them an ultimatum of eating what she served or nothing but she wanted to make sure they weren’t hungry at bedtime.

Does this sound familiar?

If so, you’re not alone.

It’s a concern I hear quite often and while there’s not ONE way to get your kids to eat the family meal, there are some things that can help:

Get your kids in the kitchen with you. Kids can help with menu planning and meal prep. When they’re young, kids can play at the sink to wash veggies and as they get older kids can help with cutting and cooking. Also, when they’re already in the kitchen it’s an easier transition to the table.

Include a nightly dinnertime ritual. This can be a simple, small thing but something that kids will look forward to and expect each night. It provides an anchor of consistency they can rely on. Some families always light a candle, say a blessing, or go around the table answering the same question such as the best/worst part of the day.

Have a certain meal each night of the week. Monday soup night, Tuesday tacos, Wednesday chicken, etc. You can still have variation with this system by having different soups or chicken dishes and kids will start to know what’s for dinner without even asking. These predictable meals not only make prep easier but are reassuring to kids because they know what’s coming and if they don’t like one meal, they know something different is on the menu for the next night.

Serve family style. Provide a variety of nutritious foods and let your child decide which of those and how much to eat. Having at least one food each child likes and will eat at every meal sets this up to be successful. And, allowing kids to serve themselves does several things. First, it gives kids control and when they have control they’re less likely to be resistant. It also teaches them to pay attention to their body cues of hunger, satiety and portion sizes.

Limit snacks. When kids come to dinner hungry they’re more likely to eat, but you don’t want them starving because nothing good happens when someone is hangry! To avoid this you may need to eat dinner earlier then usual (4- 4:30) or if that’s not possible consider providing parts of dinner as an afternoon or pre-dinner snack.

I have seen time and again that families who use these methods look forward to dinner time and their children become less picky.