I’ve been cooking family dinners for a little over 3 years now. I’m not a natural cook or foodie, just a mom who wants to teach her children the value of family meals — and expose them to good-tasting and nutritious food.
In that process, I’ve learned some important lessons. These lessons, which I’m listing as commandments, have helped me keep things in perspective, lessening the guilt and adding more enjoyment to every meal.
I don’t get it right every time, but I sure do try. Because guilt is one of the most de-motivating emotions out there — and parents certainly don’t need more of it.
1. Thou shall not compare yourself to others
It’s easy to compare your cooking to others’ and feel inferior. Just visit some top mommy food bloggers and you might get that feeling that you’re not doing enough.
When I start to feel inadequate, I remind myself that I’m in this race alone. I have my own preferences, cooking abilities and am doing the best that I can. I look back and remember how far I’ve come — and use those talented food bloggers for inspiration, not another way to feel guilty!
2. Thou shall value food exposure
Let’s be honest — it’s hard when children don’t eat what you cook. It’s enough to make any parent question his or her cooking abilities.
Research shows that continued food exposure is the most effective strategy for increasing food variety in kids. So if your child doesn’t eat broccoli, again, feel good that they were exposed to it. With each time they see it — it makes that food familiar and more likely to be eaten in their future.
3. Thou shall care about thine own eating
I think it’s important to put more value on what the adults in the house eat. Hey, if my kids don’t eat veggies, at least my husband and I do — and that counts. And research shows kids eventually eat what their parents eat.
I’ve even started making my husband’s lunch after realizing that I’d been ignoring him. And guess what? It always comes back empty!
4. Thou shall not make eating healthy boring
I always consider nutrition when making and planning meals but I’ve let go of the “shoulds.” The goal, instead, is to consider taste along with nutrition and learn to blend the two.
I used to serve steamed broccoli but realized I didn’t even like it. Now I roast it or sauté it in olive oil and garlic. The key is to make healthy tasty — and drop the boring standard nutrition fare.
5. Thou shall drop the food agenda
Having kids help you in the kitchen and saying “yum” really loud while eating green beans are all fine if you’re doing it for the right reasons. In her books Ellyn Satter always says kids can smell an agenda a mile away — and I think she’s right.
Whenever we do something to get our kids to eat, they can see right through us and tend to rebel. Make it a habit to check in with your real reasons for doing something — and when it comes to feeding, keep your eye on the prize.
6. Thou shall not blame thyself for picky eating
When I see a kid my daughter’s age eat the very foods she shuns, those negative voices pop up:
“Maybe there’s more I could be doing?”
“His mother must be a natural in the kitchen.”
“She –” (I try to stop at this point)
I remind myself that much of kids’ eating, including their fear of new foods, is inherited, age-appropriate and different for every child. Yes, parents have great influence over their child’s eating but each person learns at their own pace.
After all, how your kid eats at 30 is a better indicator of the job you did feeding, than how they eat at 5.
7. Thou shall not fix it if it isn’t broken
I was talking to a friend who was saying she should change things up in the kitchen.
Her: I see what all those moms are doing and it makes me feel guilty — I should try new recipes and meals
Me: Do you serve a variety of food?
Me: Is your cooking low stress?
Her: Yes, it’s only three of us — and my daughter has really stepped up the eating since starting kindergarten.
Me: Maybe there’s nothing to fix.
Her: You think?
Me: Yes. Try new meals if you want to, but don’t do it out of guilt.
8. Thou shall plan meals ahead
Nothing makes me feel guiltier than starting to cook a meal only to find the main ingredient missing or having to run back to the store all week long.
Bottom line: When do a good job of planning meals for the week, everything seems to go better.
9. Thou shall take time off
We all need a break from the grind of feeding. Whether it be date nights, takeout on those stressful days, or opting for the easy meal, little breaks from cooking — and feeding kids — is essential.
I’ve come to know those days that I just can’t cook — and I don’t feel guilty for it because the next day I’m back stronger and better.
10. Thou shall remember that meals are about connection
I can honestly say that I’ve had the most memorable times feeding my kids. Just yesterday morning at breakfast Little D was saying his numbers, making us all crack up. One, Two, Thee, Sik, Nine, Even. He was purposely messing them up to make us laugh.
When my kids are out of the house, I won’t remember the work or stress it took to make meals happen. Surely, the memories of uneaten meals will fade.
What I’ll remember is the connection it allowed me to have with them — laughing, talking, singing, and watching those beautiful faces change as the years go by. When I look at it this way, being the imperfect cook and taking the emotional hits that go along with feeding pale in comparison.
How about you? Are you able to enjoy family meals or is the guilt getting the best of you?