Have you ever felt stuck making multiple meals for your family, but are not sure how to get out of it? It can be difficult to please everyone at the table, especially if you have a picky eater on your hands. However, meals do not have to be complicated, and you do not need to be a short cook to make the whole family happy. Learn how to stop short order cooking for your child with a few simple steps below. 

What is short-order cooking?

Short-order cooking means cooking different meals for everyone at the table. The term comes from a cook in a restaurant that prepares foods that are cooked quickly to order. Preparing meals this way means you are cooking different food for each person instead of the typical family meal (everyone enjoying the same dish together). 

Short-order cooking is not recommended because it is difficult to expose your child to different foods if they are getting the same meals every day. Repetitive exposure to new foods is an important factor when your child is learning to like or dislike new foods. Touching, tasting, and smelling a new food is how your child gets comfortable enough to eat it. It is easy to give in to only serving your child’s favorite foods over and over because it can seem useless to keep offering them broccoli when you know they are not going to eat it. 

It can be an even more challenging scenario if you are short-order cooking for a picky eater. When dealing with a picky eater, short-order cooking reinforces the idea in their mind that there are two separate categories of food; their food and everyone else’s food. This idea can lead them to not seeing all food as an option to eat, they only see “their food” as the ones they will eat. It is important to break down this mental barrier for picky eaters in order for them to learn how to eat new foods.

How to stop short order cooking

You may be thinking that you want to get rid of short-order cooking in your house but are imagining the tantrums and battles that are going to arise if you serve enchiladas to everyone for dinner tonight. You are probably right, that would happen if you try that with a picky eater at the table. Instead, try these tips below for an easier transition away from short-order cooking and the beginning of family meals without all the headache. 

Serve an unfamiliar food with a comfort food

Make a list of all the foods you know your child will eat if offered. These foods are referred to as comfort foods. When serving a new food, make sure to also serve a comfort food you know your child will eat. This comfort food ensures that if they choose not to eat the unfamiliar food on their plate they will still have something to eat for the meal. It is okay if they choose not to even touch the new food, just seeing the food on their plate counts as exposure! It typically takes 15-20 exposures to a food before your child may even put it in their mouth. So do not be discouraged if they choose not to eat it right away. 

Start slow when it comes to adding new foods to their plate

If your child has become accustomed to your short order cooking, it may take some time to get used to family-style meals. Starting with baby steps if your child is wary of trying new foods is crucial. This slow transition is an important step in breaking down their two category theory of food; their food and everyone else’s food. Tell your child about the change in advance to avoid a big surprise (and probably a meltdown) when their favorite foods are not on their plate when they sit down at the table. You can tell your child the day of or a few days in advance that you will be trying out a different way of eating together. But, make sure to also tell them that they will still have the (insert comfort food here) that they usually eat at the table too. 

Don’t pressure them to eat an unfamiliar food

When serving a new food, it is important to not pressure your child to eat it or “just take one bite.” If you are dealing with a picky eater, they may already have anxiety when it comes to unfamiliar foods, and pressuring them to try it can make mealtimes even more stressful for them. Instead, tell them that they can choose what and how much they want to eat from their plates. This method is known as the Feeding Relationship. What this means is that it is your job as a parent to be in charge of the what, when, and where of meals and let your child choose how much and whether to eat what is on their plate. This approach to meals builds trust and lets your child learn that they are capable when it comes to eating. 

Be consistent

The end of short-order cooking is not going to happen overnight. Start with one day a week that works best for you and your family. It can be on the weekend when you know you have more time to prepare and then move it to a weekday the following week. The key is to work your way up to a consistent effort of moving toward family meals. Also, be prepared for some backlash when it comes to this transition. Consistency and no pressure to eat the new foods will go a long way. It may just take some time for your child to adjust to this new routine that will open the door for them to learn how to enjoy new foods, so do not give up.