A few months ago, I realized I had been treating my kids like second-class citizens. While I always go out of my way to make Greg and I delicious, healthy meals from scratch, I had gotten in the habit of choosing “fast and easy” when it came to what the kids were eating.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have always made my kids eat fruits and vegetables. Always. And even though I’m cheap as hell, I spend a ton of money on fresh fruit and veggies at the grocery store every month. The big problem is what my kids have been eating as their “main dish.” Instead of having what we’re having, I’ve been making them peanut butter and jelly, homemade mac-n-cheese, or plain spaghetti, etc. to go with their sides of fruits and veggies.

For some reason, my kids have been living with the illusion that they only like to eat ten or twelve things. So when I would make something like vegetable soup, falafel, salad, or stir fry, they would turn up their noses and demand I make them something else.

I have to admit, they were seriously wearing me down until a few months ago. I absolutely hate arguing over what we’re eating for dinner every night. I mean, what’s worse than cooking for an hour only to hear someone complain about it the entire time you eat?

Eventually though, I snapped. Not only did I get tired of making two (sometimes three) separate dinners every night, but I got sick of my kids not eating the healthy and nutritious main dishes I was taking the time to prepare. So, I implemented a new dinner program that meant everyone would eat the same thing. And it worked almost right away, and with almost no effort on my part.

How I Got My Kids to Eat More Vegetables

I’m sure you’re wondering what this magic dinner formula is right about now. Brace yourselves; it’s a doozy. Here is the exact process I used to get my kids to eat whatever I put in front of them.

  • Step 1: Make one meal for dinner. (Make it healthy and nutritious.)
  • Step 2: Don’t make other stuff. (Seriously. Don’t.)
  • Step 3: Tell everyone: “This is dinner. Now EAT!” (Ignore their sad little eyes.)
  • Step 4: Ignore requests for other food. (Less talking and more chewing, please.)

Amazingly, that was all it took. When my kids asked to opt out of vegetable soup, beans and cornbread (or whatever), I started saying: “Nope, this is dinner. Eat it or starve!” Sometimes, I even said it in my crazy, scary mommy voice.

And I stopped feeling bad about it – even when they went to bed hungry at first. I mean, they weren’t scary hungry or in any danger of starving…but they definitely did not load up on vegetarian chili or tofu scramble when we first implemented this new strategy. Nope, they’re pretty stubborn. They are my kids, after all!

Eventually, they did start to enjoy the dishes I had been making Greg and I all this time. And now that it’s been a month or two, they’ve made their peace with eating what everyone else is having – whether they want to or not. I mean, my six-year-old is now a self-professed lover of beans! Beans!  She even asks for beans for dinner, as well as lentils, which she calls “little beans.”

Why Was I Afraid to Take Control?

As parents, we have control over what our children eat. After all, they can’t eat what we don’t buy or prepare for them. And if we’re really against them eating junk food or stuff that isn’t that great for them, we can just not bring it into the house.

So, why is it so hard to tell them no?

I have to admit, it was mostly laziness and complacency on my part. After working a full day, the last thing I wanted to do was argue over who was going to eat what. And since my kids are at school all day, I don’t want to spend my evenings mad at them either.

But honestly, that’s the wrong approach to take. Being a parent means more than making kids happy all the time. It means doing whatever is best for them – whether they are happy about it or not. And yes, it means not letting them eat peanut butter and jelly as an entrée every night for heaven’s sake. Because, gross! What kind of parent does that?

Oh, wait. Apparently, me.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, I’m extremely happy with how things have turned out. My kids have gotten used to chowing down on hippie vegetarian food for dinner every night, and I’m spending a lot less time arguing with them over it. As a bonus, our mac-n-cheese and PB&J consumption has gone down considerably.

And all it took was one simple step: I quit treating my children like second-class citizens. Instead of making them what they wanted, I make one meal and everyone eats it or starves. It isn’t always easy, but when it comes to my kids, I know it’s the right thing to do.

As a side note, if you think meal planning is a total pain like I do, you might want to try a meal planning system. Check into something like “The $5 Meal Plan.” Instead of busting out your calendar and doing it yourself, you can spend just a few bucks a month to have somebody do it for you. It’s a nice time saver, and it will help to add some variety to your meals. That way, you don’t end up eating the same 6 or 7 things every week.

How do you get your kids to eat more vegetables? Do you follow the “eat it or starve” mentality in your household?