It’s so good to have New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Allison Brennan back here with us at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard! She’s a busy mom of five who also happens to write romantic thrillers with a suspenseful edge–and her latest, STALKED, comes out tomorrow, October 30th, at the scariest time of the year! Thank you, Allison, for sharing a bit of yourself and your world with us today, and we wish you tons of success with STALKED!
When I worked full-time outside of the house and my two oldest were little, I tried everything to get them to eat what I cooked. I have always been a “good” eater as my mom would say and ate most everything on my plate; my husband has always been a picky eater. It’s hard to convince your children to eat something they think they don’t like when your husband won’t put it on his plate.
There was my mom, constantly reminding me that she never had these kinds of problems with me. My friends with kids telling me how good their kids ate.
I felt so inadequate.
All the books and experts told me if I was consistent and forced my kids to eat what I made them for one week (or, rather, if they didn’t eat what I fed them let them go hungry), they would then eat everything I fed them and grow up to be good eaters.
I did this for TWO weeks and every night we were all in tears.
It was NOT worth it.
I worked full-time. My girls were in day care or school from 8 in the morning until nearly 6 at night. We came home and dinner was supposed to be fun where we could talk about the day and what we were planning for the weekend and enjoy each other. Not fights.
I decided then that I would not make dinner a battleground. At the time, the only vegetables my daughters liked were raw carrots, so that’s what they got every night. My oldest didn’t like meat (the texture) so I didn’t make her eat it. She filled up on carrots and whatever the starch was and milk; my younger daughter hated rice and potatoes and would eat only carrots and whatever meat I had. (I’d often said if I could merge my girls, I’d have one great eater.)
Now, my kids are 18, 16, 11, 9, and 8. There are few meals where they all eat everything. I don’t sweat it. They’re all healthy, they’re all
athletes, and even if they don’t eat a variety of food, they eat healthy.
Sometimes, I wish I had that perfect family where I had an hour or two to prepare a fantastic meal every night, serve it, and they would eat anything without complaint.
My two older girls now eat a bigger variety of foods than they did as kids, so I figure over time, my younger kids will gradually add tastes to their palate. And even though I no longer commute to work (the benefit of being a full-time writer), I still write full-time, so don’t have the luxury to make extensive dinners.
As the kids have grown up, we have other conflicts—sports, school events, afternoon and evening activities that interfere with a regular mealtime. For example, my boys (11 and 8) play football and their practices were from 6-8 three days a week. They wanted to eat before AND after practice. Worse, not everyone is home that early! Twice a week my 9 year old had soccer practice from 5 – 6:30 and my 16 year old either runs or has rehearsal for the school play.
Yes, I’m preaching to the choir here. I thought raising toddlers was time-consuming … not! Once the kids are old enough for sports, school plays, music lessons, and the like – and everyone has a different schedule – set meal-times are the first thing to go.
Mommy guilt sets in. We always hear how meal time is the most important time for a family. Oh, yes, I twisted myself (and my kids) in knots trying to make this work, but after awhile just said it’s not going to happen.
So I made a few loose guidelines. (Yes, guidelines, not rules.)
Sunday is Family Time
Since family meals are next to impossible during the week, unless we want to eat at nine p.m. and have kids falling asleep on their plates, I made Sunday family dinner time. My older kids know they can’t make plans, and I make the effort to cook a real meal.
I don’t care what my kids eat as long as it’s not junk food. My 11 year old son is the pickiest of all—if I fed him peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and milk every day, he’d be happy. He’ll eat other things, and likes fruit and raw vegetables and would drink Naked green machine juice by the gallon if I let him. Once, he ate a whole bag of frozen peas for a snack. Can’t really complain there. So what if he doesn’t like sauces, chicken, potatoes or rice? He’ll live. And have strong bones in the process.
Make Your Own Meal
Most moms won’t do this, but I figured out this is the best way to keep the peace. No matter what I make (unless it’s hamburgers or pizza or something like that), at least one person doesn’t like it. That person can either A) make their own dinner as long as it’s healthy or B) have an uncooked dinner. Meaning, I’ll make anyone a peanut butter & jelly sandwich or slice up cheese and salami with crackers if they don’t want steak and potatoes and salad.
Don’t Tell Me You’re Hungry
Self-explanatory. I make dinner every night. They know what their options are. Eat what I make, or make their own. But don’t tell me you’re hungry—there’s always food in the house.
Try New Things on Occasion
I realized that if I didn’t make meal battle time, and since I knew what my kids liked and really didn’t like, I could find slightly different things that I could get them to try. For example, my 8 year old son loves chicken. Any kind of chicken, as long as it doesn’t have a sauce. But when a friend brought over BBQ chicken dripping with BBQ sauce, I encouraged him to try it. He did, liked it, and now it’s one of his favorites. Because I knew he liked chicken, he was willing to try a “different” chicken. He also tried cod once because he thought it “looked good” and now he’ll eat it whenever I make it.
I’m far, far from perfect. I envy the families who have kids who eat everything and enjoy it; or families who sit around the table together every night; play family games (without fighting!) Obviously, these moms are far better at this gig than I am. But I live by the motto “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” In a family of five kids, if I stressed about everything, I would be physically sick. We do what we can, and once I let go of the guilt about meals, we were all much, much happier. Especially me.
And one thing I learned—probably a little late in motherhood—is that a happy mom means happy kids.
Make Your Own Pizza
A hit at the Brennan house is “Make Your Own Pizza” night. I buy Pillsbury pizza dough or Bobolis, pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, mini pepperoni, sliced olives, and whatever else is lying around the house (mushrooms, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, sausage – whatever is on hand or left over.) I lay everything out, everyone makes their own mini-pizza with what they want, and we bake and eat. It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s easy and everyone’s happy. This also works great when one of the kids has a friend sleep over.
Do you have a sure-fire, fun, fast, and easy meal for your family?
Allison Brennan is the New York Times bestselling author of 19 romantic thrillers. The fifth book in the Lucy Kincaid series, STALKED, will be on sale October 30th wherever books are sold. For more information about her or her books, check out her website allisonbrennan.com