Guest Mom Allison Brennan on Mommy Guilt: Dinner

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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

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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.

Eat Healthy
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?

photo credit: Jessica Hills Photography

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

25 thoughts on “Guest Mom Allison Brennan on Mommy Guilt: Dinner

  1. Hi, Allison! I feel like a Buttinski here as my sons are grown and have kids of their own. However, I remember these frustrating times. One son hated meat and I remember checking him one night before going to bed and noticed his cheek was puffed up. Turns out he had the chewed up meat form dinner in his mouth! I felt like a worm. I never insisted either child eat anything in particular. I just tried to make dinner interesting and nutritious. Today, they are very healthy eaters. As long as you fix a balanced dinner and offer it happily plus keep healthy snacks, they will be fine. It’s the children who are always fed huge helpings of macaroni and cheese, pizza, heavily fatty foods and nary a vegetable or fruit in sight that grow up to be obese and have weight and health problems. You’re doing a great job, Mom. Believe me when I say that one day, they will be calling you for advice on how to get their own children to eat! :-)


  2. Allison, thanks so much for posting this. My daughter is not a good eater AT ALL! She won’t even eat fruit, except strawberries.I thought everyone liked fruit. Your blog gives me some hope for the future. Thanks!


    • There is ALWAYS hope. My 9 year old daughter doesn’t like fruit. She’ll eat apples only if I slice them and remove the skin (which honestly? I don’t do often. So she eats AROUND the skin, LOL.) My 11 year old son will eat ANY fruit, including things I never bought before he asked for them at the store, like mangos and kiwis.


  3. I was a terrible eater. My parents used to make us eat our vegetables or we didn’t get dessert. The horror! I hated peas & frozen vegi’s, which I still hate to this day. I never make my kids eat anything. My son is 20 now & he likes more things than I do. I try to make things that my 13 yr old daughter will eat, since it is usually the 3 of us. She is picky, but getting better.


    • I ate everything but I think that was because it was just me and my mom and my mom didn’t give me a lot of foods I didn’t like. The rule for me was I had to have a bite of everything. If I had a bite and didn’t like it, that was fine. I tried that with my kids, and it kind of works …


  4. It’s funny, I was thinking about this food issue just last night!
    My kids are young enough that we don’t have the complicated schedule thing going yet. (But my sister does, so I can see it looming in my future.) Plus, I love to cook, so we do all eat together almost every night and my kids are great eaters. They both love their veggies.
    But anytime I start feeling smug about the my-kids-eat-their-veggies thing, I remember all the other things they don’t do well. They don’t clean up their toys well. They aren’t organized. My son is almost five and still doesn’t fall asleep by himself.
    That’s the thing about motherhood. For everyone one thing you’ve earned a bright shiny E for excellence in, there are plenty of other things you still have D’s in. It feels like my kids’ “developing” skills are a Rorschach ink blog test of my own issues.
    They aren’t organized, because I’m not organized. They have trouble falling sleep, because I’m a long-time insomniac. It’s all tied together.
    Funny though, how much easier it is to forgive their faults than it is to forgive my own.


    • I think sometimes all moms forget that there is no perfect family. We only see where we fail and not where we excel. When my kids were little, bedtime was the only rule I enforced strictly because we had to get up early for work/school. It wasn’t a chore. The kids wanted to go to bed (I read to them every night until they were 6 … and my 9 year old daughter until she was 8, even though she’s the best reader in the house!!! LOL.) We ate family dinners until probably my oldest was in middle school and sports became more important to her. (she played volleyball for 6 years.)

      I’m not organized … two of my five kids are organized and relatively neat. My husband is the organized one …


  5. Allison, none of this was your fault, it was your husband’s for not setting a goo example. I loved breakfast for dinner, unfortunatly, my husband does not. There were a few things my husband (a pickier eater than I am) wouldn’t eat. So when he was gone (Army, don’t ask) we’d make a big deal of having things dad didn’t eat. He did the same when I was away (also Army). I can guarentee my meals were healthier than his were.


  6. Hi Allison,
    I can relate to this! It used to bother me when I would go to a lot of effort and the kids wouldn’t eat. Now I just make sure they drink their milk and snack on something healthy if they don’t like the dinner. They won’t starve. No mom guilt!

    Also I’ve been amazed how much their tastes change from month to month. I keep trying “grown-up” foods because what they refuse to eat one year may be a favorite food the next. My nine-year-old likes to snack on salad and she used to hate it. Go figure.


    • I agree — kids’ tastes change. I used to love taking them to fresh choice where they could try anything — just one bite! LOL. My 16 year old has never liked rice or potatoes, and still doesn’t eat them, but she’s added fish to her diet after trying some of my salmon at a restaurant. Now when we go out, fish is her first choice (my husband hates fish and the only time I got away with cooking it was when I was pregnant.:)


  7. We have young ones so we still have dinner time all together. We have some rules, but for now they mostly apply to our oldest b/c well our youngest is 2 and that doesn’t really require an explanation – that being said she actually loves veggies and all fruits as long as they’re fresh.:-) Our oldest though would only eat usual kid fare if we let her. But it’s a rule that she has to try what I’ve made. She doesn’t have to like it, but she has to try it. She almost always likes chicken no matter what I do with it. She really struggles with veggies though so we have some tricks – she loves to dip in ketchup or ranch dressing so as long as she has one of those, she can dip her veggie and she’s happy. She doesn’t love them, but she eats them.

    Great blog, thanks for joining us again, Allison!


  8. When I was a kid, one of my favorite meals was something mom called “some of this and some of that” basically just crudites and any other potential finger foods we had on hand!

    We had a lot of the make your own meal nights in our house. My brother was the picky eater and he was under strict orders to have at least one veggie (usually a carrot) on his plate. It became a bit of a joke around the house, the constant “eat a carrot” orders! They taught him to cook his own basics since he typically wouldn’t eat anything beyond plain grilled meats, sandwiches, or pizza — and carrots.

    I like to think I was easier, especially since I liked cooking and started helping out a bit in the kitchen as soon as I was old enough. I don’t remember how old I was but I started cooking the occasional dinner after my sisters came along (middle school or so). I still cook for them when I go home to visit.


    • My two oldest daughters both can cook (my 18 year old makes great tacos and quesadillas. My 16 year old is an amazing baker.) I’m teaching my others to cook, but my 11 year old has no interest. My 8 year old son does. My husband doesn’t cook. There’s a reason that most of my fictional heroes can cook …


  9. Great topic and you’re a wise mom! ! Cooking to me is a hobby and stress reliever, so I cook even more at deadline. (Muse taken off to an undisclosed location? I make soup,). I used to make a week of meals and freeze, for fast work week dinners. My husband has eaten peanut butter nearly every day of his life since childhood. Not that he’s in a rut, lol.


  10. Hi, Allison! I loved this post. It’s so helpful to hear that other moms have kids with food “issues,” too. I think it’s great that you’ve learned to work WITH your kids on this versus against them. It makes for less stress. It keeps food in its proper place mainly as fuel for a healthy body. Yet you’ve also tipped a hat at the idea that food is one of life’s pleasures, and it makes NO sense to turn it into an instrument of torture.

    For me, that would be cooked spinach! Gag! I love fresh spinach, however. I still remember my parents trying to make me eat that cooked spinach, and I swear the experience traumatized me. I say that rather jokingly, but there was an element of coercion and control there that didn’t match the size of the problem.

    I’m not mad at my parents–I know now how desperate we get…how panicked. But like you, I’ve accepted my kids’ food intolerances, and I’ve learned to work with our busy schedules, too. Every night we can, we eat dinner together, but some nights we can’t. So we have family time another way. Sometimes it’s watching a TV show together before bedtime (yes, you CAN bond in front of a TV, contrary to what the “experts” say). We always have fun and chat.

    That’s what it’s about. Being together. Feeding our need for love as well as our need for proper nutrition.

    Thanks again for being here, and I can’t wait for Lucy Kincaid to show up in STALKED again and make us all turn the pages without even stopping to either cook or eat dinner, LOL!!!!


  11. I’m totally with you. My food “hate” growing up was asparagus. I still hate it. But I love broccoli. Go figure:) … I cook broccoli al dente and stand it up on my kids plates and tell them it’s a tree (I’d stick it in mashed potatoes, but my boys have this aversion to food touching on their plates. My youngest is SO anal about this that he has to have a separate utensil for each item. I don’t know WHERE he got that!!!) I also play video games with the kids and there’s nothing more fun than a lively game of Mario Kart for the Wii. And I watch tv with the kids all the time. I’ll admit, I have more fun with my older kids (My girls and I watch SUPERNATURAL together and GLEE; my 16 year old and 11 year old son and I watch BONES and DR. WHO.) But an episode of SpongeBob with my 8 year old is fun, too! (Especially if it’s not one I’ve seen … or heard … a hundred times …)


  12. Hi Allison! I’m still in the stage where I haven’t given up on my kids liking the food I cook. I know it might be a complete fantasy, but I haven’t given up yet! lol I think the hardest thing is, like you mentioned, when your husband is reluctant and your kids see that and copy him. Argh! =) My fast meal right now that the kids will eat is a vegan mac and cheese (had to go through quite a few recipes to find one I considered edible).


    • LOL, I totally get you. I wish you luck. I WAS the child who would eat (almost) anything, so we do exist! But like reading (I have ALWAYS been a huge reader, but only 2 of my 5 kids are big readers), eating is so individual, I don’t think it has as much to do with parents as we think!


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