Short Order Cooking & Feeding Picky Eaters – The Nourished Child

Short order cook recipes

Short-order cooking is a trap that many parents who have picky eaters unexpectedly fall into. Learn about how to feed picky eaters and how to recognize the telltale signs of being a short-order cook, while freeing yourself from this exhausting (and ineffective) way of feeding children.

Maggie was exhausted. He was cooking his buns at night.

Her three children were very picky about food and difficult to please and keep well fed. She was working hard to find dinner ideas for her picky eaters.

When he heard my podcast episode about the short-order kitchen, he wrote to me and exclaimed, “HELP! I am a short order cook!”

Maggie was not in an unusual position, nor were her frustrations irrational. It is tiring enough to manage a home and take care of the children, thank you very much.

But when you cook like a chef in a restaurant every night, it’s no wonder he had watery eyes!

What is a short order cook?

A short-order cook does what your child wants to eat. Short-order cooking is making separate meals to please family members, often a picky eater.

Take this little picky eater test

to find out:

  • Are you preparing a separate meal for your picky eater
  • ?

  • Do you always have a backup plan for food because sometimes your child doesn’t eat what
  • you do?

  • In anticipation of rejection at the table, do you go ahead and do what you know your child will eat?
  • Are you in that weird space where you know it’s wrong and acknowledge your own frustration, but you can’t help it? (It’s Plan B lunch or a crisis at dinnertime.)

If you are nodding your head or answered “yes” to these questions, then you, my friend, may be stuck in the role of short-order cook.

What the short order kitchen looks

like The short order is easy to identify


Back-up meals, alternative dishes, or “rescue” snacks when your child refuses to eat what’s on your table


For example, you make a meal of spaghetti and meatballs. Your child refuses to eat it, and instead just wants simple pasta.

She worries that there is no protein in the food, so she asks her child what she would like to eat instead. He says, “chicken nuggets.”

You make chicken nuggets.

[Related: Best Frozen Chicken Nuggets for Kids]

At this point, you’re frustrated, and maybe even angry with yourself because you knew this would happen… And you should have made the chicken nuggets in advance


Sound familiar?

Catering to picky eaters is not good

Catering is a fairly common scenario at family tables across the country

. One survey found that 80% of parents with

picky eaters

felt they had little control over their children’s food choices and feeding. Seventy-five percent of parents gave in to food requests from their picky eaters.

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That’s a lot of short-order cooking, my friend.

For many parents, feeding picky eaters by giving them what they want is the path of least resistance.

Whether it’s your guilt getting the best of you, the crisis you’re trying to avoid, or the belief that your job is to please everyone to keep the peace, one thing I know is this: the


you pretend to please your child with food, the less pleased (and more demanding) your child will be.

Let’s tweet that!

Ultimately, giving your child what he wants makes it harder to feed him and his family (which, let’s face it, can make him unhappy).

[Read: How to Cook Dinner Every Night (and Be Happy)] Consequences of Cooking Short

Orders for Picky Kids Several short- and long-term consequences arise from feeding



with cooking short orders. Let’s look first at the short-term consequences:

1. Their authority is undermined.

You are supposed to make the decisions about food at home, what is served for meals, when they are served, and where. However, when you attend to your child’s food requests, your child is the one in charge.

At least in terms of the food you eat.

2. You may lose nutrients.

Catering leads to repetitive meals. In other words, when you cater to your child’s favorite and accepted foods, you’re reducing their food variety.

Food variety

is a safeguard for proper nutrition: the more variety in your child’s diet, the more overall nutrients your child will receive


3. You end up having a frustrated relationship.

Although family discord and drama subside for the moment, you may feel frustrated, overworked, or unappreciated.

Let’s face it, it takes a lot of work to prepare a meal for a family, and making an extra dish is more effort, time, and inconvenience for you.

Of course, the longer you cater to your child’s food preferences and limited palate, the more damage will occur. Here are some of the obvious long-term implications:

4. You encourage picky eating.


Not only does “heeding” food requests (or demands) on a regular basis encourage picky eating, according to a 2009 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, but your child may miss out on nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

Basically, being a short-order cook gives life and longevity to picky eating.

5. Your child’s health may suffer.

The longer fussy eating lasts, the greater the risk of poor nutrition, inadequate weight gain and growth, and social challenges.

9 tips to stop cooking in the short term

Well, you know what’s at stake, so how do you get out of this rut? I’m

going to be honest, it’s not easy. But, it is not impossible either. I have several things you can try.

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Word of caution: Don’t expect success overnight. You’ve been doing this for a while and your child has gotten used to this way of life.

You may see some resistance in the form of sadness, anger, or defiance.

It is ok.

Think about it: you’re asking your child to stretch, to take an adult step in their maturity around food and feeding.

At the same time, you are claiming control. In a way, you’re diminishing the control and comfort you’ve come to love.

Be patient, caring and kind. Be firm and have a mission.

And don’t turn around.

Here are some tips for feeding picky eaters and getting away from restoration:

1. Offer safe food.

When planning your meals, be sure to include one or two foods that you know your child can handle. Safe foods are familiar and popular foods, which can be milk, fruit, cheese, or bread and butter.

The goal: Make sure there’s something on your table that you know your child will eat.

2. Nix Plan B.

fact. Finito Benito. No more backups, rescue meals. Goodbye to strong snacks an hour after dinner ends.

You’re done with it. Period. (And it’s okay to let your son know there’s a new girl in town.)

Close that kitchen when you finish the meal and move on to the next scheduled meal or snack. It’s really as easy as that. And.. Come on, yes… I guess I should confirm… Your child will survive.

3. Try family-style meals.

If you haven’t already turned this around, what are you waiting for? Family-style meals allow your child to choose what and how much he wants to eat from the foods you have prepared for the meal.

Try to include a serving of each food group so that there is a wide variety of options on the table. And, here’s the advantage: the more you let your child choose and choose from the options you’ve set, the more likely it is that your child will be able to find something to eat.

[Listen: How to Serve Family-Style Meals (and Why You Should!)]

Check out my training on how to start family-style meals.

4. Do it the Dinner Bar way.

Offer a smorgasbord of main ingredients and let your child prepare his main course the way he likes. The Dinner Bar works well for combo dishes like pasta primavera, pizza, tacos and salads.

These are dishes that can send a fussy child running to the other side. Why? They are too complicated and not easily identified.

Instead, when you feed picky eaters, you want to deconstruct your entrances. In other words, it separates all the parts and pieces. You may get more cooperation from your child.

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Highlight: Kids eat better when they put together their main course (because they’re invested in their creation).

[Here’s a Dinner Bar recipe for meatless Mexican bowls. I have many more Dinner Bar ideas on my website; Search for “Dinner Bar” in the search bar.]

5. Offer the basics.

You know the important food groups: protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products (or non-dairy substitutes), and healthy fats. The more food groups you can offer at mealtimes, the better.

Try to hit them all to create a balanced meal, especially at dinner when appetite is variable. Young children may have a poor appetite due to other scheduled meals and snacks earlier in the day, and older children may have a higher appetite due to sports or growth.

Here’s the bottom line: More food groups on the table means you have a better chance of meeting your child’s overall nutrient needs.

6. Duplicate nutritious foods, especially the ones your child likes.

If you have a fruit lover, offer 2 types of fruit at meals, such as strawberries and clementine.

Do you have a starch lover? Offer peas and pasta, or corn rolls and whole grains.

Keep your sanity: Don’t panic about a lack of vegetables or too many starchy foods! You can still include nutrition in your food.

7. Keep it simple.

Lose the idea that you have to make gourmet meals for your kids to eat healthy! Children like food to be recognizable, relatable, and delicious.

For vegetables, raw and crispy with an easy sauce on the side will do the trick for many children. Most children are perfectly happy to see a meal with slices of bread or a bowl of unadulterated fruit.

Takeaway: Change your mindset. Children prefer less complicated foods to foods that they cannot identify or that may be foreign to them.

8. Get your child involved.

Older children can peel a banana or orange. Toddlers can remove the tops of strawberries or separate orange sections.

Support and challenge your child as needed, but periodically ask him to do some of the work at the table. You will teach independence and food skills at the same time.

Basic point: Children are happy to collaborate and take care of easy food preparation and feeding tasks.

So, tell me, are you a short order cook? If so, what’s stopping you from going beyond this?

Need more help feeding picky eaters?

Read: Why Picky Eaters

Love White Food (and What You Can Do)

Plus, I have two great resources for you

: Try New Foods:

Help Picky Eaters Taste, Eat, and Like New Food: The Parent Workbook

Be sure to check out The Ultimate Guide to Feeding the Picky Eater!

The Nourished Child Blueprint — A program for parents who want to learn how to nourish and nourish healthy children with food, positive rates, and healthy habits.

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