“I don’t want to eat what you made for dinner”

“Eli, you don’t even know what I made”

“I don’t want it!!”

Welcome to dinner at our house, every night of the week. My fickle 4-year-old can declare hamburgers his favorite meal, but as soon as it hits the table, it loses all appeal. And what about beef stew, chili or sesame noodles? Not even a contender. If he is having lunch at a playdate’s (gluten-free, dairy-free) household, my friend can get him to eat chicken veggie stew and then ask for salad. So it’s just me, right? That’s the agony of being someone’s mother, I think — we already have four years of baggage between us, and so many years of proving one’s independence ahead of us.

The thing is, I am still going to serve beef stew, chili, and sesame noodles loaded up with veggies. Because I want to eat delicious things and fill my body with good food, just the same as I want that for my kids. And I expect that someday Eli will eat them happily (right? Fingers crossed). But for now, he is complaining that he wants a snack instead of dinner. Because snacks are yummy and dinner is not.

Recently we have come to surprising solution that we both agree on. He will sit at the table with us and try dinner for 5 minutes. And then he can go to the kitchen and make himself a peanut butter and honey sandwich. This was his idea, shouted in defiance the first time, “FINE, I am going to make myself a sandwich!”

He got the idea after he helped me make lunch one day and he learned how to make his favorite sandwich. And being a younger sibling, and always wanting to keep up, he was determined to do it all on his own. Even though his older brother would rather starve than prepare his own meal.

And so here we are, a solution that seems partly genius (no extra work for me, he is taking care of his needs, and I still get him to try dinner), and partly like a disaster in the making (what if decides that he wants to eat peanut butter and honey all the time? What if he never eats any veggies? Can he be too independent?). There was one stretch where he had peanut butter and honey for 4 or 5 meals in a row, but he made them all himself, and eventually — just as I was beginning to wonder how long it takes to get scurvy — he came back to the family meal.