As a mom, it's easy to spend a lot of your time feeling guilty. From the moment that little pink line appears on the pregnancy test, it seems like there's something around every corner making you feel like a lousy mom. And food—how you feed your child, what your child eats, what your child doesn't eat—is the granddaddy of them all. But as far as I'm concerned, you can officially cancel these five dinnertime guilt trips:
1. Uneaten vegetables: As a parent, your job is to decide what food to offer and when to offer it. Your child's job is to decide whether to eat it (and how much to eat). That's called the Division of Responsibility, a concept created by dietitian Ellyn Satter that makes your job a whole lot easier. It means no more negotiations, no more bribing. Just continue to offer different kinds of vegetables in different kinds of ways and be patient with your kids. (Read: Why I Don't Make My Kids Take Just One Bite)
2. Packaged foods: There's no shame in relying on some packaged and convenience foods to get the job done at dinner. Some of my favorites: packaged tortillas, frozen sweet potato fries, breaded fish, canned beans, jarred pasta sauce, and instant brown rice. I don't feel guilty about it, because having these kinds of staples on hand means dinner is easier to get on the table (so I'm less likely to order a pizza or take out).
3. Ketchup and ranch dressing: Sauces and dips should be embraced at your table if your kids like them. That's because they can actually serve as a "bridge" that helps your child to accept lots of different kinds of foods, including veggies (Read: In Defense of Ranch Dressing). Choose a condiment with natural ingredients, like Simply Heinz Ketchup, made with no high fructose corn syrup. And keep in mind that they're often short-term tools (at least in the quantities kids tend to use them). In other words, your child probably won't be dunking his asparagus into barbecue sauce when he's a grown-up.
4. Dessert: It's okay to serve (and love!) dessert—and yes, you can even serve it on the table with dinner! (Read: Got Dessert-Obsessed Kids? This Solution Sounds Crazy—But It Works!) And no, kids shouldn't have to take a certain number of bites or eat their vegetables before getting it. A small scoop of ice cream or cookie at dinnertime will better fit into your family's day if you reduce added sugars in other places (read: The Truth About Kids And Added Sugars).
5. Chaos: Not having picture-perfect family dinners where everyone shares stories of their days and uses all their table manners? (Do those even exist?) It's okay if dinnertime is sometimes loud and messy and, let's face it, not always enjoyable. But maintaining the ritual of family dinners is what's important—and it will get easier.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on a cookbook for busy families called Dinnertime Survival Guide. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.
Image: Family meal via Shutterstock