My little darlings used to make my dinner-cooking life a living hell. No matter if they loved Spaghetti Bolognese last week. This week if I served it up, they’d look at me as if I was asking them to eat a puppy.
I howled about nutrition, the importance of green vegetables, or that there’s no dessert until they’ve finished their dinner. They refused my meal. Even to the point of turning down dessert.
How can I fight that?
Then I remembered about stakeholder engagement. If people have got a vested interest in the outcome of a project, they will be more inclined to look for compromises and come up with solutions to problems.
So, the night before shopping night, I sat them down with a piece of paper and a pen each. “Here’s the brief, kids. You tell me what meals you want to eat for the week. And I will cook them.” Their eyes lit up. Visions of pizzas danced in their heads.
“However,” I went on, “Each meal has to be real food, and include a green vegetable which you agree to eat. And frozen peas are not a green vegetable. They don’t count.” (Sorry, Mr Heinz.)
They snapped into focus, and began a brisk negotiation together, to agree what we’d eat for five working nights. One weekend night is a takeaway. One is potluck. I was happy to cook the same meal five nights running if they’d eat it. But they pulled out all their favourites.
Phase Two was the shop. We took the list of the ingredients that they’d written for the week, and what they needed for lunches.
And I carried a handful of cash. Nice crisp notes. The food budget for the week. (Not all of it, obviously.)
As we entered the market and pulled out a shopping trolley, I waved the cash and the list gently in front of them. “Okay, next task. If you buy every ingredient we need on this list, and there’s any money left over…” I had their undivided attention.
“You can keep it.”
There was a pregnant pause. “Really?” “Really.”
One of them elbowed me aside and muscled his way into pushing the trolley. The other began to price out the difference between ready packed bags of apples, and the precise number they’d need for school lunches. Total buy-in.
I moseyed along behind, occasionally pointing out specials.
It was bliss. No fights over frozen pizzas. No nagging for ice cream and biscuits. We zoomed through the soda section as if it didn’t exist.
They carefully unpacked everything onto the checkout counter and watched like hawks as it was totalled up.
Once the bags were home, unpacked and the food put away, I ritually handed over the balance. Half each.
Again, total focus.
We ate a good meal every night.
And they finished their greens.