I sat at my parents’ faux-wood kitchen table, alone except for the whoosh of the dishwasher and a Corelle plate containing a dreaded hunk of “London Broil.”

Everyone else had left, their dinners finished, but I was to sit at that table until I ate that beef, which I remember as an unyielding brown wad, a sort of perversely meat-flavored chewing gum. “Just make sure they eat their meat,” a pediatrician had told my mother in the 1970s. Clearly, my parents had taken this advice to heart.

I knew that I wanted my dinner table to be different. And I guess in some small ways, it is. I have never made, and will never make, London Broil. Nor do we require the kids to “clean their plates.”

Just as my parents did, though, I search for the best advice on feeding my kids. When my three were tiny, I made a lot of baby food from scratch, carefully portioning pureed fruits and veggies into ice cube trays for future meals. I did not feed them sugar or junk, and smiled proudly (and perhaps a bit smugly) at my babies gurgling happily over peas and sweet potatoes and chicken and blueberries. They would simply learn to eat well, because I fed them well. Right?

Not so fast, mama. As babies turned to toddlers, each of my three children started subtracting things from their approved menu of foods. Early on, they happily ate everything we gave them. Then they began to dial it back – more and more often pushing away the foods that weren’t sweet, bready, or fatty.

They’re older now, but not much has changed for the better. I recently made a new recipe, a tasty black bean and sweet potato chili – well, my husband and I thought it was tasty. The 9-year-old ate two bowls – success?! – but piled all the sweet potato chunks in a sad reject pile on his plate. The 7-year-old ate a salad and one black bean and declared she’d like some chocolate almonds for dessert. The 4-year-old echoed the dessert demand, yelling,”“Me too! I licked the sweet potato!” (That lick, friends, was the sum total of her attempt to eat any part of the meal.)

I’m left wondering if any of it really matters. My kids are the same as I was as a child – picky – and I’m now the same as my parents were – well-meaning and discouraged. Even the whole dinnertime experience is remarkably similar: wrinkled noses and twiddling forks and complaining are the default response, and I’m really tired of it. Just so tired.

Yet, I try, because that’s what parents are expected to do. I make fresh, tasty food. I encourage, but never demand, tastes of everything. I don’t make alternative kid meals. We’re teaching the kids to cook, and we grocery shop with them. I even read “French Kids Eat Everything” since that certainly did not describe my kids, and gleaned a bit of encouragement that children often come around to liking foods after many tries. There are glimmers of hope. We’ve mostly convinced the kids to politely say “I could get used to it” instead of “yuck,” though their words would be more reassuring (and pleasant) if the grimaces also disappeared.

“They’ll come around,” my husband and I say to each other regularly. Somehow, some way, we remain optimistic that these children of ours will end up to be good eaters. Mostly, though, it feels like a lot of watching the sausage get made. (Like last night, when the 4-year-old asked to try the roasted potatoes and, upon doing so, was so disgusted she ran and spat the food in the trash.)

I’m guessing my parents were just as tired and frustrated as we are at the dinner table. Because babies cry, 3-year-olds pee their pants, 9-year-old boys love Minecraft – and children complain about dinner. Some things in parenting, perhaps, are just to be endured. It’s not pretty right now, but we’ll keep enduring. At the table, together.

Sharon Holbrook is a writer living in Cleveland, Ohio. You can find her at sharonholbrook.com and on Twitter @sharon_holbrook.

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