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Too often parents become short-order cooks when picky preschoolers or temperamental teens turn up their noses at what's for dinner.

The next thing you know you're cooking two or three different dishes to accommodate different tastes, likes and dislikes. Repeat after me: your kitchen is not a restaurant, and children should not be able to order food from a menu of their preferences.

Unless a child has medically diagnosed food allergies or intolerances, the family dinner should be something the whole family enjoys together.

Here's how to make that happen:

Get kids involved with meal planning, shopping and food preparation and this way they'll be less likely to be critical of meals.

Allow kids to pick out a favorite meal or recipe; for example, Tamara picks Tuesday as taco night.

Don't let kids fill up on snacks, sodas or juices before dinner. If kids are hungry, let them have raw vegetables and dip. That way, they are getting their servings of vegetables out of the way!

Children, teens and adults should be encouraged to sit down together and eat dinner with the family, and this means that everyone eats the same thing. Slight variations are acceptable — for example, sauces on the side or less-spicy food for younger children — but making completely different dishes for each child should not be an option.

If you allow this, you are endorsing picky eating habits and this will present more problems for you down the road. Your children will not starve if they refuse to eat. They should be taught to try new foods and at the very least, to take the "no thank you" bite. Removing distractions from mealtime should also be a priority. That means all screens — TVs, smart phones, iPads and games — should not be at the table for children or adults.

It is worth mentioning that in some cases that child we call a "picky" eater may be an indication of more serious problems that have been linked to psychiatric disorders. If your child's refusal of food becomes more of a habit than a passing phase, this is definitely something to speak about with your medical-care provider.

The bottom line

The family meal should be something shared, not a menu from which individuals order.

Talk to Leah

Leah McGrath is the corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets. Follow her @InglesDietitian. Contact her at Lmcgrath@ingles-markets.com, 800-334-4936 or at www.ingles-markets.com/ask_leah.

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