If there is one theme I hear from parents (myself included) over and again, it’s this: “My child is SUCH a picky eater.” From our perspective, it’s easy to agonize: Why won’t they eat what I make? Will they ever be a good eater? Especially as we find ourselves scraping off the food from their untouched plate (as well as our planning, shopping, cooking, hopes, and dreams) into the garbage can. Insert sense of defeat.

It’s a battle that I too had struggled with my 4-year-old (and often ended up losing). But it wasn’t until I considered mealtime from his perspective that things got way better. The truth is that most nights, he doesn’t have much say to what ends up on his plate. I cook, he eats (or doesn’t). It’s especially problematic when you combine parents like me who are constantly trying to “prevent pickiness” by introducing new foods and flavors to their control-freak children. It’s as disastrous as putting on the History Channel when all they want is Paw Patrol.

All this drama ended for me once I decided to let my kid start bossing me around. Hear me out: The truth is that many “picky” kids aren’t that picky–they just want to run the show. And giving them a sense of control over their food can make mealtime way more sane. My “boss” picks out one recipe each week from a cookbook (based on the photo), and we cook together whatever he picks. Last week, it was an artichoke pesto pasta. The week before, it was shrimp fried rice. And guess what? He eats it! This, from a kid who would previously take one look at an artichoke and go on a hunger strike for 24 hours.

But this time, there’s no struggle, both because he wants to like what he’s picked AND because there are no surprises about what shows up on his plate: He knows exactly what to expect when he sits down at the table and he takes pride in his work.

Of course, cooking dinner together every night isn’t possible for me or for any sane parent, but I’ve found other ways to give my kids the feeling of control that makes mealtime way more successful. Here are 5 tips that work:

  • Put your child in charge of picking out fruits and veggies at the farm market or grocery store. Bonus points if he bags it (read: less work for you).

  • Give ’em 2 choices: “Do you want carrots or red pepper slices in your lunchbox?” “Peas or corn for dinner?”

  • Have him assemble his own meal: taco nights, DIY rice bowls, pizza parties–think any meal that lets your kid pick his toppings.

  • Give him the job of doing the finishing touches, whether that’s sprinkling cinnamon on their oatmeal, adding herbs or salt to the soup, adding cheese to the pasta–whatever!

  • Make your toddler the dinnertime king or queen who’s allowed to create 1 dinnertime “rule,” such as “tonight we’re eating on a picnic blanket” or “everyone must wear a hat to the table.”  Got more than one kid? Do it on rotation and let them look forward to their special night.

How do you let your kid control you? Comment below to help another mama out.