06/14/2013 03:29 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2013

How I Solved the Dinner Dilemma

Now that summer vacation is upon us, I'm pleased that I will have one less battle to fight. I've found a solution to a particularly vexing problem in our household. Until recently, every night, my teenage daughter and I would engage in a tortuous ritual I called the "dinner dance." Here's how it would go: After working a full day, I would spend a solid hour preparing what I consider a healthful, delicious meal -- on one day it could be almond chicken, quinoa and a salad, served with a crusty baguette. As I brought the plates to the table, my 15-year-old daughter would utter the words: "That's what we're having? I don't like it! You never make anything I like!" To which I would reply, "you don't like anything!" Then she would get up from the table and make herself a turkey sandwich. Let me just say she's eaten quite a few turkey sandwiches for dinner.

I'm sure my experience isn't unique. You slave over an elaborate dinner, only to have your teen turn up their nose and push it away. But I'm here to tell you that I have addressed this dinner dilemma head on and triumphed by employing one simple method: putting my teen in the driver's seat. Research shows that if teens feel invested and empowered, they're more likely to embrace the decision. But if decisions are made for them, they're far more likely to resist, leading to major squabbles.

After one particularly heated exchange during one of my daughter's school breaks, I suggested she cook dinner. She took it on as a challenge, believing that she could do a better job satisfying the family's culinary cravings. Dismayed with the offerings in my myriad cookbooks, she perused cooking websites and found recipes online. Then I took her to the grocery store, where she selected the ingredients. Intent on cooking a healthful meal, she selected some complex dishes: a vegetarian sandwich served on a brioche, along with potatoes cooked within eggs and a salad with homemade dressing. It took her nearly two hours to grill the eggplant and all the other vegetables, as well as the egg dish that would test even the most seasoned cook. Then she had to wash the dozens of dishes she used. We all enjoyed the meal and complimented her. And I had my moment of vindication. Exhausted, she looked at me and said, "Now I understand what you go through!"

This experience has had two benefits. She's turned out to be a great cook and prepares dinner on occasion, which helps me out and provides her with a tool of self-sufficiency -- something teens sorely need in these days of helicopter parenting. Recently we sampled her fettuccine pasta with salmon and it was delicious. But more importantly, she's more inclined to try my dishes and less likely to complain, since she realizes the effort behind each meal. That has resulted in far more pleasant dinners. I also make sure to include her in my menu planning, realizing if she's able to weigh in on what I serve, she's far more likely to eat it. As a result, we don't need to buy nearly as much turkey anymore. And the dinner table is a far more harmonious place. And now that she's free from her demanding academic and extracurricular schedule for a couple of months, I'm looking forward to summer nights sprinkled with her fine cooking!