I can't speak for all mothers, but here is how I became entrapped in a chicken nugget death spiral.
I started out, as all naive American mothers do, with the best of intentions, feeding my babies lots of healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, which they actually ate. Until they were around 2, when they made some important scientific discoveries. First, they discovered the existence of highly processed, sugary foods that are literally created to be delicious and chemically addictive, because we are so advanced in America, we have engineered our own destruction. They also discovered they possessed a tremendous power, small though they may be, to reduce a grown adult woman, a woman on whom they are completely dependent for their very lives, to a begging, pleading, cowering idiot by simply refusing to eat what is offered. Finally, they discovered that that pathetic adult woman had the added vulnerability of hating to cook, which meant the more time the woman spent planning and preparing food, the more insane she would become when the food was refused. Ability to produce insanity=WORLD DOMINATION.
Long, long story short, both my kids will now eat four foods. Not four food groups, four foods. And the list keeps shrinking. Just because they loved pasta a month ago does not mean they will love it a month hence. And you can forget about a casserole. Thou shalt not mix food substances.
Obviously, this is an unacceptable situation, because casseroles are the easiest thing to make, and they freeze well. Also, my kids are endanger of becoming malnourished. Good thing American toothpaste has fluoride in it, that is at least one nutrient they are getting. Oh, you aren't supposed to swallow toothpaste? Dammit, they aren't getting any nutrition then. So, yeah, it's not good.
As with so much of my parenting, on this I travel between poles of sloth/resignation and frantic "makeovers." Every third week is New Year's Day in my house. I have made so many resolutions, devised so many strategies and gone through so many plans, I have lost count. My kids always, ALWAYS win the war of attrition. They are ruthless and without pity or shame. And even more embarrassing, they often win the battle of wits too. I used to think I was pretty smart. Now I know I am a total sucker.
As I mentioned, my achilles heel is that I hate to cook. More specifically, I hate deciding what to cook, buying all the stuff I need to cook more than 30 minutes before I have to cook it, and then cooking it while people are yelling at me. Or even if there is a chance people will yell at me. It's very bizarre, but I literally get a kind of "flight or fight" thing when I start to cook, a panic that someone is going to interrupt me or harass me or pee on something before I am finished, as if the distraction will cause my stove to explode and burn up my entire house. Rationally, I have no idea why this stresses me out, it's actually very bizarre, but nonetheless, I feel like I am in a race against time, like I'm a spy at a Russian Embassy party madly trying to photograph all the secret documents before my date discovers I'm not actually a Brazilian swimsuit model. It's very stressful. I've tried various meal planning strategies and services. I tried Blue Apron, which sends you 2-4 recipes a week with all the ingredients you need. I like someone telling me what to do, however, they tell me to make meals that are pretty gourmet for kids who eat 4 foods. I tried Munchery, which just delivers the meals already cooked. A little expensive, but not too bad, again, assuming my kids would eat any of their selections, which they won't.
So of course the solution is to do some kind of tough love strategy where my children are forced to eat whatever is put before them. I have friends that make their kids clean their plate or they get that same plate over and over and over again until they do. These people obviously have no mental health issues and are ideal candidates for dangerous secret missions in which they could be captured and tortured by our enemies. The doctor told me to "put a small amount of a variety of foods" on their plates and then comment no further, promising me that in time, they would be eating escargot, sushi and raw kale. Wrong, doctor, so wrong. They won't eat any of that crap, they will just wait until their next birthday party invite and binge on enough cake to survive until Christmas. I've tried making them take a bite of everything lest they never eat sugar again. This has resulted in extended, rather Clintonian negotiations about what the definition of "bite" is, accompanied by Oscar-worthy performances of disgust and revulsion (think Tim Robbins crawling through raw sewage in The Shawshank Redemption). You might point out that a woman who has run two marathons should have the mental toughness to withstand some extended whining, but I just don't.
I have come to absolutely hate dinner time in my house. The question of "What's for dinner?" sends chills down my spine. I either have no idea what is for dinner, or, more rarely, I have spent much time and energy coming up with a plan, the announcement of which is greeted by loud protestations and pretend gagging noises. What I really want to do is yell, "I AM DONE! FEED YOURSELVES!" but this is actually illegal so...Here I am, buying chicken nuggets and peanut butter in bulk. Until one of my children decides they no longer like peanut butter. Then it will just be chicken nuggets. Until they both decide they eat nothing but ice cream. That day is coming.
Of course, it doesn't help assuage my guilt that I live in a community where moms bake their own organic flax/kale goldfish crackers. I wish I were joking, but I met a real woman who does this. She informed me that you can buy a tiny goldfish-shaped cookie cutter to assist you in this important endeavor. I had no idea. That amazon.com truly is a wonder.
If we went right now to a refugee camp in South Sudan and told the mothers there that American mothers were driven to psychiatric distress cutting out tiny goldfish crackers and begging their children to eat something so appalling as a vegetable, those mothers' heads would probably explode just trying to process the existence of such a world. What I would really like to do is send my children to a refugee camp, not forever, just for like a week. See how they like eating peanut paste and fortified corn-soy mush for every meal. The whining would probably create an entirely new refugee crisis, as camp residents fled to escape the psychological torture and take their chances with lions and war lords. Or they would just stone my children. Either way, it wouldn't be pretty.
But probably no worse than meal time in my house.