You’ve just spent the last 2 hours slaving over the stove, creating a picture perfect meal that’s chock full of nutritious ingredients. You’re excited to eat more whole foods and delighted to share this healthy meal with your family. But when you call your partner and kids to the table, you hear groans and complaints about how “yucky” it all looks. No one wants to eat what you’ve made.
This experience is all-too-common for those trying to feed their families healthier food, especially if your family is used to a more standard American fare. It’s frustrating to pour so much love and time into selecting healthy recipes and preparing nutritious meals, only to have everyone else skip dinner and reach for a bowl of sugary cereal in protest of your cooking.
So what do you do? You might want to just throw in the towel and go back to making hamburger helper, greasy tacos, or whatever else the kids typically order for dinner. Is it hopeless or is there a way to get your family members to eat healthy without all the whining?
Read on for some great tips on how to help your picky eaters make the transition from the standard western diet to a whole foods-based diet.
How to Help Your Picky Eaters to Love Whole Foods
1. Teach them why whole foods matter.
The first step to convincing anyone about why they should put forth the effort to like the foods you’re serving them is to teach them about why they should even try. You can educate your family about whole foods, whether they are little preschoolers or big adults. Talk about healthy bodies, nutrients, and how whole foods give us the rainbow of nutrients we need to build up strong bodies and minds.
2. Show them where food comes from.
If you can, take your family on a tour of a local farm. Let them taste fresh veggies right from the ground or vine, pet the goat that produces the milk, and pick a delicious red apple right from the tree. Now take them to tour a food manufacturing plant (if possible). Discuss the differences in food production and help them see how whole foods just feel better to our bodies and to the environment (and animals too!).
3. Make small changes to their normal.
If your family is used to eating things like spaghetti and pancakes, slowly switch out processed grains for whole grains. Choose whole grain pasta and whole grain flour. Mix it half and half at first, if they don’t immediately love the whole grain variety. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to get them to eat the whole grain version after they become used to it. Make an easy switch with other food items by trading out unhealthy treats, sauces, and snacks for the organic variety.
4. Encourage whole food snacking.
Make it easy for family members to choose to munch on an apple, some celery with peanut butter, or fresh watermelon. These are all kid and adult-friendly foods that are infinitely healthier than chips, candy, and sugary drinks. Put it out where it’s easy to reach and they can help themselves.
5. Take them shopping and let them pick.
Take your picky eater (or your grown picky eater!) shopping with you at a health food store. Tell them what you’re there to buy and that you need their help choosing the items. Let them pick out fruits and veggies that look tasty to them, and maybe a healthy treat or two. Giving them choices and involving them in the process will help them feel less resistant to change.
6. Sneak veggies in, where you can.
Easy ways to do this include putting greens in smoothies, creating a veggie soup and then blending it so it’s creamy, or chopping veggies very small and putting them in foods like lasagna or homemade mac and cheese. Just make sure to tell your family what they ate afterward so they can get used to the idea that these foods are actually tasty.
7. Include them in your meal planning.
When given a choice, kids and adults can help you figure out how to compromise. If one kid really wants tacos for dinner, discuss how you can make it healthier. Tell them that you’ll make tacos, but it needs to be whole foods based. Involve them in choosing the ingredients that will make the dish more nutritious. They’ll feel empowered and not forced, and it will leave them more educated about how to turn their favorites into healthy recipes.
8. Keep it positive.
While it’s really helpful to have a “one-bite rule” at your house, you want to make sure the rest of the whole foods eating experience is positive. Don’t put pressure on your kids or make them cry over foods they don’t want to eat. Try to give them a great impression of the foods you want them to eat. For kids and adults, make sure that you’re serving dishes that look appealing and similar enough to foods they’re used to.
9. Have realistic expectations.
Not everyone is ready to toss out all the junk food and start eating brussel sprouts and sauerkraut immediately. Some people take more time to get there. Realize that picky eaters might need to take a slower path to healthy eating and that’s okay. It’s better to make it a positive, happy, bonding experience, instead of causing everyone to feel resentful toward you for taking away their favorite foods. Make it your goal to educate, inspire, and empower your family to take charge of their own health with good food.
Keep At It – They’ll Get There!
It can be really frustrating to know you want to change your family’s diet, but to instead be met with a wall of resistance. Learn to take lots of deep breaths, to not let your frustrations get the better of you, and to keep a positive outlook on the process.
For some people, it could take a long while before they are eating the foods you want them to eat. Others might be fine to switch gears at a much quicker pace. Try to make room for everyone’s process at your family table. By creating a supportive, loving environment, you can slowly but surely transform your family’s health and empower your loved ones’ futures.
You can do it!