With long days and busy schedules, preparing healthy meals your whole family enjoys can be quite the challenge. This is especially true if you have a picky eater in the family who refuses to eat all things green. While it can be tempting to give in to the trap of macaroni and cheese and pizza, there are several ways to sneak healthy foods into your family’s meals and put your picky eater on a path toward healthier eating.

“A good first step is to incorporate healthy foods into meals that your picky eater already likes,” says Meaghan Butler, a Registered Dietitian for Adventist HealthCare. “Try offering blueberry pancakes, carrot muffins, fruit slices over a favorite cereal, fruit smoothies with spinach or kale, or adding extra veggies to your pasta sauce.”

You can also try preparing food differently. If steamed or boiled veggies are a bust in your family, try roasted veggies instead, and serve them with a favorite dipping sauce like hummus or low-fat ranch.

Another way to encourage healthy eating habits is to involve the whole family in the cooking process. Take your child to the grocery store, and have them help select fruits and veggies. Have them wash produce or help set the table. “When kids feel some ownership over the meal, they may be more likely to eat it,” says Ms. Butler.

With picky eaters, it is important to be patient. Research shows that young children may require between 8-15 exposures to new foods before they accept them. “The best ways to influence kids’ eating habits are leading by example and repeated exposure. Make sure you are eating your fruits and veggies, too, and give your little one some time to warm up to these new foods.” says Ms. Butler.

Check out our tips below for encouraging healthy habits for the whole family.

Building Healthy Meal Habits

  • Have healthy snack foods available – Kids like foods that they can pick up. Instead of offering chips or cookies, offer fruit and vegetable slices.
  • Encourage kids to “eat their colors” – this makes a game out of dinner time, and helps kids eat a variety of nutrients.
  • Respect your child’s appetite – If your child is not hungry, don’t pressure them to clear their plate. This can create a habit of overeating. Instead, serve small portions of healthy foods and give your child the opportunity to ask for more if they want it.

Sources: American Heart Association, Mayo Clinic. Lifework Strategies, Adventist HealthCare. The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only.  For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health

Meaghan Butler, RD, LDN

Meaghan Butler, RD, LDN

Registered Dietitian

Meaghan is a registered dietitian and outpatient diabetes educator at Adventist HealthCare Washington Adventist Hospital.