What’s this? I don’t eat green things. I don’t like that. Why do you hate us?
These statements are often all too familiar to those who have a picky eater (or 2) in their household. When you are struggling to make the right food choices, negative feedback from the dinner table every night can push you back to old ways pretty quickly.
To help your picky family be on board with the changes you want to make, without them even realizing it, I’ve compiled a few hints and tips to help out. Try one, or a few of them, and keep reminding yourself that change may not happen overnight, but each shift is a step forward to better nourishing your loved ones.
1. Honesty is not always the best policy.
If you sit down at the dinner table one night and tell everyone that you will all be adopting a healthier way of eating, you will be making a huge mistake. Your family is going to convince themselves that these new foods and meals are going to be bland, tasteless and thoroughly unenjoyable.
2. Increase vegetable portions gradually.
If your family members are not fans of vegetables, start by serving the ones they do enjoy, and find new ways of cooking those they do not. Add a salad at the center of the table for every meal, and let everyone choose their own toppings or dressings. If you know they like broccoli, try kohlrabi one night (they taste similar). If your family makes a face at Brussels sprouts, try sautéing them with a bit of bacon. This then becomes less about specific lifestyle changes, and more about getting some healthier options in their bellies.
3. Small changes yield lasting results.
In order to preserve the peace and prevent an all-out mutiny, you may not wish to throw away all of the packaged foods, sugary salad dressings, and frozen entrees all at once. A big dramatic act like this will scare your troops and make your transition more difficult. Start slow by making little, barely noticeable changes. Once you run out of a certain salad dressing, for example, make your own, it is easier than you think, rather than replacing it with the same one. Make everyone’s favorite lasagna or casserole, but add more vegetables to the sauce and maybe a little less cheese. Serve with a salad instead of garlic bread.
4. Improve on the original.
Using the same lasagne or casserole, try using zucchini noodles or cauliflower instead of wheat or potatoes. Let everyone try a small piece and decide for themselves how delicious it is. Remember hint number 1 when switching up family favourites.
5. Find healthier ways of preparing things.
If you normally fry your chicken, use the same recipe, but bake it in the oven instead. Cook foods in coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. Bake muffins with whole wheat or coconut flour instead of white. Halve the amount of sugar in all recipes and substitute with honey. Small changes add up, without being a shock to the body or mind.
6. Create some rules, but provide flexibility.
When making your new, improved lettuce wrapped ‘fajitas’, provide a variety of healthy topping options to choose from including red onions, tomatoes, peppers, pepitas ( pumpkin seeds) , lettuce and salsa. Place everything on the table, and let your family members either choose three toppings (or three different colors) or eat their fajita with extra salad. You can do something similar with a variety of your adapted foods like chili, soup, and vegetable noodles. Put all of the options on the table and let them choose what they want. Then you can eat as many vegetables as you want and they are eating more healthy options without feeling like you are forcing it on them. (Directly!)
7. Experiment with salads.
It is going to take a little effort and some trial and error when trying to increase the number of salads your family is eating. A bowl full of ice burg lettuce is not going to be appealing or appetizing to most. Prepare a big bowl of greens and serve with a variety of additions including meats, colorful veggies, boiled eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, pickles, dried fruits. Note your family’s favourites and the additions they gravitate towards most.
8. Write it down
Keep a modified food journal which will provide you with the information about which meals your family enjoyed the most and the least. Allow everyone to choose one or two foods they will not eat. Commit to doing your best to avoid those foods in your meals, if they promise to be open minded about what you serve.
A few extra pointers when working on shifting your children’s (or adult partner’s) picky eating behavior:
• Set a good example. Become aware of the words you use and the way you express your thoughts and feelings around food. Show your children your willingness and adaptability around new foods. They can only be what they see. If you refuse to eat certain (or all) vegetables or try new foods, they will have no interest in doing so either!
• Involve children in meal planning and cooking (where appropriate). This gives them a sense of contribution and they may get to pick their favorite foods to incorporate into a menu. There are so many Paleo versions of family favorites – play with them a little.
• Stop giving your children soda or juice. These are highly processed and sugar laden, often containing more sugar than soda, and result in a hyper-stimulation and desensitization of their developing palates. It also affects behavior and can even damage the brain and neural pathways.
• Stop buying foods you prefer your child not eat. If there are no ‘kid foods’ in the house, it does become easier to encourage your child to eat healthier whole foods.
• Prepare only one meal for each mealtime. You are not a restaurant. Preparing a protein and a variety of vegetable dishes for each meal will give your child options while ensuring that the necessary nourishment is available.
Be creative, and you’ll be surprised at the gains you can make with your picky family while gently moving them towards a more varied and nutritious diet!
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com