Cooking Healthful Joyful Meals with a Picky Family

By Leo Babauta

Shifting from a convenient but unhealthy diet to one of healthful, delicious joy can be a challenge when you’re living alone — but there’s a whole new level of challenge if you are part of a family.

The problem: while you might want to change to a new style of eating, picky eaters (kids, but also spouses) can disagree with the change.

Who wants to eat kale when fried chicken and pizza are go-to staples? Who wants to eat oats and fruit when Poptarts and sausages are the usual breakfast foods?

Well, me. And maybe you. But how do we deal with a family full of picky eaters?

A woman in my Sea Change Program asked me:

“I’ve got 2 kids who are picky and a husband who doesn’t generally like vegetables and really hates having the same meal 2 nights in a row. I know that you have a big family and I’m sure there’s someone in your household that is picky. 😉 How has this impacted the way you or your wife meal plans? I really want to simplify my grocery list and for all of us to eat healthier.”

So … I don’t claim to have all the answers. We have been somewhat successful here (with our family of 8), but it took awhile, and in truth, we still have plenty of picky eaters in our family.

That said, I’ll share what has worked for us:

  1. We try to find things that the whole family likes that are healthy and tasty. That might mean veggie tacos, veggie spaghetti (with whole wheat noodles if we can get away with it), sushi bowls, anything they might all like.
  2. Other times, we cook something less healthy that they would like, and either join them or cook our own meals (which we might make to last for a few days).
  3. We often make a lot of food for the family dinner and then have leftovers for lunch, and possibly another dinner or two (like a big pot of soup or chili). If your husband doesn’t like the same dinner twice in a row, he might be open to having it again in a few days.
  4. We talk to the kids and try to get them to explore foods they don’t always like. This doesn’t always work, though. But it’s worth an ongoing conversation. You might try this with your husband as well. It helps to cook the vegetables in different ways that make them tastier, just to get them to open up to it. For example, if they don’t like kale, they might enjoy kale chips (baked with olive oil to a crisp, with seasonings).
  5. Sometimes we cook a dish that has something one of the kids doesn’t like (mushrooms, for example), but we cook the mushrooms on the side, and allow them to leave off the mushrooms. This can get complicated but sometimes it’s not too hard.
  6. If someone doesn’t like the dinner, they can just have a little of it and then make themselves a PB&J sandwich or grilled cheese or something. Our kids can cook simple things for themselves.
  7. Finally, we get everyone involved in the meal planning. Everyone looks for meal ideas online. Vote on what to eat. Take one meal a week to cook themselves. If they cook it, they’re likely to eat it!

You don’t have to do all of these, but there might be a couple ideas here that work for you.

In the end, embrace the Zen Habits philosophy of small, gradual change. You don’t have to do all of this overnight. But there’s also the Zen Habits philosophy of loving the change you’re creating — how can you show them that this is a joyful change to delicious nutritiousness?

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