Whether the picky eater in your family is a finicky toddler, a headstrong teenager or perhaps even yourself, everyone needs to eat a balanced, healthy dinner. Of course, it can be difficult to create a meal plan when you know that some or all of the nutritious foods on the list will be choked down or left uneaten on the plate. With some strategic planning -- and, in some cases, a few sneaky tactics -- you'll be less likely to battle with a picky eater over the daily meals.
Try a New Food Each Week
Part of effective meal planning often involves sitting down with the local store’s weekly circular and determining what’s on sale. Get your picky eater in on this habit by having her go through the flier and pick out one new food each week that you’ll try together as a family. You might have to put limits on which types of food the picky eater can choose -- items from the produce, meat or grains section are allowed, but new types of candy shouldn’t be. Provide a semblance of control over what he eats by letting him pick the new, scary item on this week’s meal plan. At the same time, add an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables that are on sale to your meal plan. According to Super Healthy Kids, children are particularly likely to eat with their eyes first, and the bright colors of produce could be appealing. Plan an oversized salad for dinner, full of colorful produce and topped with lean protein. Let the picky eater choose which vegetables go on top of the leafy green base, and require her to pick a new vegetable to throw in the mix.
Update Less-Healthy Favorites
Sometimes, you need to meet a picky eater in the middle rather than battling him every night. If you know he loves macaroni and cheese, put it on the meal plan -- but make it over into something a little more nutritious by using whole-wheat noodles, skim milk and reduced-fat cheese. A healthier breakfast to put on your meal plan could be pancakes, but substitute half of the regular all-purpose flour with whole-wheat or oat flour, and add antioxidant-rich blueberries rather than chocolate chips. According to Kids Eat Right from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children naturally prefer sweet or salty foods while rejecting bitter and sour foods. Take that into consideration when planning your meals.
Make a One-Meal Rule
Dr. Bill Dietz told the "New York Times" that he recommends -- for your own sanity -- instituting a "one-meal rule," meaning that you only plan and cook one meal for the whole family for each mealtime. But you shouldn't attempt to make that one meal into something they won't eat, such as a spicy Indian dish for those who can't handle heat. If you know everyone enjoys a spaghetti dinner, add that to the meal plan once a week, combined with a green salad and whole-wheat dinner rolls for a family-pleasing, nutritious dinner. If your picky eater decides that he doesn't like marinara sauce this week, let him choose to eat plain spaghetti or make himself a sandwich. Other meals that could please the whole family include eggs and turkey bacon for breakfast, shrimp quesadillas made with low-fat cheese for lunch and grilled chicken breasts with corn on the cob for dinner.
When all else fails, working around a picky eater may mean being slightly deceptive and hiding nutritious foods in acceptable dishes. If you're the picky eater of your family, this might even work on your own palate. For example, grate zucchini and eggplant into pasta sauce; the color will be hidden by the bright-red of the tomato sauce. You can chop up mushrooms and parsnips and add them to a turkey meatloaf. Don't over-rely on this tactic, however; it's healthier to build a relationship with nutritious foods and learn to love their tastes and textures.
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: Picky Eating - How to Cope
- New York Times: The Picky Eater Plan: 12 Ideas to Take Back the Dinner Table
- Super Healthy Kids: How to Get Your Kids to Be Good Eaters Using Choose My Plate
- The Kitchn: How Do You Get a Fussy Adult to Eat Their Vegetables?
- Kids Eat Right: Why Is My Child a Picky Eater?