Getting good food into those you love

Healthy Meals for Picky Eaters

by Leanne Ely


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If you're trying your best to lose weight and/or improve your health, it can be challenging to stick with it (to say the least) if your family isn't on board with the changes. When you're struggling to make the right food choices, negative feedback from the dinner table every night can push you back to old ways pretty quick. (What's this? I don't eat green things. I don't like that. Why do you hate us?)

Lucky for you, there are some tricks you can use to help your picky family be part of your changes, without them even realizing it (sneaky).

Don't make an announcement. If you sit down at the dinner table one night and tell everyone that you'll all be eating healthy from now on (huge mistake), your family is going to convince themselves that meals are going to be bland and yucky.

Increase veggies 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 sauteing them with a bit of bacon. This makes it less about your lifestyle changes and more about getting everyone a bit healthier.

Make small changes. If you live with other people, you may not wish to throw away all of the packaged foods, sugary salad dressings, and frozen entrees at once. A big dramatic act like this will scare them and will make your life difficult. Start slow by making little, barely noticeable changes. Once you run out of a certain salad dressing, for example, don't replace it with the same kind (make your own or buy a healthy version). Make everyone's favorite lasagna, but add more vegetables to the sauce and add a bit less cheese. Serve with a salad instead of garlic bread.

Make a healthy version of familiar recipes. Let's go back to the lasagna example. If you're giving up gluten but the family isn't, go ahead and make your world-famous lasagna, but make your own serving with zucchini noodles instead of wheat. Let everyone try a small piece of yours, so they see how delicious it is.

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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. Little changes like this all add up, and it isn't going to be a huge shock to your loved ones' systems.

Involve them. If you're making fajitas, provide everyone with healthy topping options like red onions, tomatoes, peppers, refried beans, cheese, lettuce, salsa, etc. Place everything on the table, and make a rule that everyone has to either choose three toppings (or three different colors) or eat their fajita with extra salad. You can do something similar with a variety of healthy foods like chili, soup, and pasta. 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 without forcing it on them. (Directly!)

Experiment with salads. When you're trying to increase the number of salads your family is eating, it's going to take trial and error. A bowl full of iceberg lettuce is not going to make anyone your friend. Prepare a big bowl of greens and serve with a variety of meats, colorful veggies, boiled eggs, avocado, nuts, and dried fruits. See what everyone gravitates towards.

Make notes. Keep a bit of a food journal, so you can remember which meals your family enjoyed and which they did not. Allow everyone to choose one or two foods they will not eat. Promise that you will do your best to avoid those foods in your meals if they promise to be open minded about what you serve.

Be creative, and you'll be surprised at the gains you can make with your picky family while eating a healthier diet!


Leanne Ely is a New York Times best selling author of Body Clutter and the popular Saving Dinner cookbook series. According to Woman's Day Magazine, she is the expert on family cooking.

Leanne's syndicated newspaper column, The Dinner Diva can be found in 250 newspapers nationwide and in Canada. Her vast broadcast experience includes media satellite tours, QVC several times as well as guesting on several national television shows, including HGTV's Simple Solutions, ABC Family's Living the Life, Ivanhoe's Smart Woman, Small Talk for Parents and Talk of the Town. She has guest chef-ed on the cooking show, Carolina Cooks and has taught cooking classes all over the country for Bloomingdale's.

In addition, she is a seasoned radio personality. Leanne's own radio show, Heart of A Woman aired during drive time in two major California markets, Los Angeles and San Diego. Her current show, The Dinner Diva is one of the top Blog Talk Radio shows on the Internet.

On the Internet, she pens the Food for Thought column for the immensely popular, FlyLady.net, with over half a million readers weekly. She has been featured in Woman's Day magazine, the Chicago Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, Orange County Register - to name a few. Additionally, she is a sought after speaker and has spoken all over the country, with keynote addresses to corporate and non-profit entities. SavingDinner.com. Visit Leanne Ely on Google+.

Take the Next Step:

  • It is possible to eat organic foods while on a tight budget! Don't miss these savvy ways to save.
  • Do you want to drop you bad food habits without busting your food budget? Some of the healthiest foods around also cost the least! Here are some healthy foods under $1.
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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