Picky Eaters: Feeding the Whole Family without Losing Your Mind

Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN

Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, providing education and support prior to and following weight loss surgery.

If you have children, you are probably familiar with the struggle of getting them to eat more than chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. No matter how hard we try to get our kids to eat a variety of healthy foods, they often remain stubbornly committed to their favorites. As parents, this can be frustrating because it means that our own food choices are limited by what our children will (and won't) eat.

1) It's a common scenario. The adults want to have a delicious, balanced meal for dinner, but the kids will only eat plain pasta or grilled cheese sandwiches. This leaves parents in an awkward position... Should they make separate meals for the kids and themselves, or should they just give up and make something everyone will actually eat? Unfortunately, this situation often results in sacrificing quality ingredients and flavor just so everyone can enjoy the same meal. Then, add navigating weight loss surgery to the mix of things... This is where it can become overwhelming because you are worried about your meal plan and goals.

2) Picky eating isn't just annoying. It can also be expensive. Preparing separate meals for a family can mean double the grocery bill, especially if one option is particularly pricey (think organic produce or grass-fed beef). And then there's the time factor! Not only do you have to spend more time in the kitchen preparing two different sets of ingredients, but it also takes longer for your picky eater to sit down and finish their meal.

3) Fortunately, there are ways around this problem. Give these tips a try. Use the “build your own” concept. This is great for picky families. The idea here is to choose one basic meal, and everyone can elevate it how they like. For example, “build your own salad” is a versatile idea for dinners or lunch meal prep. Choose a base (a protein choice everyone likes) and add healthy, colorful toppings like fruits or veggies. “Build your own pizzas” or “build your own tacos” are other great examples. The extra ingredients like fruits and vegetables can be crossed over into other meals or snacks during the week so there’s less food waste.

  • Model healthy behavior — try new foods together as a family and encourage everyone (not just your picky eaters) to do so too!
  • Introduce games into meal times — for example, choosing different countries each week and cooking recipes inspired by that country’s cuisine could help make meals more fun for everyone.
  • Sneak healthy components into classic family meals — for example, blend spinach or other mild-tasting vegetables into spaghetti sauce to hide any “unwanted” foods they typically wouldn’t be willing to try or eat.
  • Finally, involve your kids in meal prep whenever possible — research shows that kids are more likely to try something if they have a hand in making it! Ensure you block off time over the weekends (before the busy week begins) to plan what meals you choose and the ingredients you need for the upcoming week. Prep as much in advance as possible.
  • Regarding bariatric surgery, don’t make it complicated — portion off your protein for each meal and have a little bit of the side items to create balance. If your protein at that particular meal is hard to set aside separately, ensure you plan out the rest of the day with options that will allow you to meet your minimum protein goals. You will likely find yourself eating the same meal multiple times. If you need variety, change up the flavor by adding different spices, dressings, or switching up ingredients from the “build your own” concept.

Dealing with picky eating habits can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be impossible! With some planning, creativity, and perseverance (and maybe even a little bribery), you can feed your entire family without having multiple meals every night or sacrificing everyone’s health due to a lack of variety. So put on your chef hat, and look forward to healthier and more stress-free meal times!

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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