Healthy Eating for the Whole Family…Even with the Pickiest of Eaters

Family Cooking Breakfast Together

Even though I see patients on an individual basis, those visits often turn into a conversation about how to transition their whole family to a healthier diet.

Hannah K. Brilling, RDN

Nutrition tends to be a daunting topic for many, and nutrition for the whole family can seem even more complicated to address. Between different preferences and picky eaters, parents often encounter many challenges on the path to incorporating healthier habits into their family’s daily routine.

Hannah K. Brilling, RDN, a clinical dietitian at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Weight & Wellness Center who helps patients with these challenges for weight management and disease prevention, says that nutrition for the whole family doesn’t have to be hard, limiting or even boring.

“Although portion size can vary from person to person, the approach to a balanced meal is the same for the whole family,” says Brilling. “Even though I see patients on an individual basis, those visits often turn into a conversation about how to transition their whole family to a healthier diet.”

Make smarter food group choices

“When possible, choose healthy fats, protein and vegetables more often, and carbohydrates (grains, pasta, cereal, granola bars) less often,” says Brilling. “Healthy fats, protein and vegetables are crucial to assembling a balanced meal.”

The USDA MyPlate and Harvard Healthy Eating Plate tools are great resources that can help families see what a balanced meal looks like and focus on adding more food groups into the mix, like vegetables.

Eat more vegetables

To work more vegetables into your family’s diet, Brilling says to buy frozen (since they stay fresh much longer) and cook in large batches on a weekly basis to save time and ensure that each child has a vegetable to eat that they enjoy.

Adding vegetables that aren’t as popular to your child’s diet can take time. Brilling notes that it can take 20 to 40 instances of trying a particular vegetable before your child can truly decide whether or not they “like” it – before that, they’re just getting used to a different taste.

Another tip Brilling suggests for helping your children discover vegetables they like is to find a new way to cook them, like roasting them in the oven.

Stop calling foods “good” or “bad”

Stay away from using the terms “good” and “bad” for certain types or groups of food. Each food group has its own part to play in our diet.

Instead, focus on creating a balanced diet that includes all of the food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy) in the recommended amount.

If there are specific foods of concern that one or more members of the family may over-eat, consider purchasing them less often. Along the same lines, have foods you or your family would like to eat more often visible and ready-to-go.

A balanced breakfast

Though you don’t need to incorporate every food group into breakfast, which is not an easy feat, it is important to incorporate some form of protein (eggs, nut butter, Greek yogurt) in the morning.

“Many breakfast items, like pastries, are full of carbohydrates,” says Brilling. “We recommend a more balanced plate at breakfast and at least a protein of some kind to get the day started on the right foot.