The secret to winning over a finicky family? Baby steps, according to nutrition counselors Jeannette Bessinger and Tracee Yablon-Brenner, both moms themselves. "Don't suddenly announce that you have seen the light and will be throwing out all the sugar in the house," Bessinger advises. "Otherwise your family might run away screaming." These seven tricks will keep them at the table.
Know your role
"Moms might be tempted to bribe or threaten picky eaters into consuming different foods, but this tends to backfire," Bessinger says. "So there's no sense in playing food police. You can be in charge of what you offer your family, but let them choose what and how much to eat. This will help them cultivate a positive relationship with food."
Add, don't subtract
"It's always easier to try something novel than say good-bye to an old favorite," Bessinger explains. So at first, try serving nutritious items (such as edamame) along with not-so-great standbys (like boxed mashed potatoes). Once you find healthy foods your family likes, they won't object when less nutritious fare is eliminated.
Throw it all in one pot
Healthful ingredients are harder to refuse when they're integrated with the main dish. One-dish recipes also make it easy to amp up nutrients without arousing suspicion (say, by swapping some ground beef for black beans). "I use tons of veggies in my lasagna and even finicky eaters love it," Bessinger attests. Other good vehicles include chili, soups, stews, and stir-fries.
Coax with condiments
When kids are allowed to garnish, sprinkle, and dip, they gain a sense of control that makes them more likely to eat (and enjoy) the food, Yablon-Brenner says. So if your 8-year-old balks at broccoli, serve it with a small bowl of low-fat ranch dressing or hummus and let him go to town.
Give meals the fast-food treatment
Family members might be more receptive to healthy dishes that resemble foods they already love, such as burgers, tacos, or milk shakes. For example, instead of trying to force your spouse to choke down a tossed garden salad, try serving whole wheat pizza layered with chopped veggies and skim mozzarella. The right delivery method can make all the difference.
Opt for under-the-radar upgrades
High-fiber whole grain versions of rice, pasta, and bread make easy replacements for their refined counterparts. But if your family has trouble adjusting to the taste, try going halfsies -- for example, by mixing brown rice with white in a pilaf -- and gradually phase out the refined stuff.
When all else fails, try trickery
In a perfect world, our loved ones would appreciate healthful foods for what they are. But stubborn cases call for stealth. To that end, try grating or pureeing vegetables such as zucchini, sweet potatoes, and carrots and hiding them in meatballs, muffins, casseroles, and sauces. Your family will be none the wiser.