As a parent, you want to ensure your children are eating healthy and fueling their bodies. In the busy season of raising littles, it’s challenging to find the time to cook meals like you’d like. If you’re not a naturally healthy eater yourself, it can be all the more difficult. Looking up recipes, meal planning, and making shopping lists can feel overwhelming too.

And if you’ve gone to the effort to cook and no one will eat it, you’re left feeling frustrated. It can feel like an annoying and stressful loop. It doesn’t have to be this way though. There are several strategies you can use to get some good nutrition into your children. They might even like some of it! Keep reading to learn five strategies for dealing with picky eaters.

1. Make Small Changes and Additions

One of the easier ways to start adding in some healthy options is to modify the foods they like. If they love chips and dip, you could switch to homemade dip. Substituting sour cream for greek yogurt is a great start. Maybe introduce a few carrots or cucumbers with the chips to see if they will eat those or dip those. Try salsa too – it’s low calorie and has good nutrients in it with the tomatoes and veggies. 

Another option is to add a smoothie to their diet. You can slip in some chocolate protein powder, multivitamins, or even super greens powder. Let them pick the flavor of smoothie. They could use a dairy, oat, or almond milk as the base with some berries for example. Banana and peanut butter is another good option. Pineapple and spinach taste pretty good too.

2. Go First

You’ve likely heard the old adage that more is caught than taught. If you want your kids to be less picky, you might need to take a look in the mirror. Are you modeling healthy eating? Do you always consume a variety of fruits and vegetables? In all honesty, no one is perfect. But that’s why it’s important to recognize patterns of behavior and make a change.

Now, you might be a vision of health and your kids just have particular aversions to certain foods. If that is the case, keep modeling that good behavior and don’t give in to making them a separate meal. Take your bites first and show them how good it is. Then ask them if they want a bite or encourage them to try it too. Let them see you eating the different bites of everything for dinner. You might even let them try a bite off your plate — after all everything on Mom’s (or Dad’s) plate seems to taste better to your littles.

3. Start With What They Like

When trying to get them to like new foods, they might get anxious if nothing looks familiar. Start with a couple things you know they like and add in new and nutritious things with it. If they love macaroni and cheese, for example, make some. This is sometimes referred to as a safe food. Then, serve with a little side of grapes and broccoli, and encourage them to try everything. If they like rice, try mixing in a little V8 juice with it to see if they will eat that.

If they love spaghetti, you can try switching to a ground turkey or venison meat to be a little leaner. Pulsing some carrots, whole tomatoes, and spinach into the sauce can add in some nutrients too. Have you asked them what they want or like in a while? If they haven’t been eating, see what they might want. You can usually figure out how to make a healthier version for them.

4. Offer a Variety

It can be frustrating and hard on your heart when you can’t get your kids to eat. Don’t give up and just let them live on chicken nuggets and fries though. You could try some homemade fries in the air fryer to get away from fast food fries. Add in a few other veggies to see if they’ll try broccoli tots or sweet potato fries. Keep offering them a variety of healthy options every meal. 

Some day they might love bananas. Other days bananas are out and they love apples. This back and forth on what they like is especially true for toddlers and early elementary kids. Don’t fret. Along with offering a variety of foods, try preparing those foods in different ways. Taste and texture both impact how a child views a food. Finely chopped versus big pieces can make a big difference. Try mashing that banana and removing seeds from grapes (or freeze them).

5. Include Them in the Process

Involve your children in the process. Let them help you when you’re getting food on the table. Little kids can wash the potatoes or veggies. You can let them stir the sauces and dips. Bigger kids can help you chop things and even add in seasonings. Let them see the process from start to finish.

Let them watch a banana being peeled and sliced. Let them see you cut a whole potato before going into the air fryer as opposed to opening the frozen bag. Let them touch, taste, and smell whole and real foods. They will gain a deeper understanding of where food comes from. And, if they help, they might be so proud that they’ll eat it too.

After a long day at work, it can be stressful to cook for your picky eaters. You just want your family to be fed and full and happy. You also want your kids to be healthy and provide them nutritious options that they won’t complain about. Every meal doesn’t have to be a fight. And small wins are still wins. 

Try a few of the strategies in this article and see if they help your picky eater try new things. If nothing else, start small with some tweaks to foods they already like. Overtime, you’ll be able to find new foods they like and that are good for them too.