Robin loves fruits, adores vegetables. But his kids have become superpicky—Caplan, 9, and Mary Iris, 5, will eat some fruit, but scorn veggies. New textures and flavors bother them. To keep the peace, the kids get one meal and the grown-ups eat later. “I can’t believe we’ve gotten here,” Robin admits, “but we have. We tried, early on, to force Caplan to at least try veggies. We put asparagus on his plate every night for a week, and he’d just scowl—upset and mad at its presence.” By the time they’ve fed the kids and finally have focused on their own meal, Robin and his wife, Nan, are so tired and pressed for time that they end up not eating many vegetables, either.
This family needs to come together at the table, everyone enjoying the same meal, lest kids get the wrong impression about family eating, healthy diet, and who runs the show. On a goal date, they’ll begin to eat together—and eat the same foods—with an emphasis on the fun and the adventure. No doubt the kids will be dubious, but “family meals are an important time for families to connect, to slow down, to process their day, and to have a healthier meal than if they’re grabbing it and going,” says Kerri Boutelle, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the University of California San Diego.
- Involve the kids in shopping. Each child picks an item for the family to try. Let them grab funny red bananas, warty celeriac—no matter.
- Have the kids help prepare at least one dish. Peel carrots, spin lettuce, pour frozen peas into a bowl, measure ingredients.
- Appeal to their kid-silliness. Beets or blueberries turn tongues funny colors. Noisy crunchy foods are fun. But adults have to eat them, too.
- Fruit up dessert. Sliced bananas, frozen grapes, apple wedges, and pineapple spears can be dipped in caramel sauce. Pureed fruit, combined with yogurt, makes ice pops.
- Incorporate more veggies into recipes. Grated carrots round out a fruit smoothie or even pancakes; grated zucchini goes well in pasta sauce or meatballs; pureed winter squash or cauliflower goes nicely in white lasagna, potpie, or baked ziti.
- Aim to please all palates with one dish, varied. Serve pan-grilled chicken breasts to kids, along with sweet, crisp veggies like raw bell pepper strips, cucumber sticks, carrot sticks, or blanched green beans. For the adults, slice and pile the chicken on top of a big bed of spinach or arugula tossed with the same vegetables.