Cooking Healthful Joyful Meals With a Picky Family

Strategies to get your family on board with healthier food
By Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit
March 4, 2019 Updated: January 31, 2020

Shifting from a convenient but unhealthy diet to one of healthful, delicious food can be a challenge when you’re living alone—but there’s a whole new level of difficulty if you are part of a family.

The problem: while you might want to change to a new style of eating, picky eaters (kids and spouses) might disagree with the change.

Who wants to eat kale when fried chicken and pizza are go-to staples? Who wants to eat oats and fruit when Pop-Tarts and sausages are the usual breakfast foods?

Well, me. And maybe you. But how do we deal with a family full of picky eaters?

A woman in my Sea Change Program asked me:

“I’ve got 2 kids who are picky and a husband who doesn’t generally like vegetables and really hates having the same meal 2 nights in a row. I know that you have a big family and I’m sure there’s someone in your household that is picky. 😉 How has this impacted the way you or your wife meal plans? I really want to simplify my grocery list and for all of us to eat healthier.”

I don’t claim to have all the answers but we have been somewhat successful here with our family of 8. It took a while, and in truth, we still have plenty of picky eaters in our family.

That said, I’ll share what has worked for us:

  1. We try to find things that the whole family likes that are healthy and tasty. That might mean veggie tacos, veggie spaghetti (with whole wheat noodles if we can get away with it), sushi bowls, or anything else they might all like.
  2. Other times, we cook something less nutritious that they enjoy, and either join them or cook our own meals, which we might make to last for a few days.
  3. We often make a lot of food for the family dinner and then have leftovers for lunch, and possibly another dinner or two. For example, we might make a big pot of soup or chili. If someone in your family doesn’t like the same dinner twice in a row, they might be open to having it again in a few days.
  4. We talk to the kids and try to get them to explore foods they don’t always like. This doesn’t always work, though. But it’s worth an ongoing conversation. You might try this with your husband as well. It helps to cook the vegetables in different ways that make them tastier. This can get them to open up to trying them. For example, if they don’t like kale, they might enjoy kale chips baked with olive oil and seasonings.
Mother and daughter preparing vegetables

5.  Sometimes we cook a dish that has something one of the kids doesn’t like, mushrooms for example, but we cook the mushrooms on the side and allow them to leave off the mushrooms. This can get complicated but sometimes it’s not too hard.

6. If someone doesn’t like the dinner, they can just have a little of it and then make themselves a PB&J sandwich or grilled cheese or something. Our kids can cook simple things for themselves.

7. Finally, we get everyone involved in meal planning. Everyone looks for meal ideas online. Vote on what to eat. Take one meal a week to cook themselves. If they cook it, they’re likely to eat it.

You don’t have to do all of these, but there might be a couple of ideas here that work for you.

In the end, embrace the Zen Habits philosophy of small, gradual change. You don’t have to do all of this overnight. But there’s also the Zen Habits philosophy of loving the change you’re creating. Try to find how can you show them that this is a joyful change to delicious nutritiousness.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit

Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit