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Alison Sweeney on Picky Eaters: "Don't Just Give Up"

Courtesy of Alison Sweeney

Alison Sweeney's made a career of looking great, eating great and feeling great. The actress, mom, author of The Mommy Diet and host of The Biggest Loser, which just wrapped its thirteenth season, talked to us about her strategies for grocery shopping on a budget, pleasing picky eaters, and why feeding your family healthy foods can make a big difference, even if you snuck through the drive-thru last night.

Many parents want their families to eat healthier, but don’t want to make huge, drastic changes. Any advice?
Drastic changes will backfire. The key is balance. My kids are not going to react well if I start lecturing on nutrition or telling them we’re never eating bread, or whatever, again. It’s not that we don’t eat the fun, kid foods at our house – we do, but they’re saved for special days, like Mac & Cheese Mondays.

It’s also essential to set expectations about what a healthy portion is and what a balanced plate looks like (grains, protein, and fresh fruit/vegetables). My kids know that they can only have more Mac & Cheese on Mondays when they’ve finished the other healthier foods on their plate.

What would you say to moms that are concerned about budget, but still want to put healthy food on the table for their families?
Thinking that unhealthy things cost less, is an illusion. Things like chips and processed foods are inexpensive, but they’re not filling, so you’ll end up eating (and buying!) twice as much as if you’d eaten something healthy, with tons of fiber and protein that keeps you full.

My biggest guideline when grocery shopping, which we teach the contestants on The Biggest Loser: Shop on the outside of the grocery store. Don’t go up and down the aisles because that’s where the processed, shelf-stable things are that don’t have much nutrition.

Yes, choosing healthier foods might be more expensive immediately, but in the long run, you’ll be eating less, your groceries will last longer, and your family will get used to eating less and feeling fuller.

What advice do you have for parents of picky eaters?
That’s a tough one. A couple of things that our preschool shared with us on this topic: You can change any habit in 21 days. Often, your palate doesn’t know that it likes something for up to 10 tastings. Don’t just give up. I know it sounds like a lot, but encourage your kids to try something at least ten times.

Palates and preferences change, so they have to try it over and over again depending on their age. They might like something at 8 years old that they didn’t like at 7. But it’s fine to just pick your battles sometimes. I don’t make my kids eat asparagus, but we have other options for vegetables so it’s not like they’re just not eating a vegetable at dinner.

What are some of your favorite strategies for quick, healthy eating on-the-go?
Make sure you keep something in your diaper bag or in your kid’s backpacks. Something fresh is best like a fruit. Blueberries are perfect because they’re little bites of something kids love. They’re only 80 calories a cup and they’ll keep your kids full because they have tons of fiber. Anything that will keep your kids fuller longer is best.

Do your kids have favorite meals that include blueberries?
My kids aren’t fans of jelly, so I’ll make them an almond butter (or peanut butter) sandwich with fresh blueberries instead of jam. I’m also excited to try a recipe with ground turkey and blueberries made into burgers, as well as a flatbread that has blueberries on top.

Wanna try the recipes she mentioned? Click here to view the full Savory Blueberry Pizza recipe here. Click here to view the full Blueberry Turkey Burgers with Blueberry Ketchup recipe here.

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