Join forces against kids of all ages refusing to eat. The struggle is real. But it doesn't have to be quite so hard.

It seems we've hit eating roadblocks with our kids at nearly every stage. As a toddler, our older son would keep food packed in the sides of his mouth refusing to swallow. As a grade-schooler, our son would skip the food at lunch in order to chat with his friends. And as teens, our boys have become quite fluent in pickiness. 

Despite the challenges, they've grown (taller than me, now) and are learning to make more and more of their own decisions. Here are a few things we've learned along the journey.

Let Them Choose

Within reason, of course! No one wants to open up an in-home restaurant each evening and create a different meal for each family member. I tried to give one choice at most meals. It might have been between having salad and steamed vegetables or water with lemon or strawberries to drink. Giving your children choices draws them into the eating experience even before their first bite.

As they're making their own lunches for school, set standard categories and offer choices within each category. In our home, each lunch needed to have a main protein, a vegetable, a fruit, a snack, and a dessert. Main proteins could be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a turkey sandwich, or leftover soup heated in a thermos. The vegetable choices included sweet peppers or carrots. You get the idea.

Embrace Sauces

Especially for the littles in your home, dipping food is just plain fun at the table. When you notice your child is hesitant to try something new or not enjoying green-colored vegetables, serve these items with a side of dipping sauce. Ranch is a favorite for many children. And who doesn't love Ketchup? 

A quick word of caution ... Our boys quickly learned to simply lick off the sauce and not eat the piece of food. Watch for this stealth behavior and give your children a choice: either eat the piece of food plain or eat the piece of food with dip.

If you want to ensure healthy alternatives, check out these homemade sauce recipes.

Mix It Up

No one likes to eat the same thing over and over (oh, except the "pancake stage" during grade school). And it's truly ineffective (and unhealthy) to have broccoli every night until your child likes it. (Who does that?)

Bring your child with you to the grocery store to choose a new vegetable to try. Research a new recipe together and enjoy preparing it together.

As you're planning meals, find ways to mix the vegetables with the chicken casserole. I'm not suggesting hiding vegetables in foods. I think it's important for kids to see and taste the different foods they're eating. Though consider food combinations at meals like beef and broccoli or cheese and peas.

Bring on the Sprinkles

My favorite donuts are the ones with sprinkles. Lots of sprinkles. Have you ever wondered why it's not difficult to get a child to eat a donut with sprinkles? I realize it's not quite the same, but there are countless seasonings available to help flavor less-than-desired foods. And, like the sauces, sprinkles are just plain fun.

Sprinkle some Old Bay Seasoning on French fries. Shake a small amount of seasoned salt on eggs. Sprinkle Ranch dressing mix on cottage cheese. Our younger son loved a Thai red curry seasoning on his macaroni and cheese as a toddler. Why not let your child put pizza seasoning on the steamed vegetables to help them go down?

Take It One Day at a Time

Engaging your child in good eating habits can be challenging. Remaining calm during challenging times can, in fact, make things a bit more bearable. Take deep breaths and set reasonable and attainable goals for your kids and your family.

Good eating choices and habits don't happen overnight. Practice consistency and celebrate even the smallest successes. Think about your own food journey. There are foods you didn't like as a child that you love now. Thank goodness we grow up.

What tips have you tried? Share in the comments below.