Picky Eater Recipes
As a parent just getting healthy meals on the table every day can be a major accomplishment. The time spent planning, grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning really takes up a lot of time, especially if you are trying to make the meals well-balanced and meet everyone’s taste preferences. You spend so much time preparing the best meal you can and when it reaches the table, your picky eater completely rejects it. Then starts begging for chicken nuggets, crackers, or mac and cheese. Or maybe refuses to eat anything at all. Is there anything more frustrating? You could have saved so much time, effort, and money just defrosting some nuggets to begin with!
But, you can’t give up trying to get your child to eat healthy because you know the importance of good nutrition for proper growth. So, you keep trying day after day and the frustration may continue to mount. You may wonder how they are even surviving they eat so little! So we wanted to help by giving you a few of our tried and true picky eater meal ideas to help stir up your creativity and find something your picky eater may actually try. Maybe these picky eater meal ideas will help make dinner or lunch time a little more enjoyable for all of you and provide some nutrition at the same time.
Why are children picky eaters?
Everyone has foods they dislike or refuse to eat, but kids seem to take picky eating to another level. Toddlers are particularly notorious for being picky eaters. Around two years old children tend to start to develop their taste preferences, so many things they were willing to eat before are no longer appealing. They also start to really challenge their parents with a battle for control. The need to try to control their lives and test limits manifests itself in several ways, including wanting to decide what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat it. Although it is challenging for many adults, daily power struggles are a normal rite of passage for most toddlers.
Another reason kids might be picky when it comes to food is that their taste preferences truly are different from adults. Children have more taste buds than adults, so any strong flavors are usually amplified. In general, kids tend to prefer soft, bland, or sweet foods over things that are overly flavored. They usually don’t like bitter, spicy, or hot foods. This is actually quite adaptive because humans are genetically wired to avoid bitter foods because it usually is equivalent to something being poisonous. Keep these preferences in mind when planning meals for the week, you can still create nutritious meals while catering to these kid-specific requirements.
During childhood, kids go through growth spurts where their appetite will vary significantly. So, just because there is a change in how much a child will eat from week to week doesn’t mean there is a long-term problem. If they are growing properly, meeting developmental milestones, and have energy to run and play, they are likely getting enough food. Allow them to decide when they are hungry and satisfied, they are likely more tuned in with their body needs. Also, your perception of how much food a child should eat may be slightly off as many of us have a distorted idea about proper portions. The recommended serving for children is a tablespoon per year of age, so a bite or two of something may actually be enough, even if it doesn’t seem that way to you.
Lastly, kids love novelty and playtime. Sometimes mealtime may simply not be fun to them, so they prefer to do something else. Too many rules around eating can make meals rigid, boring, or take too long. A toddler can’t be expected to sit through a 30 minute meal while waiting for everyone to finish. Keep things interesting by bringing the food out in different courses. Or cut food into fun shapes or give it funny names. Keeping mealtime interesting can help you keep a busy child engaged long enough to eat a few bites.
Picky Eater Meal Ideas
Sometimes, especially as a tired parent, our creative energy for meal planning is zapped. So, here are a few meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks to help you make some nutritious meals for your picky eater. Of course, all suggestions can be modified to meet your child’s individual nutrition needs and taste preferences. These are meant as a starting point to give you a few ideas that maybe you hadn’t thought of before. The important thing when feeding a child something new is to offer the new food in addition to one or two foods you know your picky eater will eat. Also, since sometimes picky eating is about control, the more choices you offer, the more your child will feel like they are in control and be more likely to eat something you are serving.
Picky Eater Breakfast Ideas
Yogurt Parfait Bar
Create your own yogurt parfait station. This is a great way to get them to eat some yogurt, which is high in protein, and maybe even a little fruit to start the day. Start with plain Greek yogurt as a base, as it has more protein than other types of yogurt. Then put out a variety of toppings, such as fruit, granola, or whole grain cereal and let them decide what to top their parfaits with.
Picky eaters will generally eat a quesadilla if all else fails. So, why not sneak in a few “healthier” items into that quesadilla for breakfast? Add some sliced avocado, diced tomato, eggs, a few spinach leaves, or even sliced apples. You can also give them some fresh salsa as a topping or dip, it’s made from tomatoes and that counts as a vegetable, right?
With the right balance of sweet fruit and maybe a few veggies snuck in, a smoothie can be a great way to encourage a picky eater to get a few more servings of produce into their diet. Start with almond milk or Greek yogurt as a base and add in some of your child’s favorite fresh or frozen fruits. Throw in a handful of spinach, which doesn’t change the flavor much, but adds in a bit of iron and folate. To make it even tastier and nutritious with additional protein and growth-promoting vitamins and minerals, you can blend in our Healthy Height supplement into the smoothie also.
Picky Eater Lunch Ideas
Tasty Tomato Soup
Although kids may not want to eat raw tomatoes because of their mushy texture, consider serving tomato soup instead to get them a dose of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. No need to make the soup from scratch, try a lower sodium version of canned tomato soup, many common brands offer healthier versions. You can even create a “tomato soup bar” where you can give your kids several toppings to choose from to add to their soup, such as whole grain crackers, cheese, diced bell peppers, or olives. Or making a grilled cheese sandwich to dip into the soup is always a popular option.
Dumplings can be easily made at home with some wonton wrappers or you can buy them frozen to be quickly defrosted. But, making them yourself allows you to fill them up with a variety of veggies, a great way to sneak them into your picky eater’s diet. Consider filling the dumplings with corn, peas, onions, carrots, or celery. You can even include some cooked diced chicken or ground turkey for extra protein. Dumplings are also fun to dip into a low sodium soy sauce or teriyaki sauce.
Boost your Peanut Butter Sandwich
A peanut butter sandwich is a nutritious lunch all on its own, but it can be a great base for a more well-rounded meal. Start with your basic PB sandwich on your choice of bread, cracker, or tortilla. Top it with sliced bananas, apples, or even grapes. You can create a toppings bar for the sandwich and let the child determine their favorite toppings based on their personal preferences.
Picky Eater Dinner Ideas
Fish with Teriyaki Sauce
Kids tend to like sweet foods, so teriyaki sauce is a great way to get them to eat something they might not want to eat, like fish. It is best to pair the sauce with a bland-tasting white fish such as tilapia, so the taste of the fish doesn’t take over. Or if fish just isn’t going to happen, use teriyaki sauce to season chicken, beef, or even tofu. Heartier proteins can be also used to make a teriyaki stir fry by adding in some vegetables or pineapple for a more balanced meal.
Put chicken breast chunks on a stick and alternate with some veggies and grill. Or just skewer the chicken breast making a chicken satay. Allow them to dip the skewer into a favorite sauce, like peanut sauce, teriyaki, or even ranch dressing. Keep it safe by cutting off any sharp edges before serving.
Baked Chicken Strips and Fries
Maybe you can’t get your kid away from the chicken nuggets or tenders, but you can make them a little bit healthier by baking them at home. Use whole grain bread as the bread crumbs for the chicken and use sweet potato fries instead of fries made from white potatoes.
Picky Eater Snack Ideas
Raw veggies with dip
Kids tend to love raw veggies because the mushy texture of cooked veggies doesn’t fly sometimes. For a great healthy snack, set out a variety of sliced raw veggies (think cucumbers, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots) and some type of dip. You can even use a bell pepper as a “bowl” to hold whatever dip you choose. Hummus is a great option as it provides some protein and fiber, but you can also start with ranch, cream cheese, or other favorite salad dressing.
Apples can be used to dip also. Apples are crunchy, delicious, and available year round. They are also super high in fiber and full of vitamins. Slice them thin and let kids dip them into cream cheese, nut butters, or even a little caramel or honey.
Most kids love pizza and it’s a great way to sneak in a few veggies. Top a whole wheat English muffin with a bit of tomato sauce and cheese, then let your child decide what other toppings they might like to add. Some ideas may include: sliced tomatoes, diced chicken, olives, or bell peppers. Then throw the mini pizza in the toaster oven or broiler for a few minutes for a nutritious and tasty snack.
Although celery on its own is not that fun to eat, consider it a vehicle for other tasty options. A traditional snack can be “ants on a log” where you fill the celery with nut butter and top it with raisins. But, you can also fill celery with cream cheese or ricotta and top it with bits of tomato, cucumber slices, or bell pepper.
These are just a few ideas of places you can get started trying to add variety to your picky eater’s diet. It can be frustrating to try different things and still get rejected. But, know that picky eating can just be a phase for many kids, particularly if they are toddlers.
The important thing is to keep trying and don’t give in to the negotiations. A child will not allow themselves to starve. If you think there is a bigger problem or their growth is being affected by their picky eating, then discuss the issue with their doctor because they can help identify other issues that may influence the child’s desire to eat. But, for most children, they will grow out of picky eating behavior as long as the parent remains consistent with offering healthy food and making mealtime enjoyable.