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If you have a child who is a picky eater, you know first-hand the difficulty in finding healthy, nutritious foods that they will actually eat. As adults, we know the importance of healthy eating and getting the right nutrients into our bodies. Our children, however, only know what they like to eat and what they don’t like. They typically prefer simple, relatively bland foods that do not have any strange textures. This can make it tricky when trying to introduce things like vegetables and different proteins into their diet.
Not to worry though, we are here to help! We have compiled the ultimate list of healthy foods and recipes that your picky eater will enjoy. These are tried and true recipes that parents of other picky eaters have had success introducing to their child. They are simple but healthy foods and meals that do not contain strange tastes or textures, but instead gently introduce some new flavors that your child will hopefully love. We have also included 20 valuable tips to help your picky eater to broaden their palate and develop a positive relationship with food, so that they can establish a foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.
The Importance of Healthy Eating
Encouraging children to eat healthy is so important for their growth, development, and overall well-being. A balanced diet provides essential nutrients and energy needed for physical and cognitive growth, supporting a strong immune system, healthy bones, and brain development.
Healthy eating habits that are established during childhood often carry into adulthood, reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
A nutritious diet can also positively impact a child’s concentration, mood, and academic performance, making it crucial for parents and caregivers to prioritize healthy eating choices. As a classroom teacher, I have seen first-hand the benefits of healthy eating, and the ramifications of eating a diet consisting of heavily processed, sugary foods.
20 Tips for Your Picky Eater
These strategies range from creating a supportive mealtime environment to introducing creative approaches to food, all aimed at making the dining experience more enjoyable and balanced for both you and your child.
1. Involve Children in Meal Planning
Children are more inclined to broaden their palate if they are included in the meal planning process. Ask them for their input when planning your weekly meals, and let them choose some of the things your family will enjoy. Some of their choices may be the old favorites that they always choose, but they may also surprise you by suggesting a new recipe that you haven’t tried before.
2. Allow Choice
By providing choice, you take away the power struggle. Your child will not feel like they are being forced to eat foods they don’t like if you give them an option of what they can choose to eat. That is not to say that there should be endless choices, but providing limited choices within meals (such as whether they prefer to have carrots or cucumbers) can help your child to feel more in control of what they’re eating.
3. Have Patience
It is not easy to coax your child into trying new foods, but it is important that you maintain patience when dealing with a picky eater. Getting angry or voicing threats only serves to create a negative eating experience, and it can often lead to your child developing an unhealthy relationship with food and meal times. Keep your patience, and when things aren’t working, try some of the other suggestions from this list.
4. Make Time For Presentation
Sometimes, the trick is all in how you present the food to your child. Children are very visual, and they form opinions very quickly so that first impression is an important one. Take time to make the food look appealing or interesting to your child. Invest in cute cookie cutters, colorful plates and cutlery, and food accessories to make the meal even more visually appealing.
5. Have Set Mealtimes
To make sure that your child is coming to the table hungry and ready to eat, stick to consistent meal times in order to avoid excessive snacking throughout the day. You want your child to be feeling hungry when it is mealtime, so they are more apt to try the food that is put in front of them.
6. Model Healthy Eating
If you never eat vegetables or try new foods, it is going to be challenging to get your picky eater to do so. It is important that you model healthy eating by incorporating healthy foods into your daily diet. It is equally important that your child sees you trying new foods. Even if you don’t end up liking it, by modelling your willingness to at least try the food, you will be encouraging your child to do the same.
7. Prepare One Meal
Do not become a restaurant by creating separate meals for everyone in the household. Create one meal for your family, and stick to only offering that one meal. The trick is to have at least one or two items within that meal that you know your child will eat. Allow them the choice of what they will have from the selection of what is being served, but do not get into the habit of creating a separate meal for them.
8. Make Mealtime Fun
You don’t want mealtime to become a negative experience for everyone, as that can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food down the road. Create a pleasant dining environment by sitting together as a family and partaking in positive conversation while enjoying your meal.
9. Listen To Your Picky Eater
Although this may seem counter-intuitive when your child keeps saying “no” to the food you are offering, it is important that you listen to your child when they are saying that they are full. Trust that they know when they are hungry and when they are full, and demonstrate that you are respecting their voice and listening to them. This will help to create a more positive relationship with food.
10. Don’t Use Food As A Reward
Try to avoid using treats or sugary foods as a reward for eating something that is healthier. This not only can foster an unhealthy relationship with food, but it prevents your child from developing a taste for healthier food if they are always being rewarded with treats afterward.
11. Involve Kids In Cooking
Along with getting your kids involved in meal planning, allowing them to help cook the meals is a great way to encourage them to eat new foods. If they can see how the food is prepared and even help to prepare it, then they will be much more inclined to try eating it. Get them to chop the veggies (if they are old enough), stir the sauce, or sprinkle on the cheese.
12. Keep It Positive
While it can be frustrating dealing with a picky eater, it is so important to keep things positive around food consumption. Try to avoid getting angry or frustrated with your child if they are not wanting to try something. Children are more likely to enjoy mealtime if you are not pressuring them to eat.
13. Avoid Food Battles
There is no point getting into a battle with your child over eating something. This will cause them to develop an unhealthy relationship with food and mealtimes, and you won’t be any further in getting them to try new foods. Refrain from pressuring or forcing them to eat; if they don’t want to eat at this mealtime, they can wait until the next mealtime. Do not provide snacks or favorite foods in between, as this will only serve to enforce the behavior.
14. Grow Your Own
Consider growing your own fruits, vegetables, or herbs in a garden or in pots. Involve your child in the process to pique their interest in fresh produce. They will be proud of the food that they have helped to grow and will likely be more inclined to try eating them. Start with some of the fruits or veggies that you know your child likes, and then introduce some new ones as well.
15. Educate About Nutrition
It is important to educate our children about the importance of proper nutrition, and this can help them to better understand why you are encouraging them to eat a wider variety of foods. Teach your children about the nutritional value of different foods in a simple, age-appropriate way to help them understand why certain foods are important.
16. Set A Time Limit On Mealtime
It is important that mealtime doesn’t drag on and on, because this just creates frustration for everyone. Allow your child up to 30 minutes to eat their meal. After that, put the food away until the next mealtime. While you might think that allowing them to sit for a longer period of time will encourage them to eat more, this is not actually true.
17. Serve Small Portions to Your Picky Eater
Sometimes, children get overwhelmed by the sheer size of their plate and everything on it. I recall my children complaining about how much they had to eat. When I reduced their portion sizes, they were much more inclined to eat the food I gave them, because it wasn’t nearly as overwhelming. Keep the portion sizes small and manageable, as this will help to reduce food waste as well.
18. Incorporate Gradual Changes
Don’t make too many sudden changes at once when creating food for a picky eater. Instead, start small and add a new food amongst familiar favorites. Gradually increase the amount of the new food item, until it is one that your child accepts.
19. Respect Food Preferences
No matter how healthy you want your child to eat, they probably won’t like every fruit or vegetable that is out there. No matter how I prepare it, my kids still detest cauliflower to this day. Even though I love it, it is one veggie that they flat-out refuse to eat. I can handle that though, because they love most other veggies. Respect your child’s food preferences, while still encouraging them to try new foods.
20. Try and Try Again
Just because your child doesn’t like something at first doesn’t mean they will never like it. Try and try again to introduce new foods. Believe it or not, it can take up to 15 times for a child to try a food and like it. So, keep trying! Introduce it in different ways, different recipes, and at different mealtimes. You never know when your child will decide they love it!
20 Healthy Foods for Picky Eaters
Introducing new foods to picky eaters can often feel like a roller coaster ride filled with twists and turns. However, in this list, we’ve gathered 20 food options that cater to even the choosiest of eaters. These foods not only pack a nutritional punch but also bring diverse flavors and textures to the table.
Berries are a wonderful finger food that are often enticing to little ones. They are small and sweet, with a nice juicy crunch that is satisfying. Whether it’s strawberries and raspberries, or blueberries and blackberries, try incorporating more of these nutritious bites into your child’s diet.
Cucumbers are one of the most popular veggies among picky eaters due to their mild flavour and crunchy exterior. The bonus is that cucumbers are also packed with water to keep you hydrated and a range of nutrients like vitamins A and K.
Not all crackers are created equal, so it is important to take the time to read the labels on your child’s favorite cracker. But, crackers can be a good source of whole wheat and fibre, and many types also have roasted seeds sprinkled on them. Topped with cheese, nut butter, or your child’s favorite spread, crackers can be a great snack for your picky eater.
Children don’t tend to gravitate toward complicated flavors, so keeping it simple is usually best. Toast has a nice mild taste to it that children enjoy, and you can increase its nutritional value by choosing whole grain breads. Topping it with a favorite spread, smashed avocado, sliced cheese, or nut butter can make for a delicious and nutritious breakfast or snack.
5. French Fries
French fries often get a bad rap, but really it is all in how they are prepared. Potatoes are a nutritious choice that kids often enjoy. They are packed with potassium and iron, so they can be healthy if prepared properly. Choose healthier oils like olive oil to cook them with, or try baking them instead of deep frying. If you have an air fryer, that is a great option too.
Now, I know I mentioned how my two kids detest cauliflower, but I do feel that they are the minority when it comes to this versatile vegetable. Cauliflower has a much milder taste than broccoli, and it can be prepared in many different ways. Riced cauliflower can be hidden in sauces or mixed in with rice, while roasted cauliflower is delicious on its own or paired with a dipping sauce.
7. Apple Chips
Sometimes it’s the crunch that is appealing to little ones, so why not give them what they want? Apple chips are a deliciously crunchy snack that is also healthy. You can buy apple chips at the store, but it is also super easy to make your own. This recipe for apple chips is very simple to make, and they are absolutely delicious.
8. Chicken Nuggets
Now, the frozen box of nuggets that you get from the grocery store may not pack much of a nutritional punch, because they are highly processed and packed with sodium. Making your own chicken nuggets, however, can be a game-changer for your little one. Chicken is a nice, mild meat that is lean and provides iron and protein for your growing child.
Oranges tend to be one of the fruits that picky eaters enjoy, because they are sweet, juicy, and come in little bite sizes. They are packed with vitamin C and the orange segments are small enough to entice your little one. They are a great option for snacks or as a side to their lunch.
There is a wide range of cereals available in grocery stores, and of course, not all are created equal. The sugary, overly processed cereals do not contain nearly the same amount of nutritional value as others, so it is important to choose wisely. Cereals that are made from whole grains with minimal sugar content are the best choice. Rice Krispies and Cheerios tend to be among the favorites in our house.
Rice is part of the B.R.A.T. diet – the diet that is recommended for anyone who has an upset stomach (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast). This is with good reason; rice is mild tasting and easy to digest, and children seem to love eating the small grains. Serve it plain, with a bit of butter, or with a favorite sauce. Either way, it is likely a food your picky eater will enjoy.
Avocado is one of the best superfoods out there, packed full of healthy fats and nutrients for your growing child. They are also relatively mild in taste, making them an easy choice for picky eaters. Mash them up and serve them over toast, or chop them up into bite-sized pieces and let them eat them on their own. There are so many options for this versatile food.
Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds – the list goes on! These little superfoods are high in protein, healthy fats, and fibre, making them a great choice. Many also carry added nutrients like calcium, magnesium, vitamins, and antioxidants. Sprinkle them in salads, on yogurt, or simply eat them on their own.
14. Raw Veggie Sticks
Raw veggie sticks can be a great snack because they’re flavorful and crunchy, not to mention nutritious! Sometimes, it’s all in how you prepare the food. If you cut them up into little sticks and arrange them by color on the plate, your picky eater will be excited to “eat the rainbow” of veggies!
15. Peanut Butter
Just like many processed foods, not all peanut butter is created equal. Some are packed with sugar and preservatives which can make them a not-so-healthy choice. However, even those kinds of peanut butter still carry nutritional benefits because they are full of protein and healthy oils. Other nut butters are often lower in sugar, such as almond butter, so be sure to try them as well.
16. Rice Cakes
Rice cakes make a great snack, and they come in a wide variety of flavors to choose from. Opting for rice cakes that are made from brown rice is more nutritious, but if you are simply wanting your child to try a new snack, don’t stress about that part just yet. Choose flavors they are likely to enjoy, and make it even tastier by spreading a favorite jam on top.
17. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is high in protein, so it will help to fill your child’s belly. If your picky eater prefers yogurt without chunks in it (like mine does), opt for vanilla or plain yogurt. Then, top it with fresh fruit, berries, honey, or a little maple syrup. Greek yogurt is also good to incorporate into recipes like pancakes or muffins for an added boost of protein.
18. Mixed Nuts
Just like seeds, mixed nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats and protein. They are also high in vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients that help to reduce inflammation in the body. When it comes to picky eaters, nuts are a great choice because they are small, crunchy, and easy to eat, with a simple flavor and texture that is appealing to fussy palates.
Because eggs are so versatile, they are a great option for those with limited tastes, and their mild flavor makes them easy to introduce to little ones. Try hard-boiled eggs cut up in bite-sized pieces, scrambled eggs on toast, or a simple omelette with cheese.
Popcorn prepared on the stovetop is an excellent source of fibre and a great snack for your picky eater. Fibre is a very important part of our diet, and if you are finding that your child is not eating enough fibre-rich foods, then popcorn would be a great thing to introduce.
20 Favorite Recipes for Picky Eaters
We’ve gathered 20 delicious recipes that cater to even the most selective palates. Whether you’re looking for breakfast ideas, lunchtime solutions, or family dinner recipes, this collection is designed to make mealtime enjoyable, while encouraging a healthy and diverse approach to food.
Especially if you make your own pizza crust, pizza can be a very nutritious meal. Even buying storebought pizza crust is fine though, so don’t overcomplicate things. Get your crust, add some tomato sauce (add in some pureed veggies if you’re really brave!), top with cheese and any other toppings your child might enjoy.
2. Cold Cut Pinwheels
These are delicious and simple to make. Choose a mild cold cut like ham, chicken, or turkey. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on a tortilla wrap, and add your meat and some lettuce if your child doesn’t mind lettuce. Roll up the tortilla and slice it into pinwheels. Super easy and fun lunch!
3. Pumpkin Pancakes
Pancakes are a great way to incorporate some pureed fruit, as most kids love pancakes and don’t notice the added ingredients. Applesauce or pumpkin puree are a great option to pop in some additional nutrition at breakfast time.
4. Rice and Beans
As mentioned before, rice is a gentle food that has a mild flavor. Rice and beans make a great meal for even the pickiest eaters, due to their texture and flavor. Serve with a side of veggie sticks for a complete meal.
5. Macaroni and Cheese
While my husband absolutely loves the boxed macaroni and cheese, I try to serve a homemade version for my kids. The boxed meal is full of added sodium and preservatives, whereas the homemade version is made with real cheese, milk, and pasta. This recipe for homemade mac and cheese is one of our family’s favorites.
6. Mini Hamburger Sliders
It’s all about keeping things fun, and there is just something super cute and fun about those mini hamburger sliders that you see served in restaurants. Mimic this meal by making your own mini hamburger sliders.
7. Pasta With Sauce
Sauces are a great opportunity to sneak some added veggies into a meal. The trick is to have them fully pureed so your child doesn’t even notice them (an immersion blender is your best friend). Roast veggies like tomatoes, onion, peppers, and garlic, then puree them into a sauce. Serve it over cooked pasta for a nutrient-dense meal your picky eater will love.
8. Grilled Cheese
Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich?! Most picky eaters will opt for a grilled cheese sandwich as a meal choice. It’s pure comfort food that also packs in a good dose of protein.
9. Zucchini Bread
Another great trick for adding more veggies to your child’s diet. Zucchini has a very mild taste, so it is easy to hide in bread and muffin recipes. This chocolate zucchini muffin recipe is an all-time favorite in this house.
10. Sweet Potato Fries with Dipping Dip
Just like French fries, sweet potato fries are full of nutritional value. Make your own sweet potato fries at home using your oven or air fryer. Serve them with a side of dipping sauce like this chipotle lime dip.
11. Baked Potato Bar
Potatoes are a nice mild food that most kids tend to enjoy. Baked potatoes are a great way to encourage your picky eater to eat the potato skin as well, which is where all the nutrients are. Set up a baked potato bar for supper, and set out toppings like sour cream, bacon bits, chopped green onion, and shredded cheese.
12. Pepperoni Pasta
This is a twist on traditional spaghetti, incorporating pepperoni which tends to be a favorite among picky eaters. Cook up a batch of whole-grain pasta, and top it with sliced turkey pepperoni and marinara sauce.
13. Banana Popsicles
Never underestimate the power of putting food onto a stick – kids love it! Cut your bananas in half, and insert a popsicle stick. Put them in the freezer for an hour or so, letting them get nice and cold. Melt some chocolate, and dip the banana popsicle into the chocolate. Serve and enjoy!
14. Taco Bar
This is the same idea as the baked potato bar, except with tacos. Cook up your meat, and season with taco seasoning. Set up your taco bar with shredded cheese, chopped lettuce, chopped tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole. Let your child dress up their taco however they like.
15. Fruit and Nut Butter Sushi Rolls
A sweet take on the pinwheel sandwiches, these sushi rolls make a great snack or breakfast idea. Spread their favourite nut butter onto a tortilla wrap, and top with fresh fruit or jam. Roll up the tortilla, and cut it into small pieces like sushi.
16. Breakfast for Supper
Another easy supper idea is to have breakfast items like eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns. It is a healthy meal that your picky eater is likely to enjoy, as there is something for everyone. Serve with fresh fruit or veggies.
Soups are another brilliant way to get extra veggies into your child, and there are so many delicious recipes out there. Whether it is creamy soups that your child prefers or broth soups, you’re sure to find some that they like. This creamy broccoli cheddar soup is packed full of veggies, and you’d never know!
18. Cauliflower Buffalo Bites
If your child enjoys a little spice in their diet, then they will love these cauliflower buffalo bites! Simply coat your cauliflower florets in a buffalo sauce mixture, then bake them in the oven until they’re crispy. Serve them with a side of ranch dressing.
Meatballs can be a wonderful finger food for your picky eater, and you can pack so many good things into your meatball recipe. Pop in some pureed veggies for added nutrition, and make them nice and small so they’re easy to eat.
Quesadillas are another versatile food that can be customized to suit everyone’s preferences. Pop in some shredded chicken on top of the shredded cheese, and add some chopped tomatoes if your child likes tomatoes. Serve with salsa and sour cream for dipping.
Remember that each child is unique, and progress may take time. The key is to maintain a balanced approach, offering a variety of nutritious options and creating a supportive mealtime atmosphere. Ultimately, by embracing this challenge with enthusiasm and a touch of creativity, we can help picky eaters develop into more adventurous and health-conscious eaters as they grow.