How to Make Healthy, Kid-Friendly Meals For Picky Eaters

There are a number of ways to encourage children to try new foods in a way that’s safe, pressure-free, and calm.

The best way to start helping your picky eater expand their diet is to swap the “how do I get my child to eat?” mindset for a “how can I help my child eat?” mindset.

Many worried parents try to counteract picky eating with phrases like “take one more bite for me,” or even rewards, such as “if you eat more veggies, you’ll get ice cream.” But the reality is that pressuring kids to eat when they don’t want to can worsen picky eating (10).

It’s important to offer healthy foods at mealtimes that may fit their preferences.

Here are some examples:

  • For the child who only wants to eat white or beige colored foods: If your child only wants to eat beige foods, you can introduce nutrient-rich beige foods like skinless apples, boiled egg whites, jicama sticks, white whole-wheat bread, and cauliflower rice.
  • For the child who only likes crunchy foods: Children who only like crunchy foods tend to only want snacks like potato chips. Consider offering your child nutrient-rich foods with a crunch like sugar snap peas, baked quinoa, freeze-dried broccoli, and cashew halves. (Just keep in mind that whole nuts are choking hazards for children under the age of four.) (16)
  • For the child who refuses new foods: Make trying new foods fun and less overwhelming by starting with a small amount on their plate. Always include a well-liked food with new foods. Engage in some fun play during dinnertime like starting a green bean sword fight, making a veggie silly face, or dunking homemade nuggets into sauce.
  • For the child who dislikes soft, mushy textures: Offer crisp fruits and vegetables like sliced cucumbers, zucchini, and pears. Consider offering frozen peach slices or blueberries. Add yogurt or cottage cheese to homemade fruit smoothies. Serve air-fried tofu cubes.
  • For the child who shows no interest in vegetables: It can be a good start to offer vegetables in special scenarios like during a family picnic in a park. Including different vegetables at a time like this may allow for more casual exploration and peak your child’s interest in something they might refuse at the dinner table.

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Remember, children often want what their parents are eating. Be a role model for the children in your life by eating a well-rounded diet yourself.

Serve deconstructed meals

Picky eaters may refuse to eat foods that are cooked mixed together, such as casseroles or stews. Serving meals deconstructed means keeping all of the major food components separate to help reduce anxiety at the kitchen table.

Tacos, stir-fries, salads, and build-your-own bowls are examples of deconstructed meals where your child can choose which ingredients they want since they’ll have separate foods to choose from like shredded cheese, rice, grilled chicken, and black beans.

Avoid making separate meals for your picky eater

When dinnertime is drawing near, it can be tempting to prepare a family meal and a secondary special meal to please your little one’s picky palate.

When your child knows they can easily refuse foods because they will get what they want anyway, it can make it much more difficult for them to eat the meals the rest of the family enjoys, further engraining their picky habits.

Add new flavors to dishes

Children sensitive to bitter tastes may be more likely to enjoy foods with bitter flavor profiles if they’re seasoned.

Your child may accept vegetables better, for example, when paired with extra flavors, such as ground ginger, low-sodium soy sauce, dried dill weed, or dried basil.

Consider involving your child in cooking vegetables with spices and having a taste test at mealtime.

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About the Author: Tung Chi