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15 healthy recipes to get picky kids try new things

by Maggie Quinn 02 Aug 2019

Who are picky eaters and why they become fussy?

If you are parents or have had the distinct pleasure of hosting kids or toddlers gathering of some kind, you know how picky kids can be about what they eat.

The meal you spent time cooking can turn the dinner table into a battlefield of picky eaters. It's startling to see how much a picky eater fighting for her right not to eat broccoli resembles protesters arguing for a better wage. Kids and toddlers sit on the throne of the picky eater movement.

Why is this the case?

The goal is not to play the blame game by sharing these reasons, but kids model the eating habits of their parents. Toddlers and kids can become pickier when eating is paired with reward or punishment. They may link their own behavior to what kind of food they are given. Then a meal becomes psychological rather than a way to energize and nourish the body. Kids are also learning what they like and could be just hypersensitive to smells and textures.

picky eaters


Top 5 food that kids would say NO to 

There some foods that are consistently despised by most kids. Trying to get your little ones to scarf these down will be like rolling a square rock up a hill. Unless you were blessed with a child void of picky eating habits, these are the top foods kids say no to: mushrooms, broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, and avocado.

When contrasting these textures and tastes with the sugary and salty junk-food that temps children, they seem bland, flavorless, and weird. It's no easy task nourishing your kids with the right food, but this article intends to provide context and suggestions for this common predicament.


What problems can picky eating cause to young kids?

Picky eating can be concerning for parents. Worry may be presented as a fear of the long-term effects of this behavior. It is quite common for kids between 2-6 years old to be picky eaters, and there is no exact science predicting when this sensitivity subsides. It's important to know that pressuring your child to eat differently doesn't work. 

Picky eating is normal until it becomes a serious problem of malnutrition limiting their lives. In extreme, and notably rare cases where kids don't grow out of it, there may be physical and psychological challenges that result. Anxiety, depression, avoidance, and malnutrition may be correlated with prolonged picky eating. One may not cause the other, but in severe cases concern is warranted when a child's quality of life becomes limited.

picky eaters

For a small percentage of kids, picky eating may be a red flag for greater issues.

A child with a picky eating habit varies across a spectrum of moderate or normal to severe. Parents with children living with a severe picky eating problem can manifest into reduced growth or problems swallowing.

In the severe category, those kids have a greater likelihood of problems outside of the house. For example, being unable to attend a friend's birthday party without bringing their food or finding nothing suitable for them at school.

Whether this time in their lives is just a phase or a signal for a greater problem will depend on the level of pickiness. Besides the psychological components linked to selective eating, children who refuse nutrient-dense foods will naturally experience a lack of nutrition. This nutrition is imperative for their growth and development. If your gut tells you your child is falling towards severe picky eating, schedule an appointment with your health care provider or nutritionist to gain clarity and peace of mind.


5 strategies to deal with picky eaters

The day is almost complete and it's time to feed the sweet little monkeys, turned hungry picky eating bears. You slave away on a nutritious meal and not only might it go unappreciated, but it may also go uneaten. Like every parent, you care about the growth and health of your child but don't have the skillful negotiating skills for them to surrender their fight over hearty vegetables. The battle can end here with these five strategies to deal with picky eaters.

how to deal with picky eaters

1. Go with the flow

Resistance attracts resistance. When you fight with your kids or even use the gentle phrases of, just try one bite, or how do you know if you don't like it if you haven't tried it, the picky eater will pick up their boxing gloves and defend their position. They sense you trying to force them into eating something they're reluctant to try.

As a parent, you have done your job if you planned out meals for your kids that contain at least one healthy item they'll eat. Like with so many other children, this is a phase that passes over time despite how you try to control it.

Instead, as you begin to relax and go with the flow, your child may get curious enough to notice there is no manipulation happening here. They may just go with the flow as well and try something new.

2. Don't put them in a box with labels

As children grow, they are learning about themselves. What they like and don't like. What traits come naturally to them and what's harder to express.

When a child is labeled as a picky eater, it becomes on expectation. If you say, “my child only eats pizza for dinner," soon that child will know that's all they ever have to eat. Suddenly, they are on a fast track to excuse them from every being open-minded with food.

For example, when a child is labeled as aggressive, the child learns that that is how they are. She notices evidence of it everywhere. People around her act anxiously. This only perpetuates the problem.

If you want your little one to get out of the picky eating phase quickly, don't put them in a box where their character traits are set in stone. It's true what they say, we find exactly what we're looking for.

3. Keep control of the menu

Your kids aren't going out to fancy restaurants to get their fix of fries and chocolate chip cookies. They're getting them from the one-stop-shop at home. You are the one buying the groceries. You are in charge of the menu. If you want your kids to stop eating so much junk, quit buying it!

4. Get creative

You have lots to manage already, this one takes extra effort, but it could be the camouflage you need to win this war.

By providing a variety of different meals throughout the week, your so-called picky eaters won't get acclimated to any one dish. They will learn to adapt to whatever is on the constantly changing menu.

fun food plates

On the contrary, if they are getting spaghetti and meatballs three days a week, they're going to be up in arms when a broccoli stir-fry makes an appearance. If you can muster up the energy to be creative with various meals, then they may learn to enjoy whatever new an exciting thing shows up on the table.

5. Bring up the past

This is one of the few times when bringing up the past with the family can be beneficial.

Just because your offspring didn't enjoy tomatoes last year, doesn't mean they haven't acquired a taste for them now. If you have failed, try again. You could even drop some science bombs on them by saying taste buds regenerate every 10-14 days. Who knows what they could be salivating for by now?


15 kid-friendly meals for picky eaters

We've picked and briefly described 15 examples that you may want to get started on with the last five being geared towards toddlers. It's never too late to try new things, and give yourself, and your family the gift of being surprised. Our hope for you is the surprise shows up in the form of a satisfied and grateful family at the dinner table.

1.Sloppy tacos

The resemblance of fast food has children opened minded to this one. Instead of going to a greasy place with little nutritional value, try this hot take on tasty tacos.

sloppy tacos

2.Adam's beef stroganoff

If your kids don't like pasta, they may be a lost cause and good luck to you. This recipe brings flavor and texture to one of the least liked foods for picky eaters, mushrooms.

3.Cast-iron pan pizza

What child doesn't like pizza? With a winner like this, whose going to throw a fit over a little added basil?

4.Skirt steak with shallot pan sauce

A delicious sauce is one of the best ways to get around the food your picky eater doesn't like. Dressing up some meat that normally seems bland will have them asking for more.

5.Bucatini with butter-roasted tomato sauce

Yum! If their hesitant on the tomatoes and the remainder of taste buds regenerating every 12 days doesn't help, the buttery goodness just might do the trick.

6.Salmon Teriyaki

Fish can be foreign to kids. The image of eating something similar to their pet Nemo may be tough to get around. However, the sweet and saltiness of teriyaki sauce will remind them of the joys of Asian take out.

salmon teriyaki

7.Parmesan chicken cutlets

The stranger something looks, the more questions and resistance they'll have. These tasty chicken cutlets look like the patty of a chicken burger without the poor quality. Get ready for seconds!

8.BA's best macaroni and cheese

There are Mac and cheese from a box that never expires. Then there's the fresh flavor of homemade macaroni done right.

9.Smashed roasted potatoes

There's no way your kids will be begging to leave the table early with this roasted recipe. The crunchy texture will be all too familiar to their love of fries.

10.Iceberg wedges with grilled bacon and croutons

If you're looking for an addition that makes everything taste better, it's bacon. Your kids may even forget they're eating a salad.

Iceberg wedges with grilled bacon and croutons

11.Chicken cashew sauté on lolly sticks  

What a fun way for toddlers to eat chicken. Mimicking the joy of a popsicle, these cashew butter pops provide health and flavor from their nutty goodness.

12.Microwave courgette and pea risotto with prawns

Most kids freeze at the sight of green on their plate. Adding peas to the delicious combination of prawns and risotto will begin to bridge that gap.

13.Mini egg and veg muffins

No more hunger tantrums with this easy fix that can be made quickly and stored for any lunchtime stress. Packed with a variety of ingredients, they'll be a joy for the pallet and a simple step toward your mission of a healthy diet.  

14.Sweet corn and spinach fritters

Anytime you can add vitamin and mineral-packed spinach to something your toddler will like, it is a feel-good meal. Made in less than 20 minutes, you can cook up a batch ahead of time and freeze for later.

15.Cauliflower cheesecakes

Crispy and easy to hold in the miniature hands of your toddler, you get a nice pairing of healthy cauliflower and cheese that gets them salivating. It's a win-win as long as there are napkins nearby.

The above strategies and recipes have been intended as your backup in the fight against picky eating. Now that you are armed for success, you can turn the dinner table from a battlefield to a place of connection, joy, and health.

Remember, you are not the only family struggling with toddler meal ideas and picky eater problems. The more you are able to let go and adapt, the easier and more fun this experience of feeding your family will be.

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