If you’re looking for tips and recipes for picky eaters, you’ve come to the right place!
When my daughter was about 18-months-old, I really struggled to get her to eat new things. I felt like every single meal was a battle, and one of us (often me) typically ended up in tears. But then one day, while I was searching for tips and recipes for picky eaters, a friend shared something with me that totally changed my life. She had struggled with picky eating with her own girls for many, many years, but it wasn’t until her pediatrician challenged her to let go and allow her children greater control over their own eating habits that things started to improve. Her kids still weren’t eating enough protein and veggies in her opinion, but mealtimes were more enjoyable and her children became more receptive to the idea of trying new foods over time.
I decided to give her idea a try, and saw a similar change in our own home. Some may argue my daughter doesn’t have enough variety in her diet, but when I think back to the toddler years and how stressful mealtimes were, I’m just happy she’s hitting the basic food groups each day.
If you’re looking for tips and recipes for picky eaters, I’m sharing all of the things that have helped us along the way below!
What Causes Picky Eating?
Picky eating is common among young children, with some taking it to the extreme. There’s no known cause of picky eating, but early feeding issues, an increased sensitivity to certain tastes, smells, and textures, and food sensitivities can all contribute to fussy eating patterns. Children with autism and sensory processing disorder often struggle with picky eating, which can stem from gastrointestinal issues they can’t verbalize/explain, sensory sensitivities, and rituals they’ve developed around food. If you’re the parent or caregiver of a child who refuses to eat most foods, rest assured you’re not alone!
8 Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters
1. FOLLOW A CONSISTENT EATING SCHEDULE
It’s no secret that children thrive on consistency and routine, and if you have a picky eater in your household, creating and maintaining a regular eating schedule can be very helpful. A good rule of thumb is to offer 3 meals with snacks in between, ensuring your child is eating every 2-3 hours. If your child refuses the food you are serving, he or she will have to wait until the next snack or meal, but you can rest easy knowing the time between meals and snacks isn’t very long. Enforcing a regular eating pattern will help keep your little one’s blood sugar stable, and will ensure he or she doesn’t feel too full or too hungry at meals, which will [hopefully] make him or her more willing to try new foods.
2. GIVE YOUR CHILD CONTROL
Another great tip for parents of picky eaters is to offer more control. Search for recipes together, create a meal plan, take your child grocery shopping with you, and get him or her involved in the kitchen. By providing your child more control over the foods he or she eats, you will avoid power struggles and have an opportunity to teach him or her healthy eating habits along the way.
3. OFFER CHOICES
By giving your kids a choice over the foods they eat, and refusing to engage and get emotional about it, they will not only feel more in control of their eating, but they may feel more inclined to try new things. The trick is to find a good balance. You want your child to feel as though they have a choice in what they eat, but you still want to ensure they’re eating a healthy and nutritious diet. Instead of giving the option between vegetables and cookies, offer 3 choices within the same food group: carrots, peas, or green beans?
4. APPEAL TO YOUR CHILD’S SENSES
If your child is a picky eater due to sensory issues, use that to your advantage. If he or she prefers crunchy foods over soft textures, focus on finding healthy options that appeal to him or her, like celery, carrot sticks, crisp apples, and granola bars. Still struggling? Get creative! Pop some blueberries, strawberries, and banana slices in the freezer overnight, add Grape-Nuts Cereal to Greek yogurt, try Martha Stewart’s Cornflake-Crusted Baked Chicken recipe…you get the idea.
5. ALWAYS SERVE SOMETHING THEY LIKE
I’ve read a ton of articles and books on picky eating over the years, and one strategy that has been recommended to me countless times is to offer new things at meals, but to always include 1-2 foods you know your little one likes. I have been using this technique for years, and while my daughter doesn’t always agree to try everything on her plate, I often catch her sampling new foods when she doesn’t think I’m looking.
6. DON’T OFFER BRIBES
Many parents use dessert to bribe their children to eat their veggies, but few people realize that this approach can actually backfire. By offering a treat in exchange for 2 bites of broccoli (for example), you’re teaching your child that broccoli is something undesirable, making them less likely to try it again unless a reward is offered to compensate. Bribing kids with dessert also sets the stage for emotional eating down the road, and since a child will almost always eat dessert regardless of how full they are, it also encourages them to overeat.
7. ‘YOU DON’T HAVE TO EAT IT’
Another one of my favorite tips for parents of picky eaters comes from an article I read a few years ago. I don’t know who wrote it or what website or magazine I found it in, but the premise of the article was to reinforce the fact that our job as parents is to provide our kids with 3 healthy meals and 2 healthy snacks each day, and that our child’s job is to eat it. That’s it. So rather than accommodating different requests and getting angry when your child refuses to eat whatever you’ve put on his or her plate, the author of the article suggested avoiding any conversation about the meal completely. Simply place it in front of your child, and if he or she complains about one or more of the food items on his or her plate, say ‘you don’t have to eat it’ and change the subject. This avoids big emotions and power struggles, and ensures mealtimes aren’t stressful.
8. MAKE MEALS ENJOYABLE
The last of my tips for parents of picky eaters is to ensure meals are a positive and enjoyable experience. This is a time when families are meant to come together and enjoy each other’s company, which is really hard to do when you’re yelling over how many spoonfuls of peas your little one has eaten. Once again, your job as a parent/caregiver is to make 3 meals and 2 snacks, and it’s up to your child to decide whether or not to eat it. Yelling and screaming does nothing but create unnecessary stress and anxiety around food, which can can be especially damaging during the tween and teen years when disordered eating habits tend to surface.
40 Kid-Approved Recipes for Picky Eaters
Now that you have a few tips up your sleeve, you’re probably on the hunt for kid-approved recipes for picky eaters. It can be really difficult to find a balance between serving foods your little one will eat and trying to ensure he or she is hitting the basic food groups each day. The good news is that the internet is full of recipes for picky eaters, and we’ve curated 40 ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks below!
BREAKFAST RECIPES FOR PICKY EATERS
1. Bacon Egg Muffins | Everyday Cooking Inspiration
2. Chocolate Peanut Butter Green Smoothie | Think. Make. Share.
3. Kid-Friendly Protein Waffles | Super Healthy Kids
4. Cheesy Eggs-in-the-Hole with Bacon | Food Network
5. Sweet Spinach Muffins with Banana | Toddler Food
6. Allergy-Friendly Breakfast Cookies | Milk Allergy Mom
7. Blended Berry Overnight Oats | Healthy Little Foodies
8. Green Spinach Pancakes | On My Kids Plate
9. Healthy Banana Oat Muffins | The Lazy Dish
10. Allergy Friendly Breakfast Hummus | Kitchen Stewardship
LUNCH RECIPES FOR PICKY EATERS
1. Chickpea Vegetable Nuggets | Healthy Recipe For You
2. Chef Salad Food on a Stick | Pocket Change Gourmet
3. Garlic Toast Pizzas | The Lazy Dish
4. Hot Dog Nuggets | Lil’ Luna
5. Hidden Veggie Pizza Bread | My Kids Lick The Bowl
6. Chicken Fajita Quesadillas | My Gorgeous Recipes
7. Homemade Pizza Pinwheels | Kimspired DIY
8. Chicken Egg Rolls | Life in the Lofthouse
9. Ham and Cheddar Crescent Roll-Ups | Delicious Cuisine Recipes
10. Lunch Kebabs | Mom On Timeout
DINNER RECIPES FOR PICKY EATERS
1. Baked Parmesan Crusted Chicken Tenders | The Anthony Kitchen
2. Easy Hamburger Casserole | INSTRUPIX
3. Chicken Bacon Ranch Baked Penne | Smart Cooking
4. Hidden Veggie Mac and Cheese | Andianne
5. Air Fryer Chicken Taquitos | Momma Fit Lyndsey
6. Loaded Cauliflower Pasta | Small Town Woman
7. Spinach Stuffed Shells | Mess For Less
8. Easy Crockpot Lasagna Casserole | Create Kids Club
9. Mini Chicken Pot Pies | Building Our Story
10. Easy Taco Pizza Recipe | Perfection Pending
SNACK RECIPES FOR PICKY EATERS
1. Hidden Veggie Smoothie Pops | Simply Today Life
2. Easy and Healthy Peach Crisp | Simply Quinoa
3. Apple Zucchini Muffins | Two Peas & Their Pod
4. Banana Zucchini Bread | Momsdish
5. Baked Parmesan Zucchini Curly Fries | Eating Well
6. Turkey and Ham Skewers | Delightful E Made
7. Fruit Frozen Yogurt Bites | Tip Buzz
8. Double Chocolate Grain Free Zucchini Muffins | My Kids Lick The Bowl
9. Roasted Carrot Strips | Healthy Little Foodies
10. Homemade Apple Cinnamon Chips | Super Healthy Kids
Being the parent of a picky eater can be very challenging, especially when your little one is exhausted from a busy day at school and you’re already hanging onto your sanity for dear life, but my hope is that this collection of tips and recipes for picky eaters will help put an end to dinnertime battles once and for all. They’ve definitely made a difference in our household, and you know what they say: happy mom, happy home!