15 Best Foods For Picky Eaters That Will Keep Your Kid Happy & Healthy
When mealtime is a battle with your child, sometimes it's easier to just give them what they want than force them to try food they'll only spit out in disgust. As nice as it would be to only make one meal for the family, the best foods for picky eaters are the ones they will actually eat that also have some nutrition. You may still have to make more than one meal for your family, but at least you won't have a hangry kid on your hands.
To say that it's frustrating when you have a kid who turns their nose up at everything is a huge understatement (what kind of monster doesn't like spaghetti?!). Even so, the best things you can do as a parent are to have patience and practice what you preach. Nutritionist Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RDN, tells Romper that a kid's picky eating isn't as simple as their unwillingness to try new things. "Some kids are more sensitive to smell, texture or taste," she says. "For some its genetic." She encourages parents to be persistent but to also manage their expectations with new foods, because "a child has to try a food 10-15 times before they can really say if they like it or not." Parents' own eating habits can also play a role in a child's picky behavior, Schapiro says. "Kids model after their parents' behaviors ... if you are a picky eater, most likely your child will be a picky eater." To combat this, she says, "If you show them that you eat a variety of foods, then they may be more likely to try them."
Guiding your picky eater into exploring new foods will obviously take some time, so what are parents supposed to do in the interim? Schapiro recommends parents keep mealtimes relaxed, because "if you are constantly putting pressure on kids to try new foods, they are most likely going to push back." Additionally, she suggests "put[ting] out a veggie plate and/or fruit" because "the more they see that this is normal, they may eventually want to try some." Still, the process isn't quick, so to help you all get through it, here are a few foods to feed your picky eaters that they will both enjoy and will give them some nutrition.
1. Homemade Pizza
One way to get your kids excited about food is by letting them be a part of the process, according to Schapiro. "Getting them involved in picking out groceries and helping you prepare meals can help to broaden their variety with food." Start out easy with a homemade pizza, then over time start to add in vegetable and meat toppings to introduce some variety.
2. Chicken Noodle Soup
Even if the only thing your child eats at first is the noodles, chicken noodle soup is something they will eat that will also give them the opportunity to have some meat and veggies. To make it easier, make a big batch of soup in the crock pot and freeze some of it so you don't have to constantly make it from scratch.
3. Veggies With Dips
Most kids aren't going to naturally gravitate towards vegetables at all, especially raw vegetables. Schapiro suggests giving your child the option of dipping their veggies into hummus or ranch to add some flavor.
Like homemade pizza, quesadillas have a lot of growth potential (if nothing else, they're easy to sneak some chopped meat or veggies into). You can get your kids involved in the prep process and give them the freedom to add in their favorite vegetables.
Chances are you probably introduced your kid to yogurt when they were a baby, and Schapiro says it's still a great option for a picky eater. Shoot for some whole milk greek yogurt and add a dollop or two of jam to give it some fruity flavor. Then, add in some berries and other goodies as time goes on.
6. Meatballs (With Veggies In Them)
Another great suggestion from Schapiro is homemade meatballs. She suggests chopping up some veggies into the mixture before rolling them out and cooking them. Your kid can eat them as is, dipped in something, or with their spaghetti.
Who doesn't love applesauce? Schapiro recommends this classic treat for picky eaters. Go for the no-sugar-added variety (or homemade, if you're into that) and add some cinnamon at home if it needs a little flavor.
8. Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup
Grilled cheese and tomato soup is a tradition for a reason: it's delicious. If your picky eater is already a fan of the grilled cheese, introduce them to the art of dipping it into the soup (just remember, it may take a few tries to get them to decide whether or not they like it).
Fruit is sweet, which kids love, and full of nutrients, which parents love. Schapiro says fruit is a great food for picky eaters and suggests giving your picky eater easy access to it so they can snack on it any time.
Kids love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and believe it or not, there is some value to them. If you're able, serve it on some whole wheat bread, and find a jelly or jam that has real fruit in it. The peanut butter will give your kiddo some protein, so if you're stuck in a PB&J rut, just remind yourself of that. (There's always almond butter, cashew butter, or sunflower seed butter for kids with nut allergies, too.)
11. French Toast
French toast is another (delicious) suggestion Schapiro makes for picky eaters. Have your kids help you make it so they can see you dip the bread into the eggs and watch the cooking process. Then, let them load it up with berries and enjoy.
12. Shakes & Smoothies
You can pack a lot of good stuff into a shake or smoothie, and your child will never even know. Load it up with Greek yogurt, a lot of sweet berries, and a dash of cocoa powder and then add in some extra things that they won't taste like spinach or chia seeds.
13. Homemade Chicken Nuggets
Your picky eater can still have their chicken nuggets, but Schapiro recommends serving some homemade ones. This allows you to control the breading-to-chicken ratio and slowly introduce your child to new flavors and spices. Just remember, if you're a busy parent who is pressed for time, the dinosaur nuggets now and then are just fine.
14. Mac & Cheese
Mac and cheese is something kids and adults can all agree on, and it's a good go-to for your picky eater. Over time, add some broccoli or other vegetables to the dish to help broaden your little one's palate.
15. Foods With Similar Colors
Another great suggestion Schapiro has for parents is to serve your picky eater "foods with similar colors." For example, she says, "If your child likes sweet potatoes or sweet potato fries, try carrots. If your child likes red peppers, try strawberries or an apple. If your child likes white foods, try cauliflower, roasted or steamed." New foods are intimidating enough, so serving a new food that's also a new color can lead your child to do the classic "lick taste" before declaring they don't like it.
All of these foods are great for your picky eater, but Schapiro urges parents to cycle through them. She says, "If children are offered the same things every day, because you know they will always eat those foods, it can be doing your children a disservice. They accept and expect that monotony with food is normal." So, offer your kiddo variety, practice patience, and if you think you're about to lose it, just throw some dinosaur nuggets in the oven and try again tomorrow.
Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RDN, Ilyse Schapiro Nutrition