In this article, we talk about what can be one of the biggest hurdles for any parent at dinner time – a picky eater!
Organizing breakfast, lunch, and dinner each can be stressful enough on its own, and that’s without having to account for what your child will or will not eat. In this article, we’re focusing on the root cause. We’re going to give you strategies to address picky eating, and how you can start introducing your child to new foods the right way. You might be surprised how much can be changed simply with a shift in perspective!
Tips for Planning Meals for Picky Eaters
Planning meals for a picky eater is tough. Thinking about what your kids can and cannot eat, and modifying whole recipes because of it, or cooking them an entirely separate meal when they could eat a family dinner with you. It can all add up pretty fast, and can end up in a headache you don’t need.
But if you are simply focused on avoidingthose contentious foods, then you might be going about this the wrong way. In this section, we’re giving you tricks to address the problem, and helping your kid overcome their picky eating to gain a full and well-rounded healthy diet.
Talk to Them
The first step for how to plan meals for picky eaters is a simple one – talk to them! You’d be surprised how opinionated your kids are about the foods that they eat. Talking to them is a great way to find out which foods they don’t like, and whythey don’t like those foods. Before we can solve the problem, we need to get to the root of it.
So, talk to them, find out what they don’t like, and then try to change that. Next up, we give you a few ideas for getting the picky eaters in your family to be not so picky!
A Little Each Time
The first method for addressing a picky eating problem is to slowly introduce new foods into a diet. If there’s a specific food that your picky eater doesn’t enjoy, try to give them a little bit with certain meals. Sometimes, it’s all about little steps here and there.
For example, if they don’t like mushrooms, try to have them eat a couple mushrooms alongside one of their favorite meals (or chopped and incorporated right into the dish). It’s all about training your palette to realize that their least favorite foods really aren’t all that bad!
Try Methods to “Mask” Flavor
Another strategy to deal with picky eaters is to switch up the flavors of their least favorite foods. Cooking is a versatile art, and there are lots of ways to push a fresh spin on different ingredients.
The first method is to mix the tricky foods into a larger dish. This way, you can “mask” the flavors so they won’t even realize they are there. For example, cooking their least favorite veggies into a pasta sauce or putting them into a stew.
If you reallywant to hide them, you can even blend or puree them up as a vegetable mixture before adding them to certain sauces.
The second method is all about seasoning and cooking methods. Perhaps the reason that your kids don’t like certain foods is not because of the food itself, but because of the way they are cooked. After all, any veggies taste better when they are properly seasoned and cooked. Try mixing with some salt and oil and frying them up. You will find that once kids grow to like a certain variation of a food, they will tend to be okay with that food in any situation!
Reward Good Eating
Another method to deal with picky eaters is with an effective reward system. We were likely all told as children to finish our vegetables or we wouldn’t be getting any dessert, and there’s a reason our parents used this method. Rewarding healthy eating goes a long way with kids. Give them some incentive for trying the dishes that they don’t like.
Just be sure to hold them accountable to these standards. Always follow through on your promises, but only if they hold up their end of the “deal” on trying a new food.
Also, be sure not to overdo it. Desserts should be properly portioned, and shouldn’t accompany every meal. A reward can go a long way, but not everything needs to be rewarded. A healthy meal needs to be established as a necessity in its own right.
Examples of Meals for Picky Eaters
Before we wrap up, here are a few examples of healthy food that you can try out for any picky eater. Thesedelicious meals use some of the strategies mentioned above to either hide certain foods, or to make them even tastier!
Pasta with Sauce
We touched on this above, but a pasta sauce is a perfect place to hide any veggies that your kid may not enjoy and makes a great family meal. A pasta sauce is full of strong flavors already, so mixing in certain veggiescan go almost undetected. Throw in chicken and cheese to help mask the veggie flavor. If you really want to hide it, chop it up really fine, or even puree the sauce so it is rich and smooth.
Often, it’s not about the veggie, but how they are cooked! Sautéing is such a simple way to elevate a veggie dish, and your kid may discover that they actually dolike some of the foods they thought they didn’t. After all, everything is better with fat and salt, and when it’s properly cooked.
Homemade Healthy Pizza
How about a healthy pizza? Pizza gets kind of a bad reputation, but there are ways to make it quite healthy. You can even take our above tip and hide some veggies in a pureed pizza sauce. Alternatively, try to get your kids to dress up their pizza with certain veggies. Sometimes, by mixing in their least favorite foods with their favorite dish, they can realize that there wasn’t much to be afraid of.
Thanks for reading our guide on dealing with picky eaters. It’s definitely not an easy task, but you will find that, with small steps and gentle progress, any kid can overcome their eating habits and start eating nutritious food.
About the Author
Alissa is a resilience coach, cartoonist, and advocate for ‘connection, not perfection’. She’s dedicated to helping others find a sense of safety and belonging inside themselves so they can heal, connect, and build authentic, joyful lives.