Parents work ceaselessly to keep their children happy and healthy. A big part of both health and happiness is mealtimes.
Children need to eat a balanced diet that provides them with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive, but they aren’t always happy to do so.
Picky eaters often hold silent standoffs with crossed arms and a pout on their faces, refusing to eat food that doesn’t feel yummy and fun to their developing tastes.
If you want dinner time to be more fun and balanced, try a few of our picky eater-approved recipes that are just as delicious as they are nutritious.
1. Grilled Chicken Nuggets
If your picky eater already likes chicken nuggets, why not make the chicken nuggets a little more nutritious? Making grilled chicken nuggets is easy, and they make great leftovers. If your toddler likes them, make enough to serve as lunch for the next two or three days.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Chicken breast
- Marinade of choice
- Seasoning blend of choice
- A drizzle of olive oil
Cut chicken breast into bite-sized nuggets and place them in a zip-top bag with some marinade. You can choose a premade marinade or use a simple homemade marinade.
Many people find that diluted lemon juice, or even diluted pickle juice, perfectly tenderizes the chicken while enhancing the flavor. Refrigerate the chicken for at least two hours while it marinades.
Then, drain the chicken and pat it dry. Drizzle it lightly with olive oil. Dust it with a seasoning blend your child will enjoy. Use a salt-free premade blend or make your own simple blend with salt and pepper.
Grill the nuggets on a real grill or on a griddle on the stovetop, periodically flipping them to help them cook evenly. This should take about 8 minutes on medium heat.
Check a few pieces with a thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. When they’re done, take them off the heat and let them cool a little bit before serving.
2. Mac & Trees
Mac and trees, an alternative to mac and cheese, is a great way to easily incorporate vegetables into your child’s diet without making dinner time complicated. If you have a busy weeknight and you’re looking to avoid takeout, throw this together.
It’s easy to keep the ingredients on hand. The “trees” in mac and trees are broccoli florets, the fun part of the broccoli that children often take a greater interest in.
By cutting them into small pieces and mixing them with macaroni and cheese, the broccoli will take on a tasty cheesy flavor and become difficult to separate from the rest of the mixture.
This means your child is more likely to eat the broccoli than selectively pick around it.
- One box of your child’s favorite enriched macaroni and cheese or vegan macaroni and cheese
- One bag of steam in bag frozen broccoli florets
Prepare boxed macaroni and cheese according to package instructions. When possible, choose macaroni and cheese made with enriched pasta. Enriched pasta is an easy way to incorporate more vitamins and minerals into your child’s diet.
While the pasta is boiling, pop a steamer bag of broccoli florets into the microwave.
As the macaroni is cooking, cut open the bag of broccoli florets and cut the broccoli lengthwise into smaller pieces. When mixing the cheese into the pasta, toss in the florets and mix it all together.
You can bump up the protein content of this dish by adding crumbled cooked ground turkey, sliced cooked turkey franks, or even crumbled bacon. If your child can or will eat tuna, canned tuna packed in water is a simple addition that will turn this dish into a satisfying casserole.
3. Build-Your-Own Taco Bar
A build-your-own taco bar is a fun way to get your child interested in cooking and encourage them to explore new vegetables. You can bring your toddler up to the kitchen counter and show them all the ingredients, allowing them to taste small bites.
Let them watch you make two different kinds of tacos. This will engage their creativity and encourage experimentation.
- Hard taco shells or tortillas of your choice
- Protein of your choice (like ground turkey, fish, or black beans)
- Assorted vegetables, diced (lettuce, avocado tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, black olives, etc.)
- Cheese, optional
Prepare your protein as directed and dice vegetables into small pieces, placing each in their own bowl. Lay your ingredients out on the counter with your shells or tortillas. Have fun with your toddler!
Taco bar night makes excellent leftovers, and many of the ingredients can be repurposed into a southwestern salad for adult lunches. This concept can easily be translated to a pizza station with toasted whole wheat tortilla crusts or even a breakfast bar where children can customize their own omelet or scrambled eggs.
Meals like these create the perfect opportunity for parents to get their kids curious about life skills while explaining the importance of balanced nutrition.
4. Spaghetti and Meatballs
Most picky eaters enjoy spaghetti and meatballs. It’s a fun dish for kids, and it doesn’t need to be prepared with the time and devotion of a doting Italian grandmother to be delicious.
- Premade turkey meatballs
- Enriched whole wheat spaghetti
- Low sugar pasta sauce
- Chopped vegetables of your choice (bell peppers, carrots, onions, etc.)
Premade turkey meatballs can be found in the frozen section of the grocery store. They’re a quick dinner solution and a healthy lean protein. Bake them in the oven according to package instructions.
Boil whole wheat enriched spaghetti on the stove. This will serve as your healthy, fiber-rich carbohydrate that will satiate your child’s appetite as well as your own.
Add the diced vegetables of your choice into your low-sugar pasta sauce on the stove, allowing it to simmer for as long as possible. Doctor it up with your favorite seasonings as you please.
This speedy weeknight meal is surprisingly nutritionally balanced. It’s also relatively inexpensive to prepare. If you’re a busy parent with a picky eater, it’s hard to go wrong with this simple recipe.
5. Air Fryer Fries
If your child loves fried foods, making them in the air fryer is the easiest way to lighten them up. They’ll still have the familiar flavor and crispy texture, but they won’t be overloaded with cooking oil. Consider using sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, as they contain more fiber and nutrients.
- One bag of frozen sweet potato or traditional potato fries or tots
- Olive oil
Simply prepare the fries according to the instructions that came with your air fryer. It only takes a few tablespoons of oil to make a giant bag of crispy fries or tots. It’s an easy swap that won’t be met with complaints from picky eaters.
6. Dessert Parfaits
Many picky eaters will claim to feel full after approximately three bites of dinner but suddenly find tons of room for dessert. A fruit-infused dessert with plenty of protein can serve as the perfect replacement for a bowl or pop of traditional ice cream. Boost the nutritional content with toppings.
- Low-fat yogurt or frozen yogurt (or non-dairy alternative)
- Sliced assorted fruit and berries
- Toppings like natural granola, semisweet chocolate chips, and powdered peanut butter
Start by putting your yogurt base in a cup. Allow your child to add as many spoonfuls of fruit as they want, allowing them to “top off” their parfait with a small amount of a special treat like granola or chocolate.
Helping Your Picky Eater Get Their Vitamins
Every family is different, and every child has a unique presence. It may take a while to help their children appreciate healthier foods. It can be more challenging to introduce a wide array of foods in a plant-based household or a household where one or more people live with food allergies or intolerances.
If you’re feeling stuck, speak with your child’s pediatrician about your concerns for their wellness. Your doctor may be able to determine if your child is deficient in vitamins and minerals due to their picky eating habits.
Hiya children’s chewable multivitamin was formulated with picky eaters in mind.
We spoke to pediatricians about vitamins and minerals picky eaters often didn’t get enough of through their diets alone. We formulated a sugar-free, vegan, dairy-free, non-GMO, eco-friendly chewable children’s multivitamin without any gummy junk, artificial colors, or artificial flavors.
When your picky eater needs a little help, Hiya is always here.