25 Kid-Friendly Meals for Picky Eaters

We’ve all been there…its dinner time and your child is completely uninterested in what you are serving. Whether your child is a toddler or a fourth grader, here are 25 kid-friendly meals for picky eaters.

Picky eaters are defined as individuals who consume an inadequate variety of food through rejection of a substantial amount of food types that are both familiar and unfamiliar. 

Children can become picky eaters for a number of reasons. Some children are naturally more sensitive to taste, smell, and texture. Other children develop picky eating habits by mirroring their parents’ finicky eating habits. Picky eating habits are more likely to develop when parents punish, bribe, or reward their children’s eating behaviors. The goal of feeding kid-friendly meals to a picky eater should be to try new foods and to keep food from being a battle.

We Are in This Together

As a parent, you have responsibilities for feeding your child. Your child also has responsibilities.

  • Parents: Control WHAT, WHERE and WHEN food is provided.
  • Child: Decides WHETHER or NOT to EAT the food, and HOW MUCH to eat.

Offer a Variety of Age-Appropriate Foods

Your child should select from a variety of foods at mealtime like a vegetable, fruit, protein, and starch. Mix up the foods offered and avoid only offering the child’s favorite foods. Sometimes it takes up to 15 times of offering a specific food before a child will even try it. If all else fails, children will usually eat bread or pasta.

To make kid-friendly meals for picky eaters, involve your child in meal planning and cooking. Take them to the grocery store and let them pick out their favorite fruit or vegetable. Kids’ cookbooks are a great place to find fun food options for your child to choose from. Kids who help in the kitchen are more likely to want to taste what they make.

Vary food textures

For children who don’t like certain textures – like mushy foods – try a solid version. For instance, offer apple slices instead of applesauce. Another trick is to mix solid food with another texture, like dipping animal crackers in applesauce.

Limit High-Calorie Drinks

Your child may not eat the foods you provide if he or she is drinking too many calories from juice, soda, or milk. If your child drinks too much of these beverages, he or she can become full and eat poorly at mealtimes. Limit your child to 4 ounces of juice and 24 ounces of milk a day. Soda is not recommended for children because it has no nutritional benefit.

Set a Meal Schedule

Both snacks and meals are important for growing children to meet their nutrition needs. Importantly, having a set schedule of breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and bedtime snack helps children know that there is a meal coming every two to three hours and that they will not go hungry. Avoid giving your child food between the scheduled times.

If your child chooses to skip a meal or a snack, he or she can wait until the next scheduled time in a couple of hours. If your child refuses to eat, have him or her sit at the table until the majority of the family is finished eating, within reason.

A sample kid-friendly meals schedule might be:

Breakfast7:30 AMCheerios, Bananas, and Milk
AM Snack10:00 AMz bar
Lunch12:00 PMSandwiches, Carrot Sticks, Berries
After School Snack3:30 PMApple Slices and String Cheese
Dinner6:00 PMTacos, Beans, Rice, and Roasted Peppers
Bedtime Snack8:30 PMGraham Crackers and Milk

Make Meals Pleasant

It is important to make the environment where meals are eaten as inviting as possible. Have your children help set the kitchen or dining room table.  Make mealtime conversation subjects light. Further, when eating spaces are clean and bright, and distraction-free, children can be more mindful. Mealtime is not a time for watching television or arguing.

Respect Eating Preferences

Everyone has his or her own preferences in regards to eating. Children may eat a sandwich cut into triangles without crusts, but would not eat the same sandwich cut into squares with the crusts. A child may eat small pieces of broccoli, but avoid the stems. There can be vast differences in what a child eats today versus tomorrow. It is important to realize that your child may react differently to the same foods on different days. It is not necessary to offer a substitute food.

Avoid Being a Short Order Cook

If your child doesn’t like or doesn’t seem to be eating the foods that you have prepared for a meal or snack, it’s okay. Avoid the temptation to return to the stove and cook foods that you know your child will eat. If your child refuses a meal or snack, there will be another one in a few hours and he or she should be able to wait until then. When children are hungry because they chose not to eat, they’ll be more likely to eat what is offered next time.

Don’t Always Offer Dessert

Dessert does not need to be offered with every meal or even every day. Don’t bribe your child with sweet treats. This makes the treat the preferred food, and the other is still unpleasant. Kids who learn to make deals about food will start doing this for other routine things in their lives, like getting dressed or brushing their teeth.

When dessert is available, consider the following ideas:

  • If a child is forced to eat an entire meal before dessert, he or she may be full, but will likely eat the dessert anyway.
  • If your child refuses to eat, withholding dessert is not the answer. The child will learn to value desserts above more nutritious foods, which can alter eating patterns for life.
  • If your child rushes through the meal to get to dessert, try offering dessert with the meal.

When children are picky eaters, sometimes it is a response to controlling or pushy parents, or to bribery. The battle over food can then lead to resistance and defiance from the child. Ultimately, it is the child’s decision as to what to eat and whether or not to eat the foods you have provided. Sometimes, the child may eat very little or nothing at all, but he or she will make up the nutrition later that day or later in the week.

Here are 25 Kid-Friendly Meals for Picky Eaters:

  1. Chicken Patty Sandwich, Baked Tater Tots, Herbed Green Beans, Fresh Cantaloupe
  2. Cheese Tortellini Pasta, Green Salad, Garlic Bread, Marinara Sauce, Roasted Summer Vegetables, Red Grapes
  3. Grilled Beef Hot Dog, Classic Caesar Salad or Broccoli w Lemon Zest, Fritos Corn Chips, Fresh Pineapple
  4. Roasted Chicken Wings, Vegan Strawberry Spinach Salad, Roasted Zucchini & Onions, Navel Orange
  5. Spaghetti with Meatballs & Marinara, Hawaiian Rolls, Steamed Peas, Fresh Honeydew Melon
  6. Turkey Sausage Links, Waffles, Scrambled Eggs, Gluten Free French Toast, Fresh Berries
  7. General Tso’s Chicken, Romaine & Orange Salad with Crunchy Noodles, Jasmine Rice, Roasted Edamame, Watermelon
  8. Cheese Pizza, Cajun Shrimp Salad, Broccoli with Lemon Zest, Celery Sticks with Ranch Dressing, Grapefruit Sections
  9. Peruvian Grilled Chicken with Green Sauce, Watermelon, Feta & Arugula Salad, Steamed Basmati Rice, Smoky Pinto Beans, Fresh Berries
  10. Crunchy Beef Taco, Mango & Roasted Corn Salad, Spanish Rice, Cumin Spiced Black Beans, Navel Orange
  11. Fettuccine Alfredo, Breadstick, Roasted Green Beans with Crispy Onions, Fresh Cantaloupe
  12. Classic Beef Chili, Baked Potato, Steamed Peas, Mango Chunks
  13. Shredded BBQ Chicken on a Kaiser Bun, Classic Coleslaw, Clementine, Fritos Corn Chips, Watermelon
  14. Baked Ziti, Steamed Peas, Fresh Pineapple
  15. Chicken Shawarma, Tzatziki Sauce, Warm Pita Bread, Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables, Navel Orange
  16. Grilled Hamburger on Bun, Sweet Potato Fries, Herbed Green Beans, Fresh Honeydew Melon
  17. Cheese Quesadilla, Fiesta Rice, Roasted Beets & Butternut Squash, Red Grapes
  18. Meatball Sub with Marinara Sauce, Steak Fries, Fresh Cantaloupe
  19. Mini Bagel & Cream Cheese, Thai Cucumber Salad, Fresh Pineapple
  20. Sweet & Sour Chicken, Jasmine Rice, Stir Fresh Bok Choy, Mango Chunks
  21. Tomato Soup, Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Roasted Squash Medley, Red Grapes
  22. Beef Stroganoff with Egg Noodles, Lemon Glazed Carrots, Dinner Roll, Fresh Honeydew Melon
  23. Turkey Chili, Cornbread, Steamed Broccoli with Lemon, Fresh Pineapple
  24. Chicken Patty Sandwich, Roasted Asparagus & Carrots, Tater Tots, Fresh Honeydew Melon
  25. Beef & Macaroni Casserole, Brussels Sprouts with Red Peppers, Hawaiian Rolls, Fresh Cantaloupe

If you are looking for more kid-friendly meals for picky eaters, check out a couple of my favorites here and here.

If you would like a printable version of the list above, download it here.

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