Mention online somewhere that your kid or kids are picky eaters, and you’ll get a whole lotta “feedback” from other moms whose kids “eat all their vegetables!”, “love peas!” and “I can’t keep enough salad around for her!” They’ll also throw in helpful tidbits about how “you’re not trying hard enough.” or “your’e not doing it right.”
I am not that mom.
I feel your pain. I understand. Let’s start a support group.
My boys both started out as amazing eaters when they were babies. AMAZING. Ate everything I offered. Even stuff I won’t touch. Green beans? Check. Peas? Check. Broccoli? You bet. But then, when they hit about two years of age, they suddenly started turning up their noses at everything. I thought for a while that Ferris was “less picky”, but I’m slowly discovering that just because he eats foods that Bowie won’t doesn’t mean there’s not a long list of foods he won’t touch too.
I was advised by our preschool director that it is our job to put the healthy foods on their plates, and whether they eat it or not is up to them. And also if you put the tiniest little portion, like teaspoon sized portion, of whatever “healthy” food it is you want to serve, but think they won’t eat, they’re a lot more likely to try it, because the portion size is so much less intimidating. And we have instituted this advice, with some success. They both definitely tried foods they wouldn’t normally have gone for, and even enjoyed some of them, broadening their eating repertoire.
But, there are still those lunches and dinners where they refuse to eat a single bite, and it’s a big argument, and then they go hungry, which I hate. But, we all learn from it and the next mealtime is often infinitely easier.
I’ve got a list for you of foods that are nutritious, or at least mildly so, and that my boys will eat, for whatever reason. For those times when you don’t want to have the argument, and you don’t want them to be hungry. You want them to eat a healthy meal, and you want them to get a full belly. I’m going to skip the obvious choices, like fresh fruit, cheese, brown rice, ketchup, you guys know all about that. These are ideas to get you (and your kids) out of your rut. So, here it is:
Beth’s Top Ten Favorite Healthy Foods for Picky Kiddos
1. Avocados. I don’t know if it’s the creaminess, the mild flavor, the fun color, what. But they gobble them up. And they are packed with fiber, iron, potassium, vitamin C, amongst other things. If your little one turns their nose up at slices or chunks, try mashing it. Weelicious has great recipes here and here. Think non-spicy, non-chunky guac. Serve with some whole wheat pitas or low salt tortilla chips.
2. Eggs. I know you have probably been on the egg train for a while. This one is kind of a no-brainer. But, I’m including it to remind you how versatile eggs are. Look beyond the scramble. Embrace the hard boiled, either whole or mashed up for egg salad (which you can mix with flax, veggie purees, chia seeds, whatever your go-to sneaky additive). Consider over-hard fried for breakfast (just the whites too, if you want to go that route). They can eat it on toast like a sandwich or chopped on top of rice or quinoa. You can serve them baked, I have a great recipe that is just eggs, leeks and cream, baked in ramekins. So yummy even Mommy and Daddy will enjoy. I serve them for dinner! Or try a frittata, or a quiche, load them up with veggie purees. Eggs are cheap, versatile, and they’re loaded with protein. I’m telling you, eggs are your friend.
3. Since I just mentioned it, we’ll move on to quinoa. I love quinoa. It’s so easy to cook, you can replace your rice with it in almost any recipe (I love making quinoa fried “rice”, fabu) and it’s got a nice nutty flavor and great texture. My guys really like it with a bit of oil and vinegar. I cook it in chicken stock for added flavor and nutrition, and I add in little bits of veggies that they may or may not pick out, but they’re in there. Quinoa is a whole grain, a great source of iron and fiber, and a protein powerhouse.
4. Edamame. Otherwise known as soybeans. You can find them in the frozen section, in pods or out, or sometimes in the fresh produce, pre-cooked and seasoned and packaged up. They have a nice, mild, non-intimidating flavor. Some people don’t or can’t do soy, so this obviously isn’t for you. But edamame has a long list of vitamins and lots of fiber and protein, is fast and easy to cook, and is easily snackable for the park or a day at the zoo.
5. Fish. Not your average store-bought fish sticks, just fish. Real fish. Sometimes I doll it up and put a crunchy batter on it myself, but usually I can just serve it as-is with a tasty sauce, and they’re totally on board. I serve salmon with a yogurt-dill sauce or with a tasty miso sauce. I serve white fish like tilapia or cod with a yummy cumin lime butter or another yogurt sauce with herbs like mint or cilantro. Or just fish tacos with sour cream. If it’s got a nice mild flavor and you can pair it with a topping they already like, they are highly likely to eat it. Fish, especially salmon, is a great source of protein, as well as the all-important omega-3 fatty acids.
6. Trail Mix. This works because it’s full of nuts and dried fruit (if you have a nut allergy in your house, obvs. this one’s not for you), but the kids just see the M&Ms and think they’ve won. We pour a small amount for each one, maybe 1/4 cup, and the rule is they have to eat all of that before they can have more. This prevents them from picking out the chocolate and leaving the rest. Nuts and dried fruits are great sources of nutrition, and trail mix is often low-salt or no-salt (check the sodium level). We like to get the giant bags from Costco, or to just make our own.
7. Hummus. Ok, confession: Bowie won’t eat hummus. But, Ferris LOVES it. Can’t get enough. And I’ve seen plenty of my friends’ picky eaters gobble it up too. Put a big gob on the end of one of those thick pretzel sticks or on a big cracker, and watch them (maybe, hopefully) devour. Hummus consists mostly of chickpeas, which are overall just really great for you. And hummus comes in a wide variety of flavors so you can find one your kids will like. Ferris likes roasted red pepper flavor.
8. Quesadillas. I’m not talking your standard burrito-place 1/2 inch thick gob of cheese between two white flour tortillas here. I’m talking take that idea, and turn it up a notch. I like to make them with whole wheat tortillas. I spread them with a very thick layer of refried beans, beans are crazy full of fiber, and I sprinkle ground flax over the top of that. Then I sprinkle on a modest amount of shredded cheddar cheese. I serve it with a dab of sour cream (I don’t know why, but kids LOVE dipping their food into stuff), sometimes I add a little flax to the cream too. Or cumin, which has a nice authentic yet mild flavor, and is actually really nutritious itself, offering fiber, iron and even calcium. I am also a MAJOR fan of the Breakfast Quesadilla from Weelicious. Her recipe just calls for egg and cheese, but during step 3, I also add chopped spinach or kale, like really finely chopped, and just a dusting. They’ll hardly even notice it.
9. Spinach tortellini or ravioli. It’s got pasta, which they love, and inside, along with some yummy cheese, is spinach. That’s right, SPINACH. My boys tuck the tiny dumplings into their mouths like popcorn. Either they don’t notice the green stuff, or they don’t care. Either way, they’re each getting a serving of spinach in their belly. I buy spinach tortellini virtually by the case from Trader Joe’s, where a 10 ounce package of the fresh stuff (which I freeze) is only $1.99. I cook it, put a little olive oil, salt and pepper on it, and sprinkle with parmesan. It’s a lunch box staple for Bowie. It only takes me 3 minutes to cook it in the morning.
10. Sushi. Ok, hold on, don’t run away. Hear me out. I know some of you are thinking, “yeah right, I’m going to take my kid out for raw fish.” But, sushi comes in many forms. And sushi restaurants have a plethora of regular menu items that kids worship. It’s probably Bowie’s favorite meal. He likes the miso soup. Miso good for them, and he also likes the protein-filled tofu. And the onions and seaweed just go down the hatch with the broth. And of course there is edamame (see #4), which is a cheap menu item, sometimes even free. Both guys also like avocado rolls (see #1) and our local place has a tempura roll that has tempura-battered shrimp in it. So they get the nori (the seaweed on the outside) and avocado and shrimp. And I always order the tempura veggies. Yes, they’re fried, but the batter is very thin and holds less oil. Ferris will eat huge florets of broccoli and slices of zucchini and eggplant. Bowie likes the carrots and sweet potatoes. They are also different from other deep fried vegetables in that the pieces of vegetables themselves are gigantic. Most of the nutritional value is kept intact, and not cancelled out totally by the oil. And if you can get your kid to eat fish, of the cooked variety (see #5), most Japanese menus have a wide variety of fish to choose from, and lots of sauces. My boys are both sort-of fans of teriyaki salmon.
10 1/2. I don’t know why, but both of my guys like frozen peas and frozen corn. Not cooked. Just straight from freezer to plate. They don’t care for either one in cooked form, but frozen? A treat, somehow. Maybe give it a try?
This is ONLY what worked for MY kids. And if I know picky eaters (and I DO), then your picky eater’s personal list of That Which Shall Not Be Touched is probably totally different than it is with my guys. I’m also kind of a fan of the hiding-healthy-bits-in-the-yummy-stuff, but I know others don’t really like this approach, so just do what feels right, of course. I just hope this gave you at least one idea. Or half an idea. Just hope it helped.
Please let others know in the comments what your ideas are. What are your go-to healthy kiddo foods? Meal ideas, snack ideas? What’s your favorite way to add nutrition to their favorite foods?