24 Healthy Foods For Picky Eaters
Although soft broccoli can be mushy and smelly to kids, lightly sauteed or stir-fried florets hit the right note, according to Marcia Pelchat, Ph.D., scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Sprinkle 2 cups cooked broccoli with 1/4 tsp. salt for that crunchy-salty combo kids adore.
Picky kids like the flavor of vitamin C-packed tomatoes, but not the squishy texture and seeds. Since tomato soup is generally lump-free and seedless, it's a great alternative, suggests Pelchat. Make your own at home or pick up a reduced-sodium brand, like Amy's Light in Sodium Cream of Tomato Soup or Campbell's Healthy Request Tomato Soup. If you sense resistance, float in a few fun-shaped crackers.
When encouraging your kid to try calamari, you don’t need to mention that it’s squid. "When I ordered this appetizer at a restaurant, my 5-year-old son swiped a piece off my plate and announced, 'This is the best appetizer I ever had,'" recalls Dr. Pelchat. Make a baked version at home to cut back on calories and fat.
Pomegranate seeds remind kids of sweet-and-sour candy, which make them an ideal food for picky toddlers. You can buy this fruit either fresh or frozen.
Meat is the usually the least offensive food group for most picky eaters, reports Dr. Pelchat. If you're having a hard time convincing your nugget-loving kid to try grilled chicken breast, cut it into chunks and put in on a stick. Be sure to cut off the pointy ends.
Sara Haas, RDN—a Chicago-based consultant, culinary dietitian, and author of Taco! Taco! Taco! & Fertility Foods Cookbook—says cauliflower can be a healthy food for picky eaters. Try slicing it in half to create a visually-appealing cauliflower steak, which you can top with familiar ingredients such as tomato sauce and shaved parmesan cheese.
If your child is still skeptical about digging into the large veggie, start smaller with cauliflower-based foods, like pizza crust or pasta (if your kid likes mac 'n' cheese, serve Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with cauliflower added to the pasta—it tastes the same as the regular stuff, but has a 1/4 cup serving of veggies).
Chickpeas out of the can be a bit boring, even to an adult. But once you roast them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, you’ll create a crispy snack full of protein and fiber. The flavorings are totally customizable; try using herbs, spices, and even citrus zest.
If you want your kid to eat more whole grains, try serving wheat berries. Their nutty, sweet flavor makes them easy to pop into your mouth. You can also toss them a kid-approved vinaigrette or add them to broth-based soups.
Nicole Jones, server at a Japanese restaurant in New York, recommends serving edamame to picky toddlers. "I've seen kids in the restaurant make a game of popping the beans out of the pods," says Jones. At home, just lightly steam the edamame and sprinkle on a little salt.
Fish with Teriyaki Sauce
Tempura Green Beans
"Anything crispy makes kids happy," Jones says. To make these at home, dip green beans in flour, eggs, and whole-grain panko bread crumbs. Place in a baking pan and spritz with canola oil. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 450 degrees F..
These pasta-like pockets are a stealthy way to offer vegetables to picky eaters. They're easy to make with wonton wrappers.
“Traffic-light peppers—raw red, yellow, and green strips or circles—are the most popular veggie in my school district,” says Jill Patterson, R.D., nutritionist for the Chartwells School Dining Services in Newtown and Weston, Connecticut. "The name is a big help," she says.
Some picky eaters pass on pizza because of the chunky sauce. Take a cue from Patterson, who creates a tomato-free version with olive oil, whole-grain crust (try Rustic Crust Tuscan Six-Grain), and shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese. Although this pizza tastes indulgent, it’s actually a healthy food for picky eaters!
Patterson's school put this fiber-packed chickpea spread on the menu as a dip and a sandwich filling. "Kids like the creaminess and mild flavor," she says.
Picky eaters don't typically like mixed textures. But a create-your-own parfait station with yogurt, fruit, and cereal toppings is a big hit with kids, who love creating their own meals.
Michelle Hagen, a flavorist for a large food-development company, sprinkles shredded coconut on whole-grain waffles. It balances the slightly bitter taste of the whole grains and covers up their darker color. "I tell my daughter, 'Let's make it snow,' " she says.
Sweet Potato Fries
Hagen has another crowd-pleasing food for picky toddlers: sweet potato fries. Bake a batch of these spuds and serve ketchup on the side. Why? Kids will try new foods when they're served with something familiar.
This spice makes almost any food taste sweeter, even though it's sugar-free. Use it to entice kids to eat cooked carrots or applesauce, suggests Hagen.
Most kids love the flavor of pineapple, but the texture trips them up. Here’s a solution: Puree 1/3 cup chopped pineapple into 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt. You can also cut up bits of fruit to stir into yogurt.
Diane Tunis, Head Start teacher in Silver Spring, Maryland, recommends cucumbers as a healthy food for picky eaters. "The 5-year-olds in my class don't much like cooked veggies, but there are never enough cucumbers to go around," reports Tunis. Her theory: Cukes remind kids of pickles
Frozen Orange Juice
Orange juice with pulp (extra fiber!) is usually not a hit with picky kids. But if you freeze it in little cups and let it thaw for a few minutes, as Tunis does, it becomes an icy treat.
You think of celery as “blah” diet food. Kids think they’re crunchy fun when filled with low-fat cream cheese, ricotta, or hummus, says Tunis.
Picky eaters often have a texture issue with the skin of grapes, but peeling them is a pain. Plus, you'll lose a lot of the antioxidants. Tunis’s solution: Pop the grapes into the freezer, and the texture transforms. (Don’t serve grapes to kids under age 4 because they can be a choking hazard.)