25+ healthy meals for picky eaters that are easy and kid friendly. Free PDF printable with meal ideas!
We’ve all done it. You’re scrolling on social media with hopeful excitement and see a super healthy meal that any picky eater will supposedly eat. You decide it looks promising and are going to try it.
You quickly realize that this is anything but simple. There are ingredients you need to buy, and time you need to set aside to set up and prepare. Eventually, you carve out the time one evening to make this magical recipe now that you’ve acquired all the ingredients.
As soon as you start cooking, your previously occupied toddler comes waddling into the kitchen saying “up, up, up”.
Then, your son starts running around the kitchen as you desperately try to find the next step in the recipe on your phone. This is going about as well as all the other recent attempts at making a healthy meal for your picky eater.
You cave and put the toddler on your hip because the whining is wearing you down.
The recipe says 20 minutes of prep, you glance at the clock and notice that it’s already been 30, and you’re only half way through. FINALLY, miraculously, you get the recipe made, collapse into the couch for a second.
You serve dinner, nervous and beyond hopeful that they’ll devour this whole delicious healthy meal designed for picky eaters. Instead, they refuse to even put it on their plate.
You don’t know if you should throw the plate across the room or cry.
The last time this happened to me it was a recipe for cauliflower bread sticks. As a mom to a picky eater or two, and a pediatric occupational therapist, I do have some tricks to plan healthy meals for picky eaters WITHOUT losing your mind!
Plus, lots of ideas that are easily adaptable and simple to make.
Tips for Making Healthy Meals for Picky Eaters
No matter what recipes and food ideas you gain here, it’s critical to follow a few steps before you plan a healthy meal for picky eaters because every child is different and what one picky eater might eat, the next might not.
Oftentimes, that’s why the special “picky eater” recipes are a flop. Stick to these golden rules:
#1. Include a food they eat most of the time.
- Add a side dish of something they normally eat. That can be anything from bread to cheese to carrot sticks. Consider this your insurance that they have something they can fall back on if the newness of the recipe is just too much.
They will have much less hesitation when they see a familiar food as they sit down to eat. Read about some basic strategies in The Best Eating Habits for Kids.
#2. Make the meal for yourself.
- This is all about mindset really, but if you’re going out of your way to make a healthy meal for your picky eater, make sure you’ll enjoy it, too.
If you go through all the trouble just hoping and praying they’ll eat it, you’re setting yourself up for massive disappointment.
Instead, go into the meal thinking, “I’m really going to like these potatoes, and if Sam eats them, that’s a bonus.” Learn more in 5 Reasons Kids Won’t Eat.
This perspective switch is a game changer when it comes to keeping your cool with your picky eater.
#3. Schedule a bed-time snack.
- If the healthy meal your making is dinner and you know your child won’t eat a lot of it, then 2-3 hours later have a snack before bed to give you peace of mind they aren’t going to be on an empty stomach.
Of course, many kids are fine with waiting to eat breakfast in the morning! Head to Healthy Snacks for Picky Eaters for some new ideas.
#4. Think outside the box.
- Meals don’t need to be conventional, it’s okay to serve dinner for breakfast or vice versa. Often times we adhere to cultural rules that really have no bearing whatsoever on a child’s nutrition or long term eating habits.
Get more details on how to use this fun out of the box idea: Help for Picky Eaters: Using Dips.
#5. Don’t be too focused on being healthy.
- As parents, we all want our kids to be healthy, we want to give the best nutrition so they can grow and learn to the best to their ability. But for me, a healthy meal is more about variety of foods that aren’t high in sugar or salt.
If we get to obsessed with healthy meals for picky eaters, we may make the picky eating problem worse because they feel so pressured to eat better and start to associate negative thoughts about some foods.
Healthy is good, but not the initial and ultimate goal with picky eaters.
Read more about if your picky eater is healthy.
#6. Make It fun!
- Use creative dishware, cut food into various shapes, or use playful food picks and utensils to encourage fun during the meal (More on these later!).
Throw the idea of “no playing with your food” out the window; lightening the mood can make all the difference for a picky eater.
25+ Easy Healthy Meals for Picky Eaters
I’m going to break down all my suggestions into some different categories so you can pick, choose, and be inspired by foods that your child is most likely to eat or be interested in.
If you have any healthy foods that your child has enjoyed, let us know in the comments!
Deconstructed Meal Ideas for Picky Eaters
Deconstructed meals are my favorite way to have a peaceful healthy meal with a picky eater. Read about why it’s so effective here.
Basically, instead of mixing everything together like a casserole, you serve it all separately. Instead of a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, you have noodles in one bowl, sauce in another bowl, and meatballs in a bowl.
I try to bring pans right to the table to cut down on dishes or I’ll put the food in the plastic containers the leftovers will end up in anyways. Here’s are some of my favorite healthy deconstructed meal ideas:
1.Bruschetta Bar (The sky is the limit here with ideas and toppings. See how I set it up for my family.)
2. Baked Potato Bar (Think broccoli, cheese, bacon, ham, peas, shredded carrots, etc.)
3. Taco/Burrito/Quesadilla Bar (Consider using chicken, fish, or beans too!)
4. Pasta Bar (Different sauces, veggies, meats, beans, or nuts to mix in)
5. Salad Bar (Chicken nuggets and fries can be a topping, think outside the box!)
6. Yogurt Bar (Healthy fruits, seeds, and nuts as toppings with a side of fresh bread or crackers)
7. Personal Pizza Bar (Mini crusts, english muffins, or tortillas, and a variety of toppings)
8. Charcuterie Bar (Various crackers, deli meats, cut up veggies, dips, pickles, olives, even sweet treats laid out on a cutting board or platter)
Learn how to handle serving dessert to picky eaters here!
Picky Eater Meal Ideas with Breaded Foods
Oh, most picky eaters LOVE breading! It’s often a familiar texture and it helps to mask the strong flavor or texture that they’re avoiding beneath.
After your child eats foods that are breaded consistently, you can pull back from them. This list is mostly one idea for you to build the rest of the meal around. For more fun breading options, click here.
Make sure you grab the free healthy meals for picky eaters printable because you’ll get a cheat sheet that allows you to plan your meal easy peasy!
9. Healthy Homemade Mini Chicken Medallions, noodles with olive oil, and broccoli (If you want to buy Sam’s Club Dino Nuggets, (I don’t get a penny for saying that) they are one of my favorite brands because they are thin and picky eaters love that too!)
10. Breaded Green Beans, french fries, and mini meatballs (My kids LOVE these and they are not too difficult to make)
11. Popcorn shrimp, sliced apples, and quinoa (A great way to get fish into their diet!)
12. Breaded fish, cous cous, and red peppers
13. Blueberry cornbread, meatloaf, and peas (Frozen peas are often a big hit with picky eaters)
14. Homemade hot pockets (you pick the filling) and apple slices
Healthy Meals for Picky Eaters with Crispy Foods
A large portion of picky eaters prefer crispy textured foods. Building on the preference can lead to more healthy meals for picky eaters!
15. Bacon Sandwiches with raw veggie platter (This meal works great deconstructed, too!)
16. Fish Cakes, rice, and watermelon
17. Grilled Turkey or Chicken Legs with mac and cheese and broccoli (Grilling them gets the crispy!)
18. Pan fried ham, baked potato skins, and sliced pineapple rings (My kids love homemade potato skins. Simply bake your potatoes, empty the filling (serve as a side) and paint with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake again in the oven till crispy!)
19. Crispy chicken wings (sauce on the side), rolls, and corn on the cob (Break the corn on the cob in half and put it on a Popsicle stick for extra fun motivation!)
20. Cheese and barely noticeable spinach grilled waffle-wich (Make a grilled cheese with some fresh spinach inside your waffle maker!)
Surprising Healthy Meals for Picky Eaters Ideas
Remember I told you to think outside the box! Think untraditional to have a successful fun meal. Here are some of my favorite ideas, but don’t stop there, think about what else you can add to the list!
21. Pumpkin Waffles, sausage, and bananas (Yes, this works for lunch and dinner too!)
22. Made your own way quiche with side of crackers (Quiche is a mixed food/casserole type food which usually doesn’t go over too well, but with a few amount of mixed ingredients that your child chooses it could be a winner.)
23. Crispy french toast with cream cheese spread and peaches
24. Healthy Carrot Cake Smoothie with rice cakes and peanut butter
25. Super healthy pancakes, bacon, and berries
26. High fiber banana, sweet potato, pumpkin bread with yogurt and melon
My Favorite “Tools” for Healthy Meals with Picky Eaters
I do like to keep simple, but there a few fun items that I’ve used with my own kids and those that I work with that give kids a little extra motivation to enjoy their food. If you’re looking for some tools and tricks, I’ve got you covered!
These are my top pics:
Construction or Garden Fairy Utensils (We’ve had the bulldozer and digger fork for years. More than a few times they’ve saved a meal)
Taco Holder Truck (A huge hit in my house!)
Fun kid friendly mini forks and pics to stick in food (Perfect for little hands or just to make food a little more exciting!)
Fun bites cutters (Cut food quickly and easily into fun shapes and let your kid make pictures with them!)
Adorable little cups for dips (If your picky eater isn’t keen on dips these could really help win them over)
The Free Healthy Meals for Picky Eaters Printable
Now that you’ve got over 25 ideas for healthy meals for picky eaters, it would probably be helpful to access them again quickly, right? Well, I’ve got you covered because I’ve taken all the foods here and placed in a printable you can download and print.
Click here to get the Healthy Meals for Picky Eaters Printable!
Enter your name and email, and on the next screen and we’ll send the printable to you!
More Healthy Meals for Picky Eaters Ideas
Amazing Healthy Snacks for Picky Eaters
Mega List of Vegetable Recipes for Kids
Clever Food Ideas for Picky Eaters
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What a great collection of recipes for picky eaters. Gotta try some of them. Thanks.
So glad you enjoyed! Thank you!
My step-daughter will not eat anything healthy
Hi Melissa! We have a blog post dedicated to this concern! Check it out here and let us know if you have any questions 🙂
looking forward to printable list
Hello! I sent the printable to your email!
Please email me the
“25 HEALTHY MEALS FOR PICKY EATERS”.
Hi Joan! I sent the printable to your email!
I have an 11 year old whos not that picky anymore but i want to help her to try new things that are healthy as well.
So glad to hear that you are passed the picky eating stage! You can check out these recipes in the post as well as search for recipe on our site for any of our recipes for healthy options!
Hi! I’ve tried a couple times to get the printable in this post. It prompts me to register for your newsletters, which I have done. But then emails me a different printable. Is this one still available? Is there another way to access it?
Sorry for the confusion over the printable. Yes it is still available. I will email you directly to clear things up.
Hi, I was trying to print the meals for picky eaters and for some reason, it would not print. Would you sending to email@example.com
You can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you out!
*bad habits not nada habits.
My boys are overweight and very picky eaters, which makes having healthy meals extremely difficult. I need to get them to lose some weight without them knowing that’s what I’m doing. I really need some advice on what to do and meals that I can make them that they’ll eat. They are 8 and 10 and a little set in their ways already when it comes to food. How do I break nada habits?
Great question Jeanne, I’d start with just laying down some new ground rules. Maybe have a family meeting. You can use these tips as a guideline. Let them know that they’ll never be forced to eat anything they don’t want to- kids love that. Then, you can slowly start to change what is offered at meals, as you pick the food (you could let them help meal plan though too!)
I look forward to looking at this information more in depth. My almost 2 year old is highly picky and only eats very limited types of food to the point he is getting tired of eating the same thing all the time, but yet doesn’t want to try new few foods. He doesn’t like vegetables but loves fruit. He’ll eat pizza, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, and sometimes quesadilla. He used to eat box mac and cheese and corn on the cob but stopped. Ughh! I have tried to make meal time fun but I am always so worn out after working and then I come home to a meal time battle. I feel so bad and guilty and like I am messing up when I see other children eating well. Needless to say I am very discouraged.
You’re not alone Leanne! It’s a struggle, I know it! There are a lot of links in the post and the free workshop (yourkidstable.com/free). Once you get through those resources, start with just making some simple changes, one at a time, so it isn’t too overwhelming! I also have a picky eater group on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1972976466279128/
This is my child exactly! I don’t think I saw anything on this list that I thought he would actually even try! And if he ever found a piece of spinach inside the grilled cheese… game over!!
Yes Taylor, I know for extreme picky eaters this all can be a bit of a leap, but they are some of the first healthy foods you may be able to get them to eat. There’s a lot of resources here, see the other links in the post for how to start addressing picky eating:)
My son is anaphyllactic to eggs, chicken, nuts and sesame seeds. I look forward to seeing more interesting options for him.
Thank you! She loves Nutella & pretzels either peanut butter so I will try & get her to try apples with it. ?
Nice read. Definitely will give some of these a try! But how do you get a picky eater to eat fruit? I have a picky 6 year old who will eat some not all vegetables. But never fruit.
Great question Catherine! If your child is avoiding fruit he may not like the juicy messy nature of it or the sweetness. I’d start by focusing on apples, slices that are peeled specifically or cut cross-wise so that they look like wheels. Play games with them, (and pat them dry with a paper towel if they’re juicy) think about rolling them, dipping them into peanutbuttuer or nutella! I love using toothpicks to motivate too!
Very useful and interesting reading.