This is one of my favorite “tricks” or tips for picky eaters from toddlers to teens. It may sound a little strange, but it is powerful and might just work!
Ever wish you had a magic wand at the dinner table and you could wave it over your child’s plate and suddenly they’d gobble down their broccoli?
Well, I wish I could give you one, heck, I wish I had one myself. While I know that picky eating isn’t going to be totally solved with some snazzy brilliant trick, what I’m sharing with you today could help your kid branch out and try a new vegetable, meat, or fish.
For average picky eaters, it’s super effective, and for more extreme picky eaters, it’s something they might warm up to. (*If you’re looking for a whole plan, check out this mega post on picky eating.)
What I’m talking about is leveraging something that most picky eaters love to our advantage: crunchy breading. Yup, that’s what I said, I did tell you in the title that it was a little weird. Stay with me for a second because I’m going to explain.
An Awesome Picky Eating Tip: Bread Foods
If you’ve been around these parts before, you’ve probably heard me talk about picky eaters loving bread. Before you flood my comments, of course, not every picky eater likes breading, but, many do. And, on top of a love affair with bread and carbs, a lot of kids in general love crunchy foods.
My feeding therapist mind is always spinning, trying to connect foods that kids already like to new foods they refuse. In my Mealtime Works class, I call this bridging, but you may also have heard it called food chaining. You can read more about this picky eating technique here.
So this awesome picky eating tip is for you if your picky eater:
- likes bread and carbs
- likes crunchy food
- refuses some or all vegetables
- refuses meat or fish
Lots of picky eaters struggle with vegetables and meat because of the texture, either they don’t like the way it feels or it’s difficult to chew and move around in their mouth. To make matters worse, vegetables taste way more bitter to kids than they do to us.
When I add or suggest adding breading to other foods, it’s not because I want to trick our kids, far from it (read why I don’t believe in hiding food). The reason I like to bread foods is because it looks familiar. I’m sure you’ve noticed at this point how your child eyes up food, they instantly evaluate if it’s something they think they’ll like.
For picky eaters, as well as most toddlers and younger children, they are wired to be cautious with their food. They aren’t sure of those new foods. They are worried they’ll taste bad or give them an unpleasant experience. That could all change though when they look down and see a breaded food that looks somewhat familiar.
They can tell instantly that the texture is crunchy, and it sends the message, “this food might be safe.”
But, breading isn’t really healthy?!
I know, I know, you may be reluctant to start breading food because its seems like an unhealthy step. You want them to learn to love foods in their pure state. To eat roasted chicken, grilled fish, and steamed green beans.
And, let me insert here, that I myself have been free of gluten and nearly all grains for 9 months. I sympathize with any reservations because of health, but the feeding therapist in me knows better.
To help picky eaters learn to explore and try new foods, it’s important to have an open mind and see this step as a temporary one.
I don’t expect, nor would I want you to continuously feed your child breaded cauliflower forever. The beauty of this trick is that it allows for an opening, an exposure to a different texture/flavor that they may have never experienced, but instead of being totally repulsed they can taste something familiar in the crunchy breading as well.
This allows them to not totally refuse it, in many cases. This my friend is. a. win.
Everytime your child touches, tastes, or eats a new food, it’s a step forward, and letting go of healthy-ness for a short while is well worth it in the long run. Once a child eats a food several times, they’re more open to having it be altered. That means, in the future, you can add less breading and eventually serve it without any breading at all.
Not to mention that, since you’re controlling the ingredients, you can make healthier and even gluten-free choices about what types of breading you do use.
How to Bread Foods for Picky Eaters
There are three primary ways you can use breading to your advantage. Sometimes that may mean an extra step in your cooking, so I suggest planning ahead. And, as a bonus tip, if you can get your kids involved in helping you prepare your breaded food, they’ll be even more likely to eat the food.
Let’s take a closer look at how to bread foods:
1. Batter it – This is probably the most versatile option, because you can batter just about everything and there are a few ways to approach it. To do this, you just need a beaten egg in a bowl and then some sort of breading (add seasoning such as salt, pepper, garlic as you see fit) in another bowl. This could include any of the following:
- Almond meal (finely ground almonds: gluten free)
- Shredded coconut
Then, you’ll want to grab some raw or cooked vegetables (not frozen) and dredge them through the egg first and the breading second. Then you can either saute in a pan with a little oil or butter, or to make it extra crispy, use some oil to fry your creation. Some foods that work well battered are:
- Broccoli (This is our battered version below, we used flour. Get the recipe at the end)
- Green beans
- Chicken (think strips or nuggets)
- Fish (again, aim for small pieces)
- Pork chops
- Chicken wings
2. Wrap it inside the bread – For this approach, you’re going to think about encasing the food inside, this is better for fillings or shredded foods. Here’s some ideas:
- Home-made hot pockets
- Grilled cheese (with putting some other additions inside like spinach, chicken, peppers, etc.)
- Wafflewich (yes, use your waffle maker with two slices of bread or a tortilla shell to make a fun twist on a grilled sandwich)
3. Add the new food to the bread – Many bread recipes allow you to mix other ingredients into them. Think about pureeing and shredding foods to keep the texture low at first, before you move to adding chunks. Some ways to add foods to bread are:
- Pepperoni Roll (add some other veggies or meats instead)
- Vegetable breads (think zucchini, pumpkin, etc.)
- Add fruit or nuts to corn muffins or homemade rolls.
Choosing the Best Foods for Your Picky Eater
You just read through a whole list of foods above that can be breaded, but where should you start? I like to start with something they’ve either eaten before or shown an interest in. For instance, we breaded broccoli, which is something we eat a lot. One of my kids eats it when it’s diced in quiche. another used to devour it and hasn’t touched it in 1-2 months, and the last will eat it a ton if it’s seasoned well.
I didn’t choose cauliflower because we don’t have it as much, but also because I thought the flavor would be more foreign to them. This would have been a bigger leap.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t try it, but it may not be as successful right out of the gate. To choose a food to bread for your child, think of what foods they’re eating right now, does it make more sense to try some sort of battered food first or maybe a grilled cheese?
When my kids were obsessed with grilled cheese, I used that to my advantage, and that’s the direction I headed in.
Inspiration for Picky Eater Recipes with Breading
Over the years, I’ve shared quite a few recipes for picky eaters, and guess what, they often involve some type of breading. This post was inspired by a batch of breaded broccoli that we made recently. To make the breaded broccoli, I took fresh broccoli and broke it into very small pieces. Then we dipped it in the scrambled egg and next, a bowl of whole wheat flour with salt and pepper. We did fry these to make them extra crispy.
As we were cooking, my son that has never eaten a bite of broccoli on it’s own, walked in and was immediately intrigued. My husband had a few already done and said to him, “Oh, this is something new we’re making want to try one?” He immediately took a bite. Full disclosure, he only ate one bite and didn’t want anymore.
But, I was ecstatic! My other son who hasn’t touched his broccoli in 2 months ate a ton, happily, as you can see, he’s posing with it below!
Besides crispy fried broccoli, here are some other recipes that include breading:
- Homemade Hot Pockets (you might be surprised at all the different options for fillings)
- Incredibly Easy Fish Cake (add the breading throughout in this recipe)
- Breaded Eggplant Fries
- Mega List of Vegetable Recipes for Kids (not all of these are breaded, but lots of good ideas)
- Baked Breaded Green Bean Fries
- 11 Simple Ways to Make Yummy Kids Pizza (a massive way to motivate kids: pizza)
- Blueberry Corn Bread (add pureed blueberries into the bread)
- High Fiber Immune Boosting Banana Sweet Potato Pumpkin Bread
At this point, I’m hoping you have some ideas about which foods might be worth trying with your child! Tell me in the comments what foods piqued your interest the most.
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Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 14 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.