True confession: As a kid, I was a terribly picky eater. If it wasn't bread or chicken, I wasn't going to eat it. When I was in third grade, my mom - who crafted amazing homemade dinners every single night - hit a breaking point. "If you don't like the food I am making, you can cook your own dinner," she declared.
So, at the age of 9, I started making most of my meals. I created my own recipes, helped with grocery shopping and even entertained dinner guests. The more I played in the kitchen - the more flavors I tried - the more excited I was about food (beyond bread and chicken).
I also learned what it took to fuel my super-active, soccer-loving little body. I didn't really know it at the time, but along the way I was actually designing tricks to get myself to eat the nourishing proteins and colorful vegetables I needed.
Now, I am uniquely qualified to offer up kid-friendly food ideas that are packed with nutrition. Having personally navigated years and years of my own picky eating, I deliver to you my best advice for getting the job done.
" ... my best advice for getting the job done."
Sandwiches Hide Vegetables
One of the biggest issues for picky eaters is texture. Too much crunch, too little crunch - any kind of mystery mouthfeel can ruin a meal. But sandwiches can atone for all sorts of sins. This white bean cheddar melt recipe features smooth, melty cheese on crisp, hearty bread toasted in butter - and it has protein. As a final bonus, it expertly "hides" onions and celery. Once your kids are requesting this gem, you can start sneaking in more vegetables like zucchini or spinach.
Choose Your Own Adventure
As I relayed in my own childhood experience, the very best way to get kids to try new food is to involve them in preparing it. It is nearly impossible for kids not to want to try one of their own creations. So, bring them into the planning/food prepping/cooking mix. As a family, choose a recipe, like this BBQ chicken fingers and beans recipe, that gets everyone involved.
Assemble the pouches early in the day, so they're ready right when you need them. Offer up the vegetables you know your kids will eat, along with some new ones. Then, bake them, grill them, roast them over an open fire - decide together how you will cook them - and dole them out in their individual portions. The chicken and beans are the easy part of this recipe to sell; delight in your kids' excitement about all the veggies they've chosen and cooked for themselves.
Brinner Is Served
Breakfast for dinner (brinner) is always a fan favorite. Expect zero pushback when you serve this breakfast sandwich recipe that begins simply with English muffins, spice-kissed black beans and scrambled eggs. Top it just as the recipe suggests, or let the kids doctor it up to their tastes. My oldest always asks for bacon in his eggs. My youngest wants Greek yogurt dolloped on them. My husband covers every bite with salsa.
Variety is exciting for everyone at the table. Finish with homemade fruit-and-yogurt parfaits for a winning brinner.
It's a (Tortilla) Wrap
When you're low on creativity, wrap it up. That is, hide the good stuff in a tortilla. Not knowing what's inside can be stressful for picky eaters, but if you can negotiate just two bites of something as delicious as this chicken burrito recipe, you can be sure they'll eat the entire thing. The chicken, cheese, beans and cream are quickly recognized, immediately savored and ultimately nourishing.
Here's where I tell you the funny part. As it turns out, I gave birth to three of the pickiest eaters on the planet. They are quite possibly even worse than I ever was. You can be certain that I actively use all of the aforementioned tips and tricks in my current day-to-day life. That way, I'm sure the adorable whirlwinds I call my kids get the protein and nutrients they need.
*Tip: Wish you could say "abracadabra" and get your children running to the table and enjoying kids' food? Here are four "magic" words that might do just that!