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Food for Picky Toddlers: 5 Go-To Meals for Picky Eaters

Nov 22nd, 2019 | by NAPA Team


November 22nd, 2019

Selecting nutritious food for picky toddlers (sometimes referred to as picky eaters) is a plight of toddlerhood that many parents struggle with.  Balancing nutrition with making sure your child eats can cause parents to pull their hair out.

First, lets talk about what’s typical until about the age of 5 years old:

  1. Favoring a couple or handful of foods
  2. Making sure foods don’t touch others on the plate
  3. Preferring bland starchy foods (think pasta), over more nutrient dense foods (vegetables)
  4. Eating a food one day and rejecting it the next

Food for Picky Toddlers: When to be Concerned

Picky eating becomes a more concerning problem when picky eating persists beyond 5 years old, if a child’s diet is significantly restricted (will only eat one or two foods or textures), the child is not meeting expected growth and weight gain trajectories, and/or mealtimes are causing an undue amount of stress in the household. In these instances, bring up your concerns with a pediatrician who may refer you to a feeding specialist.  

Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters

In the meantime, your best defense as a parent in the mealtime war is consistency of exposure without pressure.  Here’s a few tips to help keep the calm during dinner time.  

  1. Aim for family mealtimes, with one meal for the whole family.  Children do great with adult models, so make sure to eat your broccoli and resist making your child another meal if they refuse what you serve. 
  2. Present your child with one preferred food during mealtimes. 
  3. Avoid food bribery. For example, “if you eat your turkey, you can have a cookie.” This can make the “prize” food even more exciting, and the food you want them to try an unpleasant chore.
  4. Make food fun. Cooking with your children is a great way for them to interact with food items without the pressure to eat.  

5 Go-To Meals for Picky Toddlers

Here are five picky eater recipes for toddlers that we love and may help your family foster positive mealtime experiences.

1. Chicken Strips and Dip

Finger foods are often the easiest kind of foods to eat for kids struggling with motor skills. And chicken strips have been a kid favorite for decades.  

  • What you’ll need: 
    • 1-2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour (can use gluten-free if there is an intolerance)
    • 1-2 eggs
    • 1-2 cups panko breadcrumbs (can use gluten-free if there is an intolerance)
    • Vegetable oil

What to do:

  1. Add the vegetable oil to a skillet over medium heat or preheat your oven to 350 degrees if you don’t want to fry them.
  2. Beat the eggs in a bowl
  3. Place the flour in a shallow baking dish or pie plate
  4. Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow baking dish or pie plate
  5. Cut the chicken breasts into even strips, around ½-inch thick
  6. Bread the strips by coating each of them in flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs
  7. Cook the chicken strips in the oil until they are golden brown and cooked through or place them all on a baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes until cooked through

Serve with ketchup or your child’s favorite dipping sauce.

*Be sure to wash your hands after handling raw chicken!

2. Naan Pizza

Making pizza at home using naan bread as the base is easy and tastes great.

  • What you’ll need:
    • Medium naan bread rounds
    • Your child’s favorite tomato sauce
    • Shredded mozzarella cheese
    • Additional toppings, as desired

What to do:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees
  2. Place a naan round on a baking sheet and spread tomato sauce on the top, leaving a little space around the edge
  3. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the top
  4. Add any additional toppings your child enjoys
  5. Bake for around 15 minutes until the cheese melts and the bread is getting crispy

3. Meatballs and Rice 

Meatballs and rice provide protein and can be neutral in flavor or carry just about any type of flavor your picky eater can tolerate.

  • What you’ll need:
    • 1 lb ground meat (beef, turkey or chicken)
    • 1 beaten egg (optional)
    • ½ cup breadcrumbs (optional)
    • 1-cup white or brown rice

What to do:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
  2. Cook the rice according to package instructions
  3. Add the ground meat to a mixing bowl
  4. Add the beaten eggs and breadcrumbs (if you are using them)
  5. Mix the ingredients together and form golf ball sized meatballs
  6. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until cooked through
  7. Serve rice and meatballs plain or add your child’s favorite sweet and sour sauce or another sauce they enjoy.

4. Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled eggs can be prepared quickly, and have a remarkably neutral flavor. Quite often, simple is best when it comes to picky eaters, and you can’t get much simpler than scrambled eggs.

  • What you’ll need:
    • 1-2 eggs (depending on how many people are eating)
    • 1 tbsp butter (can also use vegetable oil or just a non-stick pan)

What to do:

  1. Beat the eggs in a small bowl
  2. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat
  3. Add the eggs and gently fold them and move them around the pan until they are almost completely cooked.
  4. Remove them from the pan and onto a plate

* You can also add any vegetables that your picky eater will eat to increase the nutritional value of the meal.

5. Juices and Smoothies 

One particular challenge with picky eaters is nutrition. Even if you find a range of foods your child will accept and eat regularly, nutrient variety continues to be tricky. This is where a juice extractor or blender can be your best friend. While we at NAPA never think it’s a good idea to trick your kids into eating or drinking a certain food, they may be more willing to try new foods in smoothie or juice form. 

Blending juices and smoothies at home allow you to combine non-preferred ingredients with preferred flavors that often mask those that are non-preferred. An apple carrot juice for example, tastes like apple juice and contains the nutrients contained in carrots.  Smoothies that include almond milk, baby spinach, frozen berries, bananas, yogurt and protein retains a treat like taste while still containing nutritious ingredients.  

Additional NAPA Resources

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If you’d like to explore our unique, custom-designed programs for speech, physical, and occupational therapies, get in touch with us at NAPA Center today. We believe that every child deserves an individualized program and a chance to meet their full potential.

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