I’ll admit it. My kids are picky eaters.
I introduce a wide variety of food to my children, but they remain picky eaters. As a result, dinner is a struggle. My first option is to cook whatever I feel like and make the kids eat it even if they don’t like it. This doesn’t work. The kids won’t eat things they don’t like and then complain about how hungry they are. My second option is to cook one meal for the adults and a separate meal for the kids. Everyone eats that way, but I spend way too much time in the kitchen.
Since neither of those options work well for my picky eaters, I go for a third option. I make one meal, but prepare it two different ways. One version is full of a wide variety of vegetables and spices and the other version is toned down to appeal to pickier palates. This method exposes my kids to a wider variety of food than my default dinner of pasta. It also saves me from spending long amounts of time in my kitchen. Here are some of my favorite family dinner solutions for picky eaters.
For the adults, I start with a layer of mixed salad greens. For the kids, I start with a tortilla. I chop up chicken and cook it with taco seasoning. I refer to this simply as “taco meat” so my children won’t get upset about the seasoning. So far, so good! The chicken goes on top of the greens for the adults and in the tortillas for the children. I also roast some corn. My children like theirs in a separate pile, but more adventurous children can add the corn to their tortillas. Cheddar cheese works for everyone.
To finish the adults’ salads, I chop up some tomatoes to throw on top of the chicken, corn, and cheese. For a salad dressing, I mix salsa and ranch dressing. It’s delicious! I finish the salads with a layer of crumbled tortilla chips for a little crunch! I round out the kids’ tacos with a side of fruit and everyone is happy!
I always make two pizzas at a time because I want the leftovers anyway. For the kids, I buy or make a basic, plain pizza dough. I add some tomato sauce and some slices of fresh mozzarella cheese. Then I bake it and I’m done! The blocks of mozzarella I buy are enough for two pizzas, so I use the second half on the adult pizza. That pizza always uses at least one vegetable from my farm share. My favorite is kale pesto pizza. It’s delicious! My daughter even likes it enough to steal a few bites from my plate, although she won’t eat a full serving yet.
Oven fries are my go-to last minute side dish. I always keep potatoes in the house so I can make them when I need a side dish in a hurry. To make them, just slice up potatoes in wedges. I have used a wide variety of potatoes for these, so feel free to use whatever you already have on hand. Toss the potato wedges with olive oil. Place the kids’ portion on one side of a baking sheet. My picky eaters hate all seasoning, including salt, so their portion is done with the olive oil.
For the adults, I toss the potatoes (already coated with olive oil) with herbes de Provence and Montreal steak seasoning. That’s my favorite blend, but feel free to use other herbs and spices. I place them in a single layer on the other half of the baking sheet. Make sure they don’t touch the kids’ fries! I cook mine at 425 degrees for 25 minutes, but the time will vary depending on how thickly or thinly you slice the potatoes.
My picky eaters don’t like food mixed together, so they do not eat stir-fried anything. However, I can modify the recipe a bit and serve them a meal that they actually will eat. My kids do eat rice, so that part is easy. For their protein (usually chicken or pork), I take their portion and stir fry it by itself in the pan. Meanwhile, I stir-fry the adults’ portion in a pan with onions, garlic, and ginger.
I also separate out my kids’ favorite vegetables before I add them to the stir-fry. Their favorite is broccoli. I boil the kids’ vegetables in a pot of water because they will only eat plain vegetables. For the adults, I add the vegetables to the stir fry and then add in some sort of sauce, usually involving tamari. My kids usually insist on eating their meat with ketchup. As long as they eat it, I’m happy!
When I’m in a hurry, pasta is my friend. I cook up a big batch of pasta, enough to feed the entire family. Once the pasta is drained in the colander, I remove a portion for the kids. I add a little bit of tomato sauce and some cheese. They used to only eat buttered pasta, so this is actually progress.
For the adults, I add in a healthy dose of vegetables from my farm share. Last week, I had an eggplant and some tomatoes, so I made penne with eggplant, tomato, and basil. My husband doesn’t generally like eggplant, but he did enjoy this dish. (I’m blaming our picky eaters on him!) Since my kids won’t touch eggplant, I give them a side of different vegetables. Carrot sticks are very popular with both my children and my dog, so I usually keep them on hand. As a bonus, they take no effort to prepare. Yay!
How do you handle dinner for your picky eaters?