Keeping kids well-fed can be tricky sometimes when they’re the type that’s hesitant to try new foods. There are plenty of foods, however, that most kids love to see on their plates and will eat without hesitation. Here are a few entrees most kids are guaranteed to eat be excited about:
Most kids love the foods found on an average children’s menu at a restaurant, such as pizza, chicken nuggets, macaroni & cheese, spaghetti, and grilled cheese sandwiches. There are ways to keep kids fed with foods that they like while also ensuring that they are meeting their nutritional needs.
Below is a compiled list of foods that most kids love, a few suggestions as to how you can make sure these meals have nutritional value for your child, and some tips and tricks to help get a picky eater to try something new.
Pizza is one of your safest bets when it comes to winning over a child’s enthusiasm at mealtime. The cheesy, gooey, goodness of pizza is almost too tempting for any child to pass up. Another great aspect of this food is that it’s so easy to make. All it takes is pizza dough or a pre-made crust, pizza sauce, cheese, and whatever toppings your heart desires. Pizza can also be made more nutritionally valuable if you use a whole grain thin crust, low-fat cheese, and at least one veggie topping.
You can make a pizza lunch more fun for your child by letting them choose and place their own toppings on their pizza, or also by making a cute smiley face out of toppings for your child to enjoy.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a tried and true classic of children’s lunchtime meals. These sandwiches are quick and oh so easy to make, and require a minimal amount of ingredients. It really can’t get much more simple than a PB&J! The peanut butter is a great source of protein for kids, and you can make these with multigrain grain bread, reduced-fat peanut butter, and 100% fruit jelly to cut out unnecessary sugar.
Macaroni & Cheese
This delicious meal is perfect for filling up small tummies, and one that most kids can’t say no to. It’s also super easy to make. Macaroni & cheese can also be dressed up by adding meat like bits of chicken or slices of hot dog for protein, and barbecue sauce for an extra kick of flavor. You can also make this dish with whole-wheat noodles and low-fat cheese for extra nutrition.
Kids are known for asking for chicken nuggets whenever the family goes out for a meal at a restaurant. This is because most kids know they like it and can rely on a chicken nugget meal to be a good one. Chicken nuggets are easy to eat and a great source of protein.
Most chicken nuggets are fried and full of calories and fat, but you can opt to make your own healthier version at home by baking or pan-frying them in coconut oil. Fresh or steamed veggies are great sides to add for a balanced meal.
When asking a child what they want for dinner, it’s not uncommon for them to answer “spaghetti!” in response. So many kids love this yummy pasta meal. The tomato base sauce makes for a good source of potassium, and it’s lower in fat and calories than other dairy-based pasta sauces like Alfredo.
You can also puree extra vegetables like green peppers, zucchini, or mushrooms into the sauce for added nutrition without your kids even noticing. To make it healthier, you can add lean ground beef or ground turkey and whole-wheat pasta.
A grilled cheese sandwich is another simple sandwich that requires a minimal amount of ingredients and time to prepare. You can whip up one of these in 5 minutes! They can also be a good source of protein and calcium. You can use low-fat cheese and butter spread to keep calories limited and use whole-grain or whole-wheat bread to add fiber. Adding a slice of meat like ham will also take a grilled cheese sandwich to the next level by adding protein.
You can also add veggies like tomato or spinach to the sandwich, and the cheese with mask the “veggie” taste that some kids really dislike. As a side option, you can serve a healthier chip like whole-grain Sun Chips for a little added crunch, or a side of veggies. Tomato soup is also the perfect side to a grilled cheese on colder days.
Many parents are familiar with the experience of their child begging them to take them to McDonald’s or the nearest fast food restaurant for a delicious and juicy hamburger. It’s not unusual for kids to be very picky about the toppings put on their hamburger, and one way to eliminate some of the hassle and to have more control over the nutritional value of this meal is to make them at home. This way, you can avoid any toppings that you know your child doesn’t like or won’t eat. This also gives you the opportunity to provide your child with freshly cut veggies to top their burger with, like lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.
There are also loads of healthy patty options, including lean beef. But don’t think you have to use beef at all! There are so many delicious chicken, turkey, veggie/garden, and plant-based burger options that are just as delicious as beef. Who knows, maybe your child will even prefer a non-beef burger!
Hotdogs are another easy meal that will not only fill kids up but also get them excited about mealtime. This entree gives them the opportunity to choose their own toppings and condiments, so the hotdog is perfectly customized to their taste. Hotdogs are not the healthiest meal, but there are ways to make them a little more nutritionally valuable. You can buy organic beef, lean beef, turkey, or veggie dogs to make your hotdogs a little healthier. Also be sure to buy nitrate-free or uncured hotdogs, since eating nitrates may increase the risk of cancer. A whole grain bun and fresh veggie toppings are also a great way to make hot dogs a little healthier.
Tacos are another great food option that kids love. Tacos give kids the chance to be autonomous by getting to choose from a selection of fillings and toppings what they want to put on their taco. Fresh veggies make great toppings, and the choice of meat is customizable as well. Beef is a classic filling and a great option, but you can always opt for a leaner meat like chicken if desired. You could even prepare fish as the meat filling, which is rich in vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids.
How to Get a Picky Eater to Try New Foods
Getting kids to eat their food can be tricky, but know that it’s a common problem that many parents are faced with. Nearly 50% of parents identify their preschooler as a picky eater, so if you’re having trouble getting your child to eat certain foods, you are not alone.
The good news is that research suggests that with time, repeated exposures, and an absence of pressure, most children will come to accept new foods into their diet. It’s also important to keep in mind that the vast majority of children who are considered to be picky eaters do not actually have dangerously restricted diets, or deficient growth, things that would be causes for concern. Here are five scientifically-based suggestions to consider as you attempt to expand your child’s dietary preferences and meet their health and nutritional needs.
1. Shift your perception: The first step for a parent in this situation is often a change of perception. During the preschool years, slowed growth (in comparison to the faster growth of infants and toddlers) can impact dietary intake. The psychological changes that occur, like developing a sense of independence, can also impact a child’s diet. Preschool age and above is when kids start to take charge of their own preferences and actions, so kids at this age often prefer to feed themselves. They can also begin to develop strong opinions towards foods.
Labeling a child as a “picky eater” attaches a negative label to the behaviors that are considered to be developmentally appropriate for the child. When we view children’s rejection of certain foods as “non-compliant,” interactions with them during mealtimes can become stressful. It’s tempting to focus all of our energy on getting our child to comply with our requests rather than promoting a healthy relationship with food or enjoying the time together eating a meal.
Using phrases such as “you must eat _____ more bites of _____ before you can be done” become commonplace, and this dynamic can lead to a cycle of disagreements between you and the child. This cycle of pressure and refusal can also lead you to withdraw your efforts to get your child to eat, and instead cater to their preferences and allowing them to eat poorly out of defeat.
Rather than viewing children as non-compliant, we can recognize this show of independence at mealtimes as something that is actually completely appropriate for their age. Your child will be discriminating based on newly recognized qualities of foods such as taste, texture, presentation and familiarity. Focus your attention on encouraging your child’s healthy eating without pressuring. Enjoy the time spent together during meals, rather than focusing on what your child is and isn’t eating.
2. Accommodate but don’t cater to them: Accommodating your child’s preferences during mealtimes benefits both parties involved, since the child is allowed the freedom to exert some independence, while also eating the food you have prepared. During the meal-planning stages, ask your child what they would like to eat throughout the week, or take your child grocery shopping and ask them to pick out a vegetable to try.
Accommodating children’s preferences doesn’t mean you need to eat chicken nuggets and pizza every night. If you’re serving a spicy curry dish, you might consider making a version with less spice for your kids to enjoy. Meals that allow preschoolers to serve themselves also work well so that they can have some control over the amount or nature of the food (for example, not including the sauce).
3. Encourage your child to taste new foods: Don’t pressure your child to eat foods they don’t like. It is normal to have concerns around getting your child to eat enough healthy foods, but it’s also not the end of the world if your child doesn’t like brussels sprouts.
UK researchers tested different methods to encourage young children to try commonly disliked vegetables. They found that after 14 days, the most successful strategies included a combination of 3 things: repeated daily exposure, offering non-food rewards for trying the disliked food, and parents eating the same food as the child.
Even if a food has been initially rejected by your child, try offering it to them again and again, but without pressuring them. Studies show that it can take between 10 to 15 exposures to get a child to take to a new food. It is easier to get a child to taste a new food rather than eat a full portion of it, so start by offering small portions.
Using non-food-related rewards, such as stickers, may improve your kid’s acceptance of new foods and make repeated exposures more fun. Avoiding using other foods like treats and desserts as a reward will also keep your child’s relationship with food healthy and neutral. Praise your child for trying new foods, but remain neutral if they choose not to eat it.
4. Model healthy eating: Eating with your child when offering new foods has also been shown to have an impact. Children with parents who model healthy eating habits tend to be less “picky,” and are more likely to try disliked vegetables and eat more fruits and vegetables.
5. Involve your child in the process: Involving other family members in the meal preparation process can relieve stress and be a great opportunity for family bonding. You can include your child by having them wash foods while you chop them up, or set the table while dinner is in the oven.
Research shows that kids who are involved in preparing meals have more positive attitudes towards food and are more likely to eat the food that they help to prepare. By giving your child the opportunity to be involved in the kitchen, you are helping increase their consumption of healthy foods in the short term, and teaching lifelong habits.
Although it can be tricky at times, remember that patience is key and that it’s not a bad thing for your child to be developing their own preferences when it comes to food. By allowing your child to develop their own taste, preferences, and enjoyment of different foods, family mealtimes will be more enjoyable, less stressful, and your child’s diet will be better in the long run.