10 No-Fail Dinner Ideas for Picky Eaters (Kid-Friendly Recipes) (2023)

Finding and preparing dinner ideas for picky eaters is such a daunting task. It creates anxiety, stress, and frustration…for both child and parent! There are some proven tricks and tactics to help a picky eater be more adventurous, and to go along with that resource, here are 10 easy, kid-friendly dinners for picky eaters you can make NOW with success. And even more important, an explanation as to why each meal works, so you can reuse the same principles in other easy kid-friendly recipes.

10 No-Fail Dinner Ideas for Picky Eaters (Kid-Friendly Recipes) (1)

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Why I Love These Kid-Friendly Dinner Ideas for Picky Eaters

As a mom of 6 children, it would have been nothing short of miraculous if I didn’t produce at least one picky eater!! As it turns out, two of my six are intensely stubborn picky eaters, my oldest son and my youngest daughter. Each threw me for a loop as a recipe creator. Did they not understand that I make my living by expanding the tastes of my readers….and there I was not able to do the same for my own children!

Luckily, after many years of failure trying a bunch of different approaches, I found solutions to their picky eating and they eventually grew into adventurous eaters. But it took time. And a lot more patience than I felt I had at the time.

(Video) 5 OF THE BEST Quick & Easy Dinners For PICKY EATERS

These 10 easy kid-friendly dinners hit all the right notes over the past 28 years and I know they can work miracles for you as well. But, they need to be combined with the tactics and principles also in this post for long-term success. Take the time to understand the why behind each of the dinner ideas for picky eaters. Try out the involvement suggestions with your child. And be prepared to pick yourself up over and over again when you hit failure.

What Causes Picky Eaters?

Parents love to blame themselves for every challenge their child encounters but oftentimes, a picky eater is born a picky eater. Certain children are born sensitive to anything but bland smells, tastes, appearances, and textures. Usually, these children are also sensitive to noises as well. Think of all their senses as being on high alert at all times. This type of picky eater will need plenty of understanding about how their senses work but can learn to appreciate new experiences.

Sometimes picky eaters emerge out of the blue around the ages of 4-6. Suddenly, kids who would happily eat anything that was put in front of them, now won’t touch even their favorite foods. When this happens, it’s due to a child beginning to understand they can exert control over their own environment, and their food choices are an easy place to start. This is often the easiest to overcome by giving them more control in the planning and preparation of their food.

And yes, sometimes parental behavior is the cause of a child becoming a picky eater. In this situation, parents will quickly give in when a child demands something else to eat. For the parent, the battle over food isn’t worth it. Or in an attempt to avoid contention, they don’t expose the child to new foods on a regular basis. This type of picky eater is usually the hardest to fix because it is the result of learned behavior. When that same behavior stops working for the child to get what they want, they fight harder. And harder.

How to Fix Picky Eaters

If only the pediatrician could write a prescription to fix this problem! Instead, this solution falls on the shoulders of the parents. So, take a deep breath and put on your patient pants because this fix is not a quick one but it is worth every ounce of energy you give it!

  • Bring hungry kids to the table. A child needs a physical incentive to try new foods. Hunger is nature’s built-in picky eater fix. Create a generous snack cut-off time before dinner and set the boundary of no snacks after dinner.
  • What’s been prepared for dinner is what’s for dinner. They do not have to eat it, but you are not a short-order cook making different plates for different people.
  • Don’t force a child to eat their food. Instead, invite them to do so and share what you love about that food. No guilt. No begging. No punishments.
  • Don’t dismiss their fears about what’s on their plate. Instead, acknowledge their dislike and let them know you understand. Share personal stories of how you have come to enjoy foods over time by always taking a taste.
  • Let a picky eater be actively involved in both menu planning and meal preparation. Children naturally take pride in their work and are much more likely to taste what they have helped prepare.
  • Repeatedly put the same food on a child’s plate. It takes between 15-20 exposures to a new food for some children to even take their first taste, let alone develop a liking for it.

Why These Dinner Ideas for Picky Eaters Work So Well

Let’s start with the “why” in regard to these easy meals for picky eaters. Once these “why” principles are ingrained into weekly menu planning, they can be applied to an endless amount of other kid-friendly dinners.

  1. They provide a win for your child: The meals use the types of foods kids already know and love.
  2. They provide a win for you: In each recipe, there is just enough of a stretch to make small steps towards a better balance, in both nutrition and variety of food.
  3. They don’t look overwhelming: The meals resemble foods they are already comfortable with, and don’t overwhelm with too many colors at once. That only results in an immediate “I don’t like that!”
  4. They don’t taste challenging: The flavors and ingredients are already familiar. The dinners won’t be a whole new taste experience.
  5. They sound like foods they already love: When a child hears a name of a meal and it is one they can’t immediately make some type of association with, they will automatically believe they will hate it.

As you move forward finding recipes beyond these 10 dinner ideas, you’ll have a different perspective because now you understand these 5 critical criteria for picky eaters. Take the time to look at your own recipes and find those that qualify with these same 5 principles.

(Video) Mom’s 13 Tips & Tricks for Picky Eaters | How To Get Kids to Try New Foods | MyRecipes

How to Use These Dinner Ideas for Picky Eaters with Success

Use these tips and tricks to slowly introduce a picky eater to these kid-friendly dinner ideas for picky eaters. Remember, this is not going to be a quick fix so be patient. Their rejection of food is not a rejection of you.

  1. Start small. Children don’t like a lot of change all at once. It creates a sense of instability in their growing brains and emotions. Pick one new recipe to try a week. Just one.
  2. Start with the one dinner that will instantly connect with your child, both by its title and its appearance. This creates an easy win while introducing them to the idea of new recipes becoming a regular occurrence.
  3. Let them pick which recipe they want to try first. Again, work to eliminate their intense feelings of not having control when it comes to their food. Get them involved so they do have input and a level of control.
  4. Make the recipe as written first. After your child knows what this recipe is and has become comfortable with it, then try a few small changes. They may or may not notice the changes such as adding more vegetables or protein to a recipe.

Special Considerations for Picky Eater Teens

Teenagers are not children and deserve to be given significant amounts of both trust and responsibility when it comes to their food choices. A teenager has the ability to help cook dinner each night or cook dinner completely on their own. Giving them this level of responsibility helps reduce their picky tendencies significantly.

Teach them how to menu plan, how to create a balanced meal, and how to cook that dinner. Over time, watch that teenage picky eater transform into a home cook wanting to try different kid-friendly recipes each week. Even teens who may not enjoy cooking will still tire of constantly making the same easy meal every time and begin to branch out into new dinner ideas.

Please be cautious about any potential body issues with your teen. Food choices and body issues are so closely tied together. Be sure not to demonize any type of food. There are no “good” or “bad” foods. Just different foods that provide different benefits for our bodies. Balance is key in all food choices.

How to Build Adventurous Eaters

Once you try a couple of these easy kid-friendly dinners for picky eaters and the suggestions above, grab your free picky eater guide so you can keep making steps forward. There are no quick fixes or magic solutions, but these 10 secrets will provide immediate progress and less stress.

10 No-Fail Dinner Ideas for Picky Eaters (Kid-Friendly Recipes) (2)

10 Easy Kid-Friendly Dinners for Picky Eaters

For each recipe, I’ve included why they work for you, for your child, as well as recipe variation options. Click any picture or dinner title for the recipe.

(Video) TODDLER MEAL PREP | Meal Ideas for Picky Eaters + Free Downloadable

Cheesy Pizza Roll Ups

  • For you: a much healthier option than frozen or take out pizza.
  • For your child: pizza + handheld + dipping = win
  • Variations: try adding small chopped veggies, turkey sausage or pepperoni

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

  • For you: lots of protein and very easy to make
  • For your child: both proteins are kid friendly and they love anything with a crumb topping.
  • Variations: you can add veggies into the mix but I suggest adding them as a side dish instead so it doesn’t lead to overwhelm.

Cheesy Vegetable Pasta Bake

  • For you: includes tomatoes & spinach
  • For your child: kids are obsessed with pasta, tomato sauce, and cheese.
  • Variations: add some chicken or beef for added protein. Don’t remove the spinach. If they pick it out, that’s perfectly fine. They will get used to seeing it and eventually try it.

Chicken Fried Rice

  • For you: protein and veggies abound but not really “fried”
  • For your child: kids love rice and generally like the veggies in this dish.
  • Variations: you can use pork, beef, shrimp, or make it vegetarian. You can change the veggies, but don’t remove them. They need to get used to having them in their dishes.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

  • For you: lots of protein and easy to make
  • For your child: simple southwest flavors without being spicy.
  • Variations: you can use pork or beef instead and serve it with lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado on top if your child likes any of those.

Baked Potato Soup

  • For you: very easy for kids to try when given toppings they like. Make it a fun “buffet” of toppings they can choose from.
  • For your child: they get to choose what they put on top giving them control over part of what they eat.
  • Variations: add more veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, pepper, or mushrooms. Make it as written to introduce it the first time, then try adding a vegetable next time.

  • For you: significantly healthier than boxed mac and cheese.
  • For your child: kids are obsessed with mac and cheese.
  • Variations: add some protein and veggies….after you have served it “plain” at least once.

Tater Tot Casserole

10 No-Fail Dinner Ideas for Picky Eaters (Kid-Friendly Recipes) (10)
  • For you: both protein and veggies in this quick dish
  • For your child: two words….tater tots
  • Variation: substitute whatever vegetable your child like best in the recipe

Pizza Waffles

  • For you: much healthier than take out or frozen pizza.
  • For your child: first, pizza. Second, it is just fun food with dipping!
  • Variation: use turkey sausage or pepperoni and finely chopped veggies

Chicken Quesadillas

  • For you: lots of protein from the chicken and black beans
  • For your child: they love anything with cheese and something they can dip into salsa, sour cream, or guacamole
  • Variations: use whatever protein you would like and you could add peppers, onions, and tomatoes as well.

Remember, these dinner ideas for picky eaters are great first steps. Keep using the principles in this post and in the picky eater guide to make lasting progress. I promise you can do it! This is how I reversed picky eating in two of my own children so I know where you are and what you are feeling. You’ve got this!

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(Video) Toddler Food Hacks for Picky Eaters (Your Kids Will Eat EVERYTHING!)

Need More Than Dinner Ideas for Picky Eaters?

Check out our latest recipes and add them to your must-make meals!

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What can an 11 year old cook for dinner? ›

10 Easy Dinners Kids Can Make
  • Easy Tamale Pie.
  • Weeknight Chicken Curry Bowls.
  • Slow Cooker Green Salsa Chicken.
  • Ricotta and Kale Quiche.
  • Greek Chicken Lemonato.
  • Shortcut Chicken Pot Pie.
  • Pesto Salmon Sheet Pan Dinner.
  • Semi-Homemade Spaghetti Sauce (+ a salad)
Jun 12, 2018

How do you feed an extremely picky child? ›

Top 10 tips for picky eaters
  1. Plan family mealtime. Eat meals at the table as a family. ...
  2. Be a role model. ...
  3. Eat at regular times. ...
  4. Promote happy mealtimes. ...
  5. Avoid distractions. ...
  6. Prepare one meal for the family. ...
  7. Listen to your child. ...
  8. Don't pressure, praise, reward, trick or punish.
Jan 14, 2023

What to feed a child that doesn't want to eat? ›

Don't offer an alternative snack or meal. Just offer regular drinks of water until the next snack or mealtime. Avoid bribing your toddler with treats just so they'll eat some healthy food. This can make your toddler more interested in treats than healthy food and sends the message that eating healthy food is a chore.

What can a child eat with no appetite? ›

Incorporating zinc into your child's diet helps to build up an appetite. You can go for sources of zinc such as nuts like cashews and dairy products such as milk. Try including these into your child's meals or snacks. Peanuts are known for their appetite-boosting as well as protein-building properties.

Is 16 still a kid? ›

Biological, legal and social definitions

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines child as, "A human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” This is ratified by 192 of 194 member countries.

What should I feed my kids tonight? ›

If you're looking for fun and easy dinner recipes your kids will love, consider these 18 awesome meal ideas below:
  • Pizza Casserole. ...
  • Tater Tot Nachos. ...
  • Pizza Quesadillas. ...
  • Buttermilk Chicken Tenders. ...
  • BBQ Chicken Pizza. ...
  • Bacon Pierogi Bake. ...
  • Baked Macaroni And Cheese. ...
  • Chicken Tacos.

Can a 1 year old cook? ›

Your child can start cooking as early as 18 months or 2 years old. Real cooking skills can be taught to toddlers, depending on the child's maturity and the parent's supervision.

What can a 9 year old do when bored at home? ›

Check out these kid activities perfect for a day indoors.
  • Boredom Jar. One creative parent told us she made a “boredom” jar for her house. ...
  • Build a Fort. Who doesn't love a fort on a stormy day? ...
  • Indoor Obstacle Course. ...
  • Write a Letter. ...
  • Sock Puppets. ...
  • Dress Up. ...
  • Imaginary Creatures. ...
  • Tea Party.

What should a 9 year old be able to cook? ›

Cooking with 8-11 year olds

Use the microwave with your help. Make their own school lunch. Make a fresh fruit platter to go with dinner. Use the stove, with supervision, to make basic recipes: omelets, pancakes, quesadillas, soups or grilled cheese.

Will a picky child starve? ›

Picky Eating Won't Lead to Malnutrition

And even if a kid is a defacto fruitarian, they will most likely get the essential nutrients they need in order to grow. But even if the worry is related to calories, it's unlikely that a child in a typical American family will put themselves at risk for starvation.

What age should picky eating stop? ›

Do remember that picky eating is often “developmentally normal.” Children across the globe go through a picky eating phase from about age 2 to about age 4. “We think it starts out partly as a built-in protective impulse in a child.

What is the easiest diet for picky eaters? ›

Aiming for vegetables with mild or sweet flavors can be the best way to begin because they tend to be more acceptable to picky tastebuds. Vegetables considered mild in flavor include cauliflower, cucumbers, zucchini, and spinach. Sweet tasting vegetables are sweet potatoes, carrots, delicata squash, and sweet peppers.

What is child's signature dish? ›

Boeuf Bourguignon

This hearty beef stew from the pages of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is, hands down, Child's most infamous dish. (Click here for Food.com's rendtition of boeuf bourguignon.)

Which meal is every child's right? ›

On 28 November 2001, the Supreme Court of India passed a mandate stating, "We direct the State Governments/Union Territories to implement the Mid Day Meal Scheme by providing every child in every Government and Government assisted Primary School with a prepared midday meal."

What foods give kids energy? ›

Breads and Cereals: including bread, rice, pasta, noodles and breakfast cereal. Fruits and Vegetables: including fresh, frozen, tinned or dried. Meat and Meat Alternatives: including meat, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts and legumes like baked beans or lentils. Milk and Dairy Foods: including milk, cheese and yoghurt.

Why won't my 7 year old eat dinner? ›

Just like an adult, a child who won't eat may simply be too tired to go through the motions of having a meal. Look for signs like level of activity, how well they slept the night before, or whether they were happily distracted with a playmate for an explanation for tiredness.

Is it OK to force my child to eat? ›

Pushing children to eat all the food on their plate or enforcing the "one bite" rule isn't recommended. Instead, parents should let children learn to eat in their own way. Keeping mealtime tactics consistent is also important.

Why is my 10 year old not eating? ›

In children, feelings of anxiety also frequently cause stomach upset. That can lead to a lack of appetite and a decrease in the amount of food a child eats. If, over time, low food intake leads to low body weight or failure to gain the weight a child needs for healthy growth and development, that can become dangerous.

Why is my kid not eating anything? ›

While picky eating is a normal phase for most toddlers, there's definitely a time and place to call the doctor. Your pediatrician can rule out or diagnose possible underlying causes for your little one not eating, such as gastrointestinal disorders, swallowing problems, constipation, food sensitivities, or autism.

What to feed someone who refuses to eat? ›

Look for soft or pureed foods that anyone can eat, such as:
  • Rice pudding.
  • Shepherd's pie.
  • Scrambled eggs.
  • Tuna salad.
  • Split pea soup.
  • Biscuits and gravy.
  • Oatmeal with banana.
  • Peanut butter and jelly on white bread.
Oct 10, 2022

What happens if a child refuses to eat? ›

If your child's refusal to eat is more of a phase, you may want to consider teething, not feeling well, or fatigue as possible reasons for not eating. And sometimes, if your child is chronically sick or tired, then food refusal or picky eating may become a way of life for them.

What do you give a picky eater for dinner? ›

  1. Airfryer Garlic Butter Fries.
  2. Mini Chicken Burgers.
  3. Frozen Veggie Packs for Fussy Eaters.
  4. Airfryer Whole Roast Chicken.
  5. Airfryer Cheesy Sausage Bites.
  6. Slow Cooker Hidden Veg Pasta Sauce.
  7. Slow Cooker Sausage & Lentil Casserole.
  8. One Pot Smoky Halloumi Pasta.

What do you feed a child with no appetite? ›

A sick child may have a poor appetite so serve up mini meals based on their favorite types of foods. Frequent small meals are easier to digest and will help meet their energy needs. Steer clear of rich, fried, greasy foods and lean toward simple starches such as rice and noodles as these are easy on the stomach.

What is a bland dinner for kids? ›

Cereal, oatmeal, pasta, mashed bananas, applesauce, cooked vegetables, mashed potatoes, rice, and soups with rice or noodles. Dry toast, crackers, pretzels, bread.

What are 3 tips for picky eaters? ›

Approaches to Try
  • Try eating the food first to show them you like it. ...
  • Make funny faces with the foods on their plate. ...
  • Give them a choice of different foods to try. ...
  • Serve new foods with foods you know they like.
  • Try freezing small bites of leftover foods. ...
  • Wait a couple of days before offering the food again.

Why won't my kid eat anything? ›

A child who won't eat may be influenced by sensory issues, a lack of appetite, and different taste preferences. A child who is tired, feeling pressure to eat, or is experiencing medical issues may also shun food.

Should I force my child to eat? ›

Pushing children to eat all the food on their plate or enforcing the "one bite" rule isn't recommended. Instead, parents should let children learn to eat in their own way. Keeping mealtime tactics consistent is also important.

Why is my 12 year old not eating? ›

Lack of hunger or not eating adequately can be due to many things, including stress, depression, trying to "make weight" for certain sports, or an eating disorder. Although eating disorders are much more common in females, they do occasionally occur in males.

How do I get my ADHD child to eat dinner? ›

Make Food Fun

Some kids with ADHD don't eat enough because they get bored with meals quickly. Give them a plate that grabs their attention. Use cookie cutters to shape sandwiches. Arrange food on the plate to make designs or faces.

How do you feed a stubborn child? ›

Here are a few ideas that might encourage your picky eater to enjoy sitting down to the table for a meal — while sampling a variety of foods.
  1. Limit mealtime distractions. ...
  2. Serve appropriate food portions. ...
  3. Don't schedule mealtimes too close to bedtime. ...
  4. Eliminate mealtime stress. ...
  5. Involve your child in food preparation.
Sep 11, 2019

How long can a child go without food? ›

With no food and no water, the maximum time the body can survive is thought to be about one week . With water only, but no food, survival time may extend up to 2 to 3 months. Over time, a severely restricted food intake can reduce the lifespan.


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