Overcoming Picky Eaters with Family-Friendly Recipes

The MomCo Staff

Getting picky eaters to try new foods can be a frustrating challenge for parents. Kids often shy away from foods with new textures, smells or appearances. Preparing family meals becomes difficult when you have to cater to choosy appetites. 

The goal of this guide is to provide kid-friendly recipes that picky eaters will actually enjoy. By using ingredients and cooking methods that kids already like, you can introduce new flavor combinations and foods into their diets. With creative adaptations and fun presentations, these recipes make it easier to get the whole family eating together. 

Kids have different tastes and levels of pickiness, but these recipes aim to appeal to a range of ages and appetites. The focus is on family meals that are both nutritious and delicious. With tips for adapting the recipes and building a kid-friendly pantry, you’ll have new ideas for pleasing picky palates at breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and dessert. 

Tips for Getting Kids to Try New Foods 

Getting kids to try new foods can be challenging, but there are some great tips to make the process fun and rewarding: 

  • Make it fun with shapes, colors, etc. Cut foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters or slice fruits and veggies into stars, hearts, etc. Name foods with descriptive colors like “white snowballs” for cauliflower or “orange twists” for carrots. Kids get excited about foods that are visually appealing. 
  • Get kids involved in cooking and choosing recipes. Go grocery shopping together and let your kids pick out new veggies or fruits to try. Let them help prepare meals by stirring, pouring, mixing, etc. Kids are more likely to try foods they helped make. Offer 2-3 options and let them choose the recipes. 
  • Offer rewards and positive reinforcement. Don’t force kids to clean their plate, but offer small rewards like stickers or extra reading time when they try a new food. Praise them for being “adventurous eaters” and let them know it makes you proud when they try new foods. 
  • Serve new foods alongside familiar foods. Pair new foods with things you know they already like. Make patterns on the plate with small portions of new items next to mainstay favorites. Kids are more willing to try something new if foods they enjoy are also on the plate. 

The key is making it a positive experience instead of a chore. With creativity and patience, you can get even the pickiest eaters to try and enjoy new healthy foods. 

Recipe Criteria 

When choosing and adapting recipes for picky eaters, there are a few key criteria to keep in mind: 

  • Kid-friendly flavors and textures – Avoid recipes with strong, bitter flavors or unusual textures. Focus on dishes with mild, familiar flavors and smooth, creamy textures. 
  • Incorporate veggies in creative ways – Get creative about hiding and pairing vegetables with foods kids already enjoy. Try grating veggies into pasta sauce, baking them into breads and muffins, or blending them into smoothies. 
  • Quick, simple prep – Opt for recipes with short prep times and easy-to-follow steps. The less complicated a recipe is, the more willing kids will be to try it. Look for dishes you can make ahead or quickly assemble. 

The best family-friendly recipes will check all three of these boxes. They’ll have child-approved flavors, sneak in veggies, and come together with minimal fuss. With the right adaptations, you can transform many adult recipes into easy, picky eater pleasers. 

Breakfast Recipes 

It can be challenging to get picky eaters to try new foods, especially first thing in the morning. Starting the day off right with a nutritious breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the day. Here are some family-friendly breakfast ideas to try: 

Baked Oatmeal 

Baked oatmeal is a great make-ahead breakfast. Mix oats, milk, eggs and your choice of mix-ins like fruit, nuts or chocolate chips. Pour into a baking dish and bake until set. Kids will love the texture, and you’ll love that it’s portable for busy mornings. 

Breakfast Tacos 

Let kids build their own breakfast tacos with their choice of fillings like scrambled eggs, cheese, bacon, potato or avocado. Served in a tortilla, kids can customize their taco however they want. The interactive component makes it more likely they’ll try new fillings. 

Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits 

Layer yogurt and fresh fruit in a clear glass or jar. Granola can be added for crunch too. The colors and layers make this breakfast fun for kids to build. Greek yogurt provides protein to keep them full. 

Lunch Recipes 

Lunchtime offers lots of opportunity for trying new recipes that kids will enjoy. Here are some tasty and nutritious lunch ideas: 

Pizza Pinwheels 

  • Make a pizza-flavored wrap by spreading sauce, cheese and pepperoni on a tortilla. Roll it up tightly and slice it into pinwheels for a fun handheld lunch. 

Chicken Salad Sandwich 

  • Shred cooked chicken and mix with a bit of mayo, chopped grapes or apples, and seasonings. Serve between slices of bread or stuff in a pita pocket for a tasty sandwich. 


  • Fill a tortilla with cheese, chicken or beans, then pan-fry until the cheese melts. Cut into wedges and serve with sides like guacamole or Greek yogurt for dipping. 

The key with lunch is keeping things simple, fun and full of flavor. The pinwheel wrap, chicken salad, and quesadillas are all easy to assemble and taste great, so kids will look forward to eating these lunches. 

Dinner Recipes 

Kids can be notoriously picky about dinner. Finding meals that are nutritious, delicious, and get your kids to actually eat can be a challenge! Here are some tasty dinner ideas that even finicky eaters will love: 

Chicken Nuggets and Baked Sweet Potato Fries 

  • Kids love chicken nuggets! Make your own healthier version by coating chicken breast chunks with breadcrumbs and baking them. Serve with oven baked sweet potato fries for a fun twist. 

Mac and Cheese 

  • What kid doesn’t love mac and cheese? Make it extra tasty by using whole grain pasta and sneaking in some extra veggies like broccoli or carrots into the cheese sauce. 

Pizza Night 

  • Homemade pizza night is always a hit! Let kids top their individual pizzas just how they like it. Try using whole wheat pizza dough and low-fat cheese for a healthier take. 

Snack and Dessert Recipes 

Kids love treats, so having some healthier snacks and desserts in your recipe arsenal can help satisfy those sweet cravings. Here are some crowd-pleasing options: 

Frozen Yogurt Bark 

  • Blend together plain Greek yogurt with chopped fruit like bananas, berries or pineapple. 
  • Spread into a thin layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until firm. 
  • Break into pieces and enjoy! 

Oatmeal Cookies 

  • Mix together oats, mashed banana, almond butter and cinnamon. 
  • Scoop dough by the tablespoonful onto a baking sheet. 
  • Bake at 350°F for 12-15 minutes. 

Fruit and Yogurt Popsicles 

  • Puree your favorite fruits like mangos, berries, pineapple. 
  • Mix into vanilla yogurt and pour into popsicle molds. 
  • Freeze overnight and enjoy! 

Recipe Adaptation Tips 

Kids can be notoriously picky eaters, but you don’t have to abandon recipes altogether. With a few simple tweaks, you can adjust full-flavored recipes to be more child-friendly without sacrificing taste. 

Use Milder Versions of Ingredients 

Substitute ingredients kids find too spicy or flavorful with milder options. Swap out hot chiles for bell peppers, strong cheeses for mild cheddar, and spices like cumin and curry powder for kid-friendly herbs. 

Modify Textures 

Skip crunchy toppings that might deter kids or use a food processor to blend sauces to be smooth. Some kids don’t like foods with mixed textures, so adjust the dish to their preferences. 

Cut Back on Strong Flavors 

Reduce the amount of ingredients like garlic, citrus juice, vinegar and certain spices. You can also balance out robust flavors by adding a little extra sugar or salt. 

Substitute With Similar Foods 

If your child dislikes certain veggies or ingredients, try swapping in something comparable. For example, substitute butternut squash for carrots or turkey for beef. 

Hide Veggies in the Dish 

Puree veggies like carrots, cauliflower or zucchini into sauces, bake them into breads or muffins, or dice them finely into dishes like pasta. Sneaking extra vegetables into recipes can make them more nutritious. 

Let Kids Customize 

Provide add-ins so kids can customize to their liking. Offer shredded cheese, salsa or sour cream for tacos or bean toppings for chili. Giving them options makes them more open to trying the dish. 

With a few simple modifications, you can transform grown-up recipes into family-friendly meals picky eaters will enjoy. The key is finding ways to reduce spice, strong flavors, and undesirable textures while still delivering on taste. 

Foods to Build a Kid-Friendly Pantry 

Having the right foods on hand can make planning and preparing family-friendly meals so much easier. Stock up on these versatile staples to build a kid-friendly pantry: 

  • Whole Grains: Keep whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain crackers on hand. They provide fiber and nutrients. 
  • Proteins: Chicken breasts, ground turkey and lean ground beef are versatile proteins kids tend to enjoy. Canned tuna, salmon, beans, lentils and eggs are also great options. 
  • Fruits and Vegetables: apples, bananas, berries, carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers are handy for snacking and meals. Frozen veggies like peas, corn and broccoli are easy additions. 
  • Dairy: Plain yogurt, cheese sticks and milk are handy for meals and snacks. 
  • Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, ranch and bbq sauce are kid favorites. 
  • Herbs and Spices: Store oregano, basil, cumin, cinnamon, garlic powder and other favorites to add flavor. 

Having a variety of foods across food groups that kids already enjoy can make it easier to prepare family-friendly meals. Stock up on versatile ingredients your kids are likely to eat. 

Getting kids to enjoy healthy, homemade meals can seem daunting, but with some clever tips and kid-approved recipes, family dinners don’t have to be a battleground. The recipes shared here focus on sneaking veggies into meals, offering kid-friendly twists on classics, and making nutrition delicious. 

The key is taking it step-by-step. Start with small changes, like letting kids pick one component of a meal they get to choose. Offer just one new food at a time and don’t get upset if they don’t love it right away. Lead by example and make eating healthy a family habit. Adapt adult recipes to be more kid-friendly using the suggestions provided. 

Most importantly, keep things fun and positive around food. Don’t force kids to clean their plates or use dessert as a reward. Let them serve themselves so they can control portions. Get kids involved in the cooking process so they feel ownership over what they eat. With patience and perseverance, you’ll raise kids who not only accept, but enjoy eating their fruits and veggies. 

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