Cooking With a Picky Eater


cooking with picky eaterMy four-year-old is on the beige diet. You know, crackers, bread, cheese. She rarely eats meat.

Yes, I have a picky eater.

And I stress zero about it because the important thing is that she eats. Sound familiar? It doesn’t matter to me if my babies were breastfed or formula fed – what mattered was that they were fed.

This post isn’t about how to sneak vegetables and fruits into dishes (which I do). Instead, it’s about how to invite your picky eater to join you, which may eventually lead to more culinary explorations for both of you.

I watch well-intended friends and family giving my picky eater the tired old lectures about eating well and trying new things. That kind of pressure isn’t effective on her. I see her shut down in those situations and not eat anything at all. We have started to slowly invite her to try our meals, and better yet – to help MAKE our meals. In a sense, if you can’t beat them, join them.

I remember feeling special when I visited my godmother or grandmother and they would let me help them with some big, complicated recipe. I realized I don’t do that with my Big kid, and I know she would love it.

Cooking with a Picky Eater

I set out this month to explore some dishes our kid can make with mom and dad. We get time together, our child is learning something, we get help with dinner, and hopefully, an edible meal that everyone will at least try.

I surveyed fellow moms and did some research on the best dishes to make with my toddler that most of the family will enjoy eating. I came up with a glass of water and a bowl of rice. Kidding… but also, not really. It was a challenge.

We spent a month exploring and making dishes together and I found our picky eater was slowly becoming more open to trying new things.  

cooking with picky eaterPancakes

My favorite thing about Saturday mornings is watching the excitement of our 4-year-old when she realizes it’s “Pancake Day.” Even our 11-month-old joins in on this meal. This is Dad’s specialty, and she loves to be his helper. It took a lot of trust for us to let her flip a pancake over a hot griddle, but this is a meal that can truly involve the entire family.

Pancakes may be seemingly bland, but I look at that as a blank canvas. Some moms suggested mixing in vanilla-flavored protein powder, or topping them off with peanut butter. Buy a few options of fruit toppings and let your kids choose. You can even make smiley face designs. Or, go really crazy and get a pancake pen and make fun designs.

The process of making grilled cheese is similar to pancakes. We even started incorporating tomato soup, which I didn’t even like until I was a mom myself.

Hamburger Helper

I started by feeding my picky eater plain cooked ground beef. Then, I invited her to join me in making Hamburger Helper. While she didn’t like the noodles, she did eat the beef. 

This past month I involved my picky eater in some aspect of every meal we cooked. She greased pans, threw away wrappers, stirred, flipped, cleaned, and even ate.

cooking with picky eaterInviting her to help us cook made her more invested in the meal. From there, very slowly she is trying new things and realizing her palate is more versatile than she thought. I still make dishes she won’t ever touch – but I’m making her involved in at least a few steps in the process so she can learn more about food and how it is made.  

Easy meals to make with a picky eater

  • Mac and Cheese
  • Spaghetti (picky eater can choose a sauce or no sauce)
  • Individual pizzas you can decorate
  • Walking tacos (or deconstructed tacos. My kid eats each piece separately. It all goes in the same place so I call this a win!)
  • Scrambled egg cooked in muffin tins (kids can choosewhat goodies their “muffin” gets)

What dishes do you make with your picky eater?

tips for picky eaters

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Niki grew up in Earlham, Iowa and now lives with her husband Ryan, daughter Riley, and son Merritt in Johnston. Riley has an observant stare that inspired the Facebook page Riley Is Not Impressed. Niki is an assistant director of public relations, social media at Drake University where she runs the university’s main social media accounts. She is also the director of the world-famous Beautiful Bulldog Contest. She has an Olde English Bulldog named Dexter, but he is ineligible to compete because she already knows he’s the most beautiful bulldog. She serves as President on the Board of Directors for Animal Lifeline of Iowa, which is a special needs, no-kill animal shelter. Niki is a two-time graduate of Drake University with a bachelor’s in journalism (2008) and a Master’s in Communication Leadership (2015).


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