Dinner ideas for very fussy eaters – ‘Out of the box suggestions’
Figuring out what to serve for dinner is the bane of many parents’ lives. The emotional investment in coming up with something quick, budget-friendly and crowd pleasing SEVEN nights a week can be a nightmare.
Add in a fussy eater and it gets even more complicated. If there is more than one selective eater in the house and the challenge is magnified
Although it is very tempting to find a few options that work and then stick to those on rotation, this can also work against us longer term. Yes, we want to serve foods that our children can eat. We want them view dinner positively and go to bed with a full tummy.
But we do not want them to get used to having a menu of two or three things. Doing this can lead to food jags where a child fixates on a particular food and that becomes the only thing they want to eat.
It can also lead to boredom with eating. The same thing night after night is demoralising for us but also boring for them. When boredom sets in a whole raft of new challenges can begin.
However, what are parents supposed to do if they have a child who does only eat a few foods? What can you do if your options are super limited? It is easy to say don’t serve the same foods over and over, but what if that is all they eat?
Even in very limited diets there are usually options that we can slide into dinner to change it up a little. Or ways we can change foods we often serve so they are slightly different to usual.
My advice is not though to surprise our child by suddenly doing different things at dinner. Usually, it is better to test new ideas at other meals first when everyone is less tired, and we still have other meals to fill tummies before bed if something goes wrong.
Let’s look at some foods that are frequently accepted by picky eaters but may not be on your menu, yet!
Food ideas for very fussy eaters
1. Fish – fish fingers are frequently enjoyed by fussy eaters. The crumbing on the outside can help with acceptance. I know many picky eaters who are okay eating chicken nuggets who have also accepted fish sticks.
If fish fingers are on the menu then fish bites could be the next small move. Or moving to home-made crumbed fillets. Always start with small amounts of fish to crumb to help with acceptance.
From crumbed fillets it’s a smaller step to fish fillets.
2. Tinned fish – tuna and salmon are on the menu more frequently than you’d expect. The texture can be a challenge but mixing with some mayo, cream cheese or stirring through pasta is not unusual. I think the salty taste is part of the appeal.
3. Other seafood – again it’s surprising how prawns and calamari can feature on fussy eater’s menus. My advice is never to rule out a food that you feel your picky eater won’t eat. A comfort level is commonly found with the weirdest things!
4. Eggs – eggs are frequently either a yes or a firm no. There is little grey area! However, eggs are a great nutrient boost, source of protein, quick to prepare and budget-friendly.
We can also prepare in multiple ways to help tick boxes for our child. For example, I know many children who only eat the white part of a fried egg, or who will eat scrambled eggs but not another presentation.
i) Scrambled eggs – these may be accepted, especially when paired with toast.
ii) Fried eggs – sometimes separating white and yolk works.
iii) Dippy eggs – with a soft-boiled egg and toast or crackers to dip in.
iv) Boiled eggs – the drier texture can be preferable for some children.
v) Omelette – a simple version with some added cheese can be a good starting point.
5. Cheese – often a picky eater winner. If basic edam/cheddar is accepted, we can serve in slices, batons or grated.
If a more neutral cheese is accepted then brie, feta or haloumi are worth a whirl. Baked feta may have an easier texture to accept.
6. Other dairy – don’t rule out yoghurt, sour cream, or cream cheese. They can constitute part of dinner as a dip or accompaniment. They are also a good protein source, plus fatty and filing so perfect before ‘fasting’ during the night.
Many children who are okay with yoghurt and cheese can gently transition to other dairy foods.
7. Pizza – pizza is a great social food to master eating, but as it’s a combined food it is not always easy. Plus, there is the red sauce which for non-veggie eaters can seem really difficult. Or the cheese, which for non-cheese eaters is a fail.
I have frequently taught children to eat pizza and it can be a multi-step process. Base first, whichever version of that will tick boxes. A wrap, a crunchy, cracker-like base or a piece of bread cut into a circle.
Tomato sauce can be skipped or replaced with ketchup. Cheese can be skipped, done after cooking so it’s not melted, or replaced with another favourite sauce added after cooking.
Toppings can be as simple as a few pieces of pineapple or sliced nuggets.
Or we can start with a dessert pizza with jam and yoghurt, for example.
8. Pancakes/waffles – although these are usually thought of as breakfast foods, they can also easily be savoury (or sweet) and served for dinner.
I make savoury crepes for my family with a stuffing and sauce on top. Of course, a simple version is the place to start. Maybe filled with cheese or chicken or with the pancake or waffle served plain and the ‘stuffing’ on the side.
9. Baked goods – many selective eaters are okay with a limited range of baked foods like scones or muffins. Although these are not thought of as traditionally dinner foods, they can be a good way to introduce variety.
Chocolate may be the favourite and possibly the best way to start, but gently and gradually moving to savoury is not necessarily as challenging as we imagine.
10. Pies/pastry – although complex pies may be too challenging, the simplest pies can be a pastry shell and cheese or chicken or other favourite filling.
Egg and bacon or cheese and bacon, mince or chicken are popular.
Pastry goods like sausage rolls are a good next step for sausage eaters, or pastry eaters who are not particularly sausage fans!
Pinwheels or other pastry-based recipes can make the dinner table a little different.
11. Corn chips/tacos – corn chips can be a great way to have a meal that ticks boxes for everyone. Corn chips, grated cheese, alongside chilli or beans or chicken. Salads and salsas.
The logical extension from corn chips is tacos and again, there are different versions that may tick boxes in terms of taste or texture.
Although this list is not designed to be exhaustive, hopefully it has provided some inspiration and a little less resignation entering into another dinner with your less confident eater.
Feel free to let me know what is helpful and what isn’t!
Judith, MA Cantab, is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/