Dinner ideas for very fussy eaters – carbs
I know that dinner is crunch time for most parents of picky eaters. They may have a child who eats a good breakfast and a reasonable lunch, but then when it comes to dinner, there are only two options.
Almost every parent of a picky eater wants help with the evening meal and so if this is you, you are not alone.
Dinners are generally hardest because:
– It’s the end of the day. We are all tired, especially little ones. For many children there has been endless stimulation from wake-up and so by dinner they are done.
– Evening meals are generally the most challenging. Breakfast is easy carbs, lunch is something familiar, but then dinner is all this food that is NOT in the comfort zone (but that mum and dad really, really want you to eat).
– There are frequently expectations placed on the evening meal that do not happen earlier in the day.
I love creating meal ideas that work for even the pickiest of eaters and hope that some of the foods listed below give you inspiration. Plus, I’ve added a few tips on how to get things eaten a little more easily.
Before writing, I had a quick look on Google to see if there was something I’d missed. As usual I veered between laughing and slapping my head in despair. The recipes ‘every picky eater will eat’ are always amusing.
Almost all of them are integrated dishes for a start (groan, eyeroll). Mixed foods are the hardest thing to eat and yet almost every ‘fussy eater’ meal is a combination of foods. Many too, have sauces and multiple textures, again a real challenge for picky eaters.
This is not to say that your fussy eater, even if they are on the extreme end of picky, can’t learn to eat integrated foods. They absolutely can! But it does take time. It is a process and a valuable one to start right now. But are they going to manage the casseroles right off the bat? No.
My advice is to start with foods they enjoy, however basic. If we see something at the table we like, we are far more likely to come to the table happily and then stay there.
If there is nothing we want to eat at the table, we start off feeling unhappy about eating and that usually only makes the whole meal go downhill. Whereas, if we are sitting enjoying ourselves, it is far easier to be brave and taste something new.
One of my biggest mantras is “dinner is not the place to teach someone to eat”. If we change our goal from pushing our child to have the broccoli or the pasta with sauce and instead focus on making sure they are comfortable and eat enough to fill the tummy, it works far better long term.
Dinner ideas for very fussy eaters – carbs
My advice is start with basic foods and gently and consistently introduce more complexity. This is a process not an overnight magic trick. To add sauce to pasta may take quite a long time, for example, but the upsides are worth the wait!
Remember, we are starting with the premise that there is always something there a child is okay to eat:
1. Potatoes – carbohydrates are generally the easiest foods for fussy eaters.
i) Fries – hot chips are frequently accepted so having a version at home gives a filling addition to a meal. There are many frozen/oven bake versions that can be the easiest start.
If frozen fries are accepted, then moving gently to home-made is a great goal.
ii) Potato skins – roasting potato skins until they are crispy. You can add sour cream, ketchup, cheese etc.
iii) Fried potatoes – steam mini cubes of potato and then fry until crispy. It’s a good start towards roast potatoes.
iv) Roast potatoes – sometimes making these smaller and crispier is a win.
v) Mash can be a challenge (due to the texture), but some children are fine with the processed version like the smiley faces that are crispy on the outside but mash in the middle.
2. Pasta – plain pasta is often a win. Adding to it though can be more difficult.
i) Pasta types – if you do have a plain pasta eater then rotating shapes and colours, if possible, is a good idea.
ii) 2 minute noodles – these are super popular. Moving to a regular pasta, or changing the sauce or cooking in broth, for example, can all add to the nutrient value.
iii) Adding – even a bit of salt, some melted butter or oil is a good start. Perhaps it’s a favourite like grated cheese or pieces of ham. If on is not okay then serving repeatedly at the side builds an association.
iv) Dipping – putting the pasta into sauce is easier than pouring on top. Can your child dip into ketchup or yoghurt?
v) Mac & cheese – some children find basic mac & cheese a win. If the basic one is okay, can you add something else small?
vi) Spaghetti bolognaise – is often okay for fussy eaters. If the full version is a challenge, can you do a simplified one?
vii) Lasagne – the simplest version is pasta sheets and cheese or ham, for example. Starting with the most basic enables us to build a positive association with a food.
3. Bread/toast – another picky eater staple!
i) Rolls – if plain bread is okay can you gently work on adding rolls.
ii) Simple additions to the bread, like butter and a bit of garlic to make garlic bread are often accepted.
iii) Toppings – cheese, baked beans, or eggs. If on is not okay then serving next to them does help, over time.
iv) French toast. Although eggs may be a challenge, adding a little to a milk mixture can work.
4. Wraps – these are super versatile:
i) Basic – with ham or cheese etc.
ii) Quesadillas – fry in the pan stuffed with cheese, or chicken or other favourite food.
iii) Burritos – roll around mince or cheese and then bake in the oven.
iv) Fry until crispy and then use like a cracker.
5. Rice – plain rice can be a win.
i) Fried rice – we can start by just lightly frying in a little butter or oil.
ii) Sushi – very basic sushi can be just rice and cheese!
iii) Onigiri – making the rice into fun shapes can be a win. *Nori is easy to cut with scissors to make eyes etc.
iv) Rice paper rolls – very simple to make and you can do a ‘fussy eater’ version with just cheese and noodles, for example.
v) Rice noodles – if you have a plain pasta eater, a move to rice ones may give you a new option.
6. Sweet potato – there are different sorts of sweet potato/kumara so it’s worth testing a variety:
i) Purple – these are most like potato, so if you have a potato eater it can be a short step. I love slicing them thinly then baking in a little oil until crispy.
ii) Orange – these can make great fries or wedges.
iii) Gold – they are sweeter than the purple but not as sweet as the orange. My favourites!
iv) Grate – grated they are a good addition to mince or even to cakes.
Next week I will add to this blog and create a giant list so you can return to it for inspiration!
Please let me know if this is helpful too
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: