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Recipes and Food Lists for Picky Eaters

Mar 22, 2021

Parents ask me this all the time: "Can you give me recipes or a food list to help my picky eater?"...and according to my research, this is one of the most Googled feeding questions on the internet.  So, I thought I’d better answer it.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as perfect recipes or foods for picky eaters. There are no “magic foods” that will fix picky eating.  As I’ve shared in my previous blogs about picky eating, the best way to get your child to eat new foods is through repeated exposure. Pair this with positive family mealtimes, low pressure, and a good mealtime schedule and you’ve got the perfect recipe!

Having said that, some foods/recipes work better for some kids based on their sensory preferences. For example, if your toddler only eats dry, bland coloured foods like waffles and white toast, in feeding therapy, I might suggest trying to expand their food repertoire by offering foods that are similar in shape and colour, like dry, bland-coloured pancakes and muffins.

If your child gravitates toward crunchy foods like crackers and chips, I would suggest pan-frying or breading vegetables and meats to create a good sensory match. In this situation, your little one may prefer raw veggies over cooked, as they offer a nice crunch in the mouth.

Many parents I work with admit to buying all kinds of new foods in an attempt to hopefully find that “magic food” that their child likes. The trouble with this approach, is that it doesn’t make for easy weeknight meals, it's not budget friendly, nor does it follow the evidence that shows that repeatedly offering the same foods over time increases a child’s likelihood of accepting foods. If a child is constantly presented with new foods and recipes because a parent is trying to find a “magic food”, the child doesn’t get enough of a chance to become comfortable with the food.

To make matters worse social media platforms like Instagram are chockablock with Mom Bloggers, Dietitians, and Influencers offering a multitude of perfectly nutritionally balanced and aesthetically pleasing recipes for kids. From fried zucchini strips, soups/stews, and salmon fritters to perfectly presented colourful Bento Box lunches, the toddler recipes are overwhelming and endless. While these recipes can be great for kids that will eat anything, they often create stress for parents of kids that are picky eaters. Parents have expressed to me that they feel like they can’t keep up with all of the creative recipes that they feel they should be trying based on what they’ve seen other Moms doing on social media.

I suggest to parents that instead of competing with other Mom chefs by making elaborate recipes to “fix” picky eating, parents should channel their energy into repeatedly offering the same foods that the rest of the family is eating. This will help their child have many exposures to the same foods and may eventually lead to everyone sitting down to the same family meal, which is often the end goal.

I frequently advise parents to offer food as follows:

75% of the plate is foods that your child likes and can eat successfully

25% of the plate is “learning foods”

 Parents often ask which foods or “recipe” to offer as learning foods. The answer is simple…just offer whatever the rest of the family is eating.  This works well, as parents don’t need to spend time preparing a special “recipe” in addition to the regular family meal. The ultimate success is for a child to learn to eat whatever the family eats, so offering a small amount of what everyone else is having is a step toward the goal of the same family meal for everyone.

If your little one only eats waffles for breakfast, give your child waffles but place a small amount of the berries that you are eating on his plate for exposure.

If you child only eats pasta with butter for lunch, place a few pieces of the cucumber and carrots that a sibling is eating for lunch…or maybe a little bowl of tomato sauce for dipping.

The best “recipes” or foods for picky eaters are the ones that match your child’s sensory preferences and the ones that you typically have in your home. Your child is already more familiar with the foods that other family members eat simply because you have those foods in your home on a regular basis. Children are more likely to be successful with these foods, as they have already been exposed to them and seen you eat them on a repeated basis.

Lastly, here are a few examples of simple “recipes” or food hacks to match your child’s sensory food preferences using foods that your child already accepts. Remember to add very little at first and slowly increase the amount over time:

*When making changes to your child’s accepted foods go very slowly. It’s tempting to add a heaping spoon of ground nuts to your child’s pancakes to boost the calories and protein; however, big changes often result in refusal. Start with just a ½ tsp of ground nuts in the whole batch, then repeat this change a few times before increasing to 1 tsp, then 2 tsps, etc.

*Only make one change at a time so your child is not overwhelmed. For example, choose one of the above foods from the “ADD” section and start with a small amount. Once your child is tolerating this new flavour/texture in their food, you can choose another food to add. Avoid adding several new things at once. Adding pureed fruit and nut butter to your child’s pancakes all at once will increase the likelihood of refusal.

Warning! If your child has a severely limited diet and only eats a few “core foods” I suggest not adding anything to these foods, as you risk losing these foods from your child’s repertoire. In this situation, working with a feeding therapist is recommended to find safe ways to expand your child’s food repertoire without sacrificing precious “core foods”.

To learn more “Food Chaining” ideas I recommended a great book for parents: Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet (Fraker, Walbert, & Cox)



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