Feeding kids is a tough job. As parents we constantly worry about what they’re eating. Are they getting enough? Eating the right things? Trying new foods? It’s a never-ending process.
That said, some kids are naturally adventurous eaters and you don’t have to worry quite so much. On the other hand, some are much less than adventurous. You might even call them a “picky eater.” Or if it is especially bad, a “problem feeder.”
In our family we have one of each. Our daughter was a particularly voracious eater as a baby. She skipped the baby food phase almost entirely, preferring to grab at chopped up table food with her chubby hands. She’s easily encouraged to try something new and eats a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, so it’s not often that I worry.
In contrast, our son is a “problem feeder” (read more about that here). At times I have been in a constant state of worryregarding his nutrient intake. With the help of a feeding therapist and a nutritionist we were able to work around his limited palate.
Here are some healthy eating tips that have worked well for us along the way. By using these simple suggestions, you can turn many foods that a typical picky eater or problem feeder enjoys into something that is much more nutritious for their growing bodies.
Healthy Eating Tips for Picky Eaters
All photos by Katie Goodman.
Grains and Seeds
Most kids, even the picky ones, will usually eat any baked good. My son, Logan, is especially fond of muffins. Whole-grains are much more nutritious that all-purpose flour and with some experimentation, I’ve learned to grind my own whole-grain flours (wheat, barley, oat, brown rice, and more) using a grain mill.
Switching out flours was one of the easiest changes we made. Even cookies are now made with at least 1/2 the amount of flour as a whole grain.
Cold Milled Flax also provides a wonderful opportunity add omega oils to their diet. I like to add two to three tablespoons to most baked goods (just take out equal amounts of flour). Flax can easily be stirred into oatmeal, applesauce, yogurt, or blended into3 smoothies.
The simplest way to discourage unhealthy snacking is not purchasing those items that you’d rather not have your children eat. If it’s not in the house, it’s not an option.
For us, that’s things like chips or any store bought sweets. They’re only around for special occasions and we often make our own desserts instead so we can control the ingredients. And if they are around, they are most certainly out of sight and out of reach. There’s nothing worse than a 3 year old who’s gotten into the crackers and filled up their tummy before lunch.
Stock Up On Produce
Produce what makes up most of my cart each week. I offer a fruit with breakfast and fruits and vegetables with both lunch and dinner. We’re still working on liking the vegetables, but fruits have become more widely accepted by our less adventurous eater.
When I’m not offering fruits and vegetables, I’m often incorporating them into other meals or snacks: smoothies, popsicles, muffins, pancakes, and breads can all easily have puréed, chopped or grated produce incorporated into the recipe.
Everyone wants a treat now and again and there is nothing wrong with that, but you can compare labels to find healthier versions of typical kid treats. Consider 100% fruit leathers instead of items like fruit snacks. These help satisfy the sweet tooth without empty calories – something a picky eater can’t afford to have in their diet.
A couple more examples of healthier alternatives:
- Both kids love yogurt, and now I make it a priority to look for new flavors that offer lower sugar and higher protein. Greek style yogurt is great for that.
- Madeline loves quesadillas for lunch. I’ve recently experimented with whole-grain olive oil tortillas I found at my store. No one noticed the difference.
Try, Try Again…and then Keep Trying Some More
My kids can sense when I’m stressed about their eating. Those stressed feelings can so easily lead to a power struggle. Our nutritionist always reminded me to think about the small improvements and consider the kids’ diets over a 7-day period vs. on a daily basis. Analyzing their food intake over 7 days will usually be much more balanced than when if just focus on one bad day.
Keep offering new foods, trying new recipes and tasting new things. Don’t give up because eventually you will make progress. But in the meantime, certainly take steps to present the healthiest versions of what your kids will eat.
We’ve been at it for 4 years with Logan. Each year, I look back and realize how many more foods he is eating than the previous year and that is such a comfort to me.
Disclaimer: This advice is not meant to diagnose, treat or replace professional medical advice. These are just a few tips that work for our family.
Fluffy Banana Oat Pancakes
makes about 20 pancakes
The whole family enjoyed this healthier version of pancakes for a Saturday morning breakfast. I felt good about the whole grains, flax, yogurt, and fruit in the recipe. The kids were happy about how great they tasted.
- 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
- 3 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoon ground flax seed
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups low-fat milk
- 1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt, preferably Greek style
- 3 tablespoons melted butter or canola oil
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 1/3 cup puréed ripe bananas, about 4 medium bananas
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
1. Place a large skillet or griddle on the stove (you can also use an electric skillet) and preheat over low heat while you make the batter.
2. Add the oats to a food processor and process until the mixture is very fine. In a medium-large sized bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, ground oats, flax seed, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
Note: Alternatively, if you have a large food processor you can add all the dry ingredients at once and process until the oats are very fine. Follow step 3, then add the flour mixture to the bowl containing the liquids and mix. Then, proceed to step 5.
3. In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine the milk, yogurt, butter or canola oil (if using butter, allow it to cool to room temp first), honey, banana, and eggs. Hand whisk until thoroughly combined, but do not beat.
4. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour the liquids into the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until well incorporated. Again, do not beat the mixture. Just stir until moist and combined.
5. Turn the heat on the pan or griddle up to medium-low. Grease with cooking spray, oil, or butter according to your preference. Add the batter 1/4 cup per pancake to the pan. Cook until golden brown on the bottom before flipping.
6. You can usually tell it is ready to flip because the top will start to bubble. Pancakes can be kept warm in a 150 degree oven on an oven-safe plate or cookie sheet while the remaining cook. Serve with your favorite jam, honey, or syrup.
To freeze leftovers: Cool on a cookie cooling rack completely. Then, place pancakes in gallon-sized zip top bags. To reheat, warm in a toaster oven or microwave.
More Healthy Kid-Friendly Recipes
- Apple Chips & Sun Butter Bites | Simple Bites
- Butternut Squash Whole-Wheat Mac & Cheese | Simple Bites
- Family Friendly Chicken Strips | Simple Bites
- Homemade Pearsauce | GoodLife Eats
- Molasses and Ginger Granola Bars | GoodLife Eats
- Peach Freezer Smoothies | Food for My Family
- Pomegranate, Raspberry, and Nectarine Popsicles | GoodLife Eats
- Popcorn Trail Mix | GoodLife Eats
- Pumpkin Pie Fruit Roll(Up)s | Food for My Family
What do you do to maximize the nutrients in your child’s food?