Masterful Meal Planning for Picky Eaters

Struggling to make food your family will eat? Meal planning for picky eaters is easier than you think. Learn more here.

A kitchen table with a meal plan and different foods
by
Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN
— Signos
Health & Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
July 19, 2024
June 28, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Let's face it: getting kids to eat their veggies can be as challenging as getting them to clean their rooms. Picky eating is a rite of passage that many parents face, whether dealing with a toddler who refuses anything that's not a chicken nugget or a teenager who thinks pizza is a food group. And sometimes, picky eating lasts well into adulthood, where preferences lead to limited food choices.

Crafting healthy meals that offer a variety of nutrients and flavors doesn't have to be a daily struggle. In this article, we'll share simple but nutrient-dense meal ideas so you can make a weekly meal plan that brings everyone to the dinner table.

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11 Meals for Picky Eaters

Homemade quesadilla

Creating a weekly plan with time for meal prep can be a game-changer for families with picky eaters. It alleviates the weeknight stress of figuring out what to cook and ensures that your children (and you!) are exposed to a wide variety of food. A well-thought-out meal plan offers structure and predictability, which can be comforting for picky eaters and provide opportunities to introduce new foods gradually. 

By considering dinner ideas in advance, you can incorporate various healthy ingredients and tailor dishes to suit everyone's specific tastes and preferences, making mealtime a more enjoyable and less chaotic experience for the whole family.

  • Turkey Meatballs With Hidden Veggie Tomato Sauce: Lean turkey meatballs served with a tomato sauce blended with extra veggies like carrots, zucchini, and seasonings are a dinnertime favorite. This recipe is kid-friendly, rich in protein, and sneaks in extra nutrients.
  • Baked Chicken Tenders: Crispy baked chicken tenders coated with whole-wheat breadcrumbs give chicken tenders a healthier twist. This recipe provides a nutritious alternative to fried versions and can be served with a side of sweet potato fries.
  • Quinoa Fried Rice: This is a blood-sugar-friendly take on traditional fried rice, using quinoa instead of white rice. Packed with veggies like green onion and broccoli, this dish is high in protein and fiber, making it a satisfying and balanced meal for picky eaters.
  • Veggie-loaded Mac and Cheese: Creamy macaroni and cheese made with a blend of cheddar and hidden pureed veggies like cauliflower and butternut squash. This dish offers the comfort of mac and cheese with a nutrient boost.
  • Mini Turkey and Veggie Sliders: These mini sliders contain ground turkey mixed with shredded zucchini. Served on whole grain slider buns with a side of oven-baked sweet potato wedges, they are a tasty option for the entire family.
  • Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas: These quesadillas offer a dose of Vitamin A and fiber from sweet potatoes, while black beans provide plant-based protein and fiber, making this a nutritious and tasty meal. 
  • Zucchini Noodles With Homemade Pesto: Spiralized zucchini noodles tossed in a homemade pesto sauce made with basil (or even kale), pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese. This dish is a high-fiber alternative to traditional pasta and introduces kids to fresh Italian flavors.
  • Chicken and Veggie Stir-Fry: Stir-fried chicken paired with a medley of colorful vegetables like bell peppers, snap peas, and broccoli makes this recipe a quick and easy dish that’s full of vitamins and antioxidants. You can serve it over brown rice or quinoa (and it’s okay if the kids push aside the veggies; simply exposing them to the option is a good start).
  • Tortilla Pizza: Whole wheat tortillas topped with tomato sauce, veggies like bell peppers and mushrooms, and a sprinkle of cheese. This customizable recipe is also perfect for little hands to help assemble.
  • High-Protein Pasta Bake: This recipe is a hearty and nutritious twist on traditional pasta bakes. It uses cottage cheese for extra protein. You can swap traditional pasta for high-protein, high-fiber pasta made from chickpeas or edamame.
  • Build Your Own Tacos: To make a nutrient-dense, colorful meal fun and easy, you can build your own taco bar with all the fixings. Set out cheese, tomatoes, bell peppers, beans, avocado, cilantro, or whatever other veggies you like. Fill whole wheat taco shells (or even burritos) with shredded chicken to complete the meal.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href=mediterranean-diet-meal-plan>Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan: Easy 7-Day Guide</a>.</p>

5 Helpful Tips for Picky Eaters

A family having dinner
  1. Be Patient: If your picky eater is a younger child, remember that it can take 10 to 15 exposures to a new food for a child to accept it (and sometimes even more).
  2. It’s Okay to Play: While it may not seem “polite,” playing with food is a good sign! When children get creative and play with their food, it’s a sign of interest and could lead to further exploration, like taking a bite.
  3. Include the Familiar With the Unfamiliar: If you’re trying to introduce a new food to a picky eater, add it to a meal with other favorite or acceptable foods. This will ensure your child (or adult) eats enough and make it less intimidating.
  4. Have Fun With Shapes: You can use cookie cutters to make shapes from sandwiches, fruit, omelets, tortillas, or even fun pizza shapes.
  5. Drop the Food Rules: The more pressure you put on the meal, the less likely a picky eater (especially kiddos) will want to experiment with new foods. Ditch the clean-your-plate mentality and allow your eater to feel relaxed at meals.

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health With Signos’ Expert Advice

Whether you’re experimenting with healthy foods for your little one, supporting weight loss goals, managing blood sugar, or beginning a new medication, Signos can help you make better choices for your body. With real-time feedback from the Signos app paired with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), you can see exactly how your eating habits and lifestyle choices impact your metabolic health.

You can learn more about healthy eating glucose levels on the Signos blog or find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href=5-low-glycemic-dinner-recipes>15 Low-Glycemic Dinner Recipes for Busy Weeknights</a>.</p>

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References

About the author

Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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