If your child is a picky eater, you’re probably struggling to find meals they will eat. It’s likely extra tempting to make them another peanut butter and jelly sandwich because you don’t know what else to do. Maybe you have already reached that point.
Fortunately, there are ways to meal prep for picky eaters, even when you’re ready to give up. You can get all the financial and time-saving benefits of meal prepping—even if you have a picky eater in your home.
There are a few things you need to do to meal prep for the picky eaters in your home.
1. Figure Out What Foods Your Child Will Eat
You likely have a good idea of the foods your child likes and dislikes. You might even be “meal prepping” based on their favorite foods right now.
It can be helpful to break these favorite foods into food groups. This will allow you to balance out your child’s meals and make sure they are getting a variety of foods in their diet. This also ensures that they are meeting nutritional goals.
It might be challenging to find a food item from each group, but it’s important to make sure your child is getting the vitamins and nutrients they need.
2. Prepare a Combination of Foods
When you are meal-prepping, you should make sure that there are one or two “safe” foods for your child to eat. That’s where the list in step 1 comes in.
You can select a couple of items from the “foods your child will eat” list to serve at each meal. The main dish and one or two sides can be your choice.
You might even include a variety of main dish favorites in your meal plans for the week that each family member likes. Then, a couple of the sides will need to be the safe foods.
This might make for an odd pairing at dinner, but it should eventually open your child up to new foods.
3. Avoid Making an Alternative Meal for Your Child
Often, parents give in to their child’s wishes. You might be tired of the dinner battles, so you give in.
The point of meal prep is to have everything ready to go for each of your meals. By having a safe food or two at each meal, you are giving your child something they can eat, even if they won’t try something new.
You don’t want them to starve, but you can’t keep giving in. If they are always given an alternative meal, they will expect that and will not be willing to try anything new.
It’s hard to hold firm, but adding a few “safe foods” can make a big difference. Your child won’t go hungry because they will have at least one or two foods on the table that they’re willing to eat.
4. Think About the Texture
For picky eaters, the texture of food can be a big deal. Fortunately, there are multiple ways you can prepare most foods. If you know your child doesn’t like mushy foods, such as mashed sweet potatoes, find a different way to prepare sweet potatoes.
This might be a little extra work on your part, but your child will be more likely to try a food that isn’t too mushy.
Once your child likes sweet potato fries, they might be more willing to try mashed sweet potatoes because they are already familiar with the flavor.
When you are planning your meals for the week, think about the texture of each food. Remember that not every food has to be for your child, but it can help to have some safe options on the table.
5. Allow Your Child to Ask to Try New Foods
If you are continually trying to convince your child to try new foods, they are not going to have a positive association with that food.
Even if it doesn’t happen often, give them an opportunity to ask to try something. When you meal prep something that they don’t usually eat, don’t push it on them.
You can even mention to your spouse or another child that the particular food tastes good. When you force your child to try a new food, you are creating negative associations with the specific new food and with trying new foods in general.
Plus, getting your child to try a new food can end in tears and frustration. This isn’t how your child should feel about food.
6. Prepare Smaller Portions or Place Smaller Amounts on the Table
One great part of meal prepping is that you can make a lot of one food and save it for later in the week. This is one way that meal prepping saves you time.
If your child sees less of a specific food on the table or their plate, they may be more likely to finish it. A smaller portion might make it easier for your child to finish their meal as well.
A whole plate of broccoli might be intimidating, but two pieces are easier to eat. You can always keep the extras in the fridge in case you need them.
7. Let Your Child Help With Meal Prep
At the beginning of the week, look through a cookbook or online recipes with your child. See if there’s anything that catches their eye.
Remember that you shouldn’t force your child to try something new, so try to give them a chance to point out something they’d like to try. It can be tricky to find a healthy balance when letting your child choose foods.
You might let each of your children pick a meal from your cookbook. Then, your picky eater has a say and might be interested in a food, but that child doesn’t run the show. Your child might also like to help you cook your meals.
Even though mealtime can be a challenge with picky eaters, there are plenty of ways to make the process a little bit easier.
First, figure out what they like, and always pair new foods at every meal with their favorites. Get creative with textures, portion sizes, and try to avoid creating a separate meal for your picky eater. Getting your kids involved helps create excitement about trying something new and opportunities for your child to ASK to try a new item!
You might need to try a variety of the steps listed above to find the perfect meal prep plan for your picky eater. In the meantime, see how these tips might help you and your picky eater have a more peaceful mealtime.