7-Day Healthy Dinner Plan for Picky Eaters
A week of healthy meal ideas for kids (and grown-ups!) who won't eat anything.
Photos: Erin Alderson
The term "picky eater" is a little unfair: it suggests a certain grumpiness associated with food. My kids are certainly not grumpy about food. They love it! They just want to be in control of what they put in their mouth. This is all fine and good, except when, for example, my son's desire to eat nothing but steak for dinner conflicts with my desire for him to eat a balanced meal. Inevitably, frustration ensues—on both sides of the argument.
Related: Healthy Meal Ideas for Picky Eaters
So how do you feed a hungry family healthy meals every night that satisfy everyone's taste buds? Give everyone choices, without cooking four separate meals. Offer a meal as deconstructed parts and everyone gets the choice to fill their plate with what they want to eat. Just lay out a few simple rules for those picky eaters: everyone's plate must include a healthy protein, vegetables and a whole grain (sometimes we'll do a starchy veg instead, like sweet potatoes or corn on the cob). We also serve up classic kid favorites—like chicken tenders and pizza—with a healthy twist.
When it comes to drinks, water, milk and unsweetened nondairy milk are all great choices to round out the meal. But some picky eaters might struggle with the taste. Try adding a splash of 100-percent juice to plain seltzer water for a homemade "soda" kids will like. Or make your own chocolate milk so you control the amount of sugar. Use less and less chocolate each time to help wean your picky eater off the sweetness.
No two "picky eaters" have the same selective preferences. A kid who hates salad one day could love it the next. But hopefully you'll find some inspiration below to help keep you from becoming a short-order cook.
Fun Meal-Time Tools for Kids
Sunday: Sheet-Pan Mini Meatloaves
The genius of this sheet-pan dinner is that everything is cooked together—but separately—which is key for some picky eaters. The healthy meatloaf recipe and side dishes are all made in the oven on two sheet pans so that everything's ready for the dinner table at the same time. The potatoes go into the oven first to start roasting while the mini meatloaves and green beans are prepped and added to the oven partway through.
Picky-Eater Tip: Serve with a side of ketchup for dipping.
Monday: Classic Mac & Cheese
No sneaky ingredients here, just delicious comfort food. You can enjoy this super-cheesy mac and cheese in the same time it takes to cook the boxed version. Whole-wheat noodles add fiber, while sharp Cheddar adds richness. A hefty twist of black pepper balances the cheese's salty tang. Serve with simple roasted broccoli.
Picky-Eater Tip: Top the broccoli with a small pat of butter, then watch your kids gobble it up. Omit the ground pepper from the mac & cheese and let everyone add their own at the end, if they choose.
Tuesday: Taco Night
Taco night is the ultimate meal for picky eaters, because everyone can choose their favorite taco toppings—or just keep it plain. Mixing mashed canned beans with whole beans and seasonings makes an incredibly simple taco filling from your pantry. Top these speedy five-ingredient tacos with lettuce, tomato and salsa or any of your favorite taco toppings.
Sliced red & yellow bell peppers
Picky-Eater Tip: Let everyone choose their own toppings—they'll be more likely to eat what's on their plate.
Wednesday: Chicken Tenders
Ever-popular kids'-menu fare, crispy chicken tenders are an easy dinner the whole family will love. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping, steamed green beans and quinoa.
Picky-Eater Tip: Try seasoning the quinoa with a pinch of salt and a small pat of butter to mellow out the flavor.
Thursday: Pizza Night
Now, who doesn't love pizza?! You won't believe how quick and easy it is to make this healthy pie. Thanks to a two-ingredient dough that combines self-rising flour and Greek yogurt, there's no need for a rise time. Just roll, top and bake, and you'll have a delicious dinner on the table in under half an hour.
Picky-Eater Tip: Make personal pizzas so everyone can choose their own toppings. Another option? Only top half of the pizza with basil and leave the other half without for those who want plain cheese pizza.
Friday: Fish Sticks
You can make these homemade fish sticks in about the same amount of time it takes to bake a box of the frozen kind.
Picky-Eater Tip: Kids love dips! Serve this meal with ranch dressing and ketchup and let them dip away.
Saturday: Baby Back Ribs
This easy load-and-go crock pot recipe is a great dinner to make with your kids. Let the kids stir the sauce while you rub the ribs, then just let the slow cooker do the rest of the work! Serve with a colorful coleslaw and mashed sweet potatoes.
Picky-Eater Tip: When kids are involved in making the meal, they're more likely to eat it.