Feeding Fussy Eaters – Meals Everyone Will Enjoy
If you have fussy eaters, whether they’re two or 82 you’ll feel the pain. For fussy eaters recipes will need to be selected with care – oh, I thnk they’ll like this one – then the nose crinkles, the mouth turns down, and the answer is a no. Either that or you serve something like fish fingers and chips, you’d rather have something more exciting, and they are thrilled and stuffing their face. It seems no-win.
There are arguments, bribery is used, because you have to eat broccoli sometimes and you don’t want them to go hungry. You threaten to remove pudding, because how can a child have just pudding? But there is another way.
It was really hard to learn how, but we let go the pressure. We have ‘pick your tea’ meals that are often buffet style. At the very least, we try and keep the parts separate – serving pasta, chicken and sauce separate, with cheese to grate on top for example. My son selects what he wants and often serves himself with assistance, and we don’t judge what he puts on his plate. We have learned to trust him, and now he is starting to realise the pressure is off, he is starting to trust us and to try new things.
I’ve collected here some of my favourite ideas for fussy eaters, recipes and meal inspiration. Though when I say recipes, these are mostly designed so your fussy eaters’ safe foods can be incorporated. These are ideas or guidelines only, so you can adapt them to your family’s needs and preferences.
I don’t mean those crispy taco shells you can buy – but rather a meal with a number of different Mexican dishes spread out, where everyone piles what they want into a tortilla. My son’s favourite is a tortilla spread with sour cream, and nothing else… It’s a great meal for if you ever have to feed both meat eaters and vegetarians as it’s easy to incorporate both bean dishes and meat dishes.
Some of our favourites include:
- Roasted red pepper salsa. You can try a deconstructed version if not everyone likes all the ingredients, as in the picture below.
- Cheese. Supply a grater and a knife so diners can choose how to serve it.
- Sour cream. Yum!
- Refried beans. I usually make my own but you can buy them in a can if you prefer.
- Shredded chicken. Click for my recipe- you can prepare it lime and paprika flavoured or plain – or half and half
- Sweet potato mash. Just bake them in the microwave, then scoop them out and mash
- Sweetcorn. Just straight out of the tin, if you don’t want to try fancy Mexican street corn!
- Black bean mole – one of my favourite veggie slow cooker chillis
- Chilli con carne. We don’t do this much at the moment, but it’s a popular one
- Fish fingers. Yes, fish finger tacos are acutally really tasty!
- Rice – microwave rice is good if you only need a small amount.
You can of course include other foods that your fussy eaters really love – whether they’re naturally Mexican or not.
Mezze isn’t just for Greek holidays in the sun! If you’re not familiar with the term it’s an Eastern Mediterranean meal composed of a lot of smaller dishes, including the favourites hummus, pitta bread and tzatziki. It’s naturally a buffet style meal so it’s easy to make a selection of dishes that everyone can pick from. Again, with tasty goodies like hummus and falafel being found in the Eastern Mediterranean it’s an easy meal to do if you’re catering for meat eaters and vegetarians.
I have fond memories of trying new foods on holiday in Cyprus when I was six or seven. Now, however, Mezze means watching my picky eater happily drizzle lemon juice over his hummus and feta. I’ve just been reading about the meal here on Wikipedia, and there is a huge variety in practices and in favoured dishes. In our house, we make a meal we describe as Mezze which is simply a selection of Eastern Mediterranean inspired dishes put together to make a meal. Pitta and/or couscous form the backbone, but if you wanted to use bulghur wheat, some other sort of bread or rice, that’s fine. Our aim here isn’t authenticity, but a tasty Mezze inspired meal that everyone can enjoy.
If you have one of those children (or adults, for that matter) who will happily eat piles of vegetable sticks or grapes and hummus but struggle with a ‘proper’ meal, then this idea is a treat – you’re turning the hummus into the star of the show. This is really flexible so you can add in whatever your picky eater’s safe foods – those they reliably eat – are. It’s also another good meal for serving when both meat eaters and vegetarians are present. We often serve it with falafel, but on the occasion pictured it was lamb, marinaded and baked in the oven (the harassed mum’s kebab). If you’ve got company round, why not do both?
This meal can come together really quickly, and be prepared ahead. Store bought hummus and falafel are perfectly tasty, though if you will enjoy making your own go for it. I even wrote a how-to for hummus once. Here’s some ingredient ideas for a Mezze meal:
- Hummus (home made or store bought)
- Flatbread or pitta bread
- Salad – cucumber and tomatoes come up a lot in Eastern Mediterranean salads, but use what your family will eat
- Bulgur wheat
- Tzatziki – or if your fussy eater prefers, or time is short, just plain natural or Greek yogurt
- Feta cheese
- Grilled or fried Halloumi cheese
- Stewed aubergine/eggplant and tomato. Not traditional, but aubergine is a favourite in this region, and I find stewing the easiest way to deal with the bitterness
- Lemon wedges
- Grilled and/or marinaded lamb or your preferred meat
- Bread sticks
- Grilled or roasted Mediterranean veg
The Wikipedia article above has more ideas, and the Mediterranean Dish blog has some great creative tips in this article. So you can enjoy a Mediterranean treat, and your small one(s) will fill up on hummus and yogurt.
It sounds like something from a fancy restaurant, doesn’t it? All I mean here is a salad where all the different things are served in separate bowls rather than mixed together. A bit like the salsa pictured above, with the pepper, coriander/cilantro and onion all separate, except you can make a meal out of it. And the sky’s the limit with this one – any cooked or raw ingredient someone in your family enjoys. I’ve never had a chicken nugget salad, but if that is what your fussy eaters go for, why not? I’d pair it with new potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and some crisp apple slices… Instead of persuading everyone to eat the same foods, let your picky ones have a bit of what they’re comfortable with, and put something you fancy on the table too. Offer everyone all the foods, and relax.
This is one of my personal favourites, and something we often eat at Christmas – smoked mackerel. We served it with sour cream and chives for a very sophisticated dinner – but of course my son won’t eat smoked mackerel or chives, so here’s the full spread:
We combine ingredients we fancied eating with those my son really enjoys – such as cheese, olives and tomato. You can serve the carbohydrate, like potatoes, hot with butter, or cold if you need to prep the meal in advance. I usually just do one main protein food – beans, fish, cooked ham etc – plus a cheese, but depending on your family’s preferences you can do it your own way.The cheese I’ve used here is Caerphilly. I did one dish of sour cream plain, and one with chopped chives added.
I really enjoy roasted vegetables with salads – they’re really easy to prep in advance and can be used in all sorts of recipes, as I described here. However, you can use what suits your family- tinned sweetcorn, cooked frozen veg, sticks of carrots – whatever you will enjoy eating. It’s a really easy meal to make in advance, and you can make it on the cheap or throw in shop-bought extras for a lazy feast. Here are some more ideas:
- Cooked new potatoes
- Cooked pasta
- Prepared couscous
- Your favourite cheese
- Olives or other jarred Italian antipasti such as artichokes
- Canned fish such as tuna or salmon
- Tinned beans such as chickpeas or kidney beans
- Deli meats or cooked chicken or ham – maybe my easy shredded chicken
- Salad Leaves – rocket, watercress, lettuce or your favourite sort
- Sticks of celery, carrot or cucumber
- Roasted vegetables – fresh or cold
- Other salad or cooked vegetables
- Crackers or breadsticks
- Dips such as yogurt, sour cream, hummus, ketchup
You can really freestyle this and add in what you or your picky eaters like. It helps if there is a carbohydrate, a vegetable or fruit and something with protein in that they will eat. However, don’t swap the buttered potatoes you want for chips. Do chips tomorrow, put their favourite crackers on the table and offer the potatoes.
Indian Buffet for Fussy Eaters – Yes Really!
Indian food really isn’t the obvious choice for fussy eaters, but you can make it work. We have it quite a lot, by making a buffet around one particular Indian style dish or curry.We took my son to Indian restaurants as a baby and toddler and he loved it, but now he’s suspicious of anything spicy or in a sauce. We get round this with side dishes – the extra work involved is minimal. I make the main dish quite spicy so I can mix the other dishes into mine and it doesn’t taste bland.
Do your children like curry? Maybe you all like Indian food but like it at different spice levels? You can use a similar technique. Serve chilli sauce or crushed chillis on the side, or yogurt to mix in to make it milder. Serve one person’s preference one time with things on the side to modify, and swap it around the next ime. Life is too short to make everyone a separate meal.
But how do you create an Indian side dish for fussy eaters?? I simply add to the table ingredients that are often found in Indian dishes, and are in my son’s list of ‘safe’ foods. Recently I’ve often cooked peas and paneer together in a frying pan – in the above example I also added some cauliflower. My son doesn’t like the paneer to brown so I simmered these in a little water. If you add spices it could be a dish from an Indian cook book. I also put yogurt on the table this time, and a choice of naan bread or rice. My son will have a go at nearly any type of bread so he’s quite happy with naan bread, but don’t be too fussed with authenticity. Plain old sandwich bread will go just as well, and tortillas can substitute chapattis if they’re what your family enjoys.
If your picky eater likes their meat or beans, then cook these plain, perhaps using my easy shredded chicken recipe, or add just a little spice according to their preference. You can then cook the curry sauce with vegetables in, and stir your own meat or beans into the sauce. In short, cook a little of what your picky eater likes separately in a plain version, and if you want to mix it into or pile it onto a spicy Indian sauce you can. Again, don’t feel like you have to stick to the rule book – if the only carb your child will eat is chips, have a bowl of chips, and a little rice or naan for those that prefer them. I find microwave rice sachets useful for this sort of occasion, so you don’t have to cook a whole pan full. And don’t judge what’s on their plate – the idea is for everyone to have food that they are enjoying, not for everyone to have a perfectly balanced meal, or to be eating curry.
This particular spread featured a simple pressure cooked green lentil curry, the paneer and vegetable dish described above, natural yogurt (make a proper raita if you like), rice and naan bread. The small one insisted on golden syrup with his yogurt as if it was a pudding rather than a dip, but he had a good meal, and we had a curry.
Top Your Own Pizza
My final idea is a really simple one. Whether you use your own dough (we use our trusty breadmaker), buy pizza bases or make a pitta bread pizza, set out a selection of toppings and let everyone top their own. Don’t be limited by what traditionally goes on a pizza – when I was a student we put popcorn and raisins on a pizza and it was quite nice. If it’s hygienic – eg cook meat before it goes on the pizza – it’s worth a go! Even the tomato and cheese are up for grabs – skip them, or swap for your favourite sauce or cheese. My son’s pizza in the picture is topped with Wensleydale cheese, his preference. If your fussy eaters prefer barbecue sauce, mayonnaise or cream cheese give it a go!
More Ideas for Fussy Eaters
If you’ve found my ideas inspiring and want to try out some meals like this with your own family check out Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility method and read some of the research that has inspired it. The gentle eating book by Sarah Ockwell Smith has helped me understand my eating habits as well as my child’s!
And finally I’d like to thank the members of the Mealtime Hostages facebook group for all their ideas that have contributed to this article.
If you’ve enjoyed this and want to keep up with my quick globally inspired meals that everyone can enjoy, you can follow me by email here or follow me on facebook here. If there’s any recipes you’d like to see or anything you struggle to eat with your picky eater drop me a line in the contact form or in the comments below!