10 Real Food Meals & Snacks for Picky Eaters
Got picky eaters? That’s okay! Here are some budget-friendly, simple, real food dinner and snack ideas for picky eater meals.
Picky eaters are no joke. As a mom of 3 very different eaters, I understand the unique struggle we all have in getting our kids to try new foods, eat well, and follow a grocery budget. Picky eater meals are hard to find.
If you are trying to save money and eat healthy while also feeding a kid who only wants hamburgers and cold cereal, I get it. They make you worry about their health. They make you question your competency as a parent. They make you rethink your stance on population control.
Picky Eater Meals
But don’t give up! There are so many ways to empower your picky eaters. I hate to call these picky eater meals, but that’s what they are: kid-approved, real food recipes to help you encourage your kids to eat well.
In a sense, we are all picky eaters. We all have likes and dislikes, and that is okay. In this post I want to encourage you in two ways:
- I want to encourage you to not take your child’s eating preferences personally.
- I want to empower you with tools and ideas to feed your eaters well.
Kids are who they are, and in the end, the fact they do not like tomatoes does not define your parenting. Your responsibility is to expose them to a wide variety of foods and flavors. Making your kids like them all is not.
What Should a Picky Eater Eat for Dinner?
Experts generally agree that parents of picky eaters typically end up doing these 2 things:
- Make a separate, familiar meal for the kids and make an adult meal for later
- If the picky eater chooses not to eat dinner, they make a quick go-to alternative.
Let’s be honest. I’ve done both of these things. The reality is that sometimes, we have to do what we have to do. But I don’t do this every night. Most nights, we eat what we eat, and that’s what there is.
Instead, I try to make a healthy variety of food full of ingredients and recipes that the whole family enjoys. By that, I don’t mean I only make meals that everyone in the family enjoys. If I did that, we would only eat pizza and tacos.
Instead, some dinner features meals that my picky eaters prefer. Some nights, we eat what Mama likes. Some nights, it’s Chris’s turn. We are all unique people with different tastes, and it is okay that we don’t all like the same thing.
How do You Eat Healthy on a Budget with a Picky Eater?
My goal is not to get my kid to eat healthy. Instead, my goal is to empower my kids to learn to feed themselves well, and to enjoy a variety of food.
With my picky eaters, I pay attention to the foods they like that are typically budget-friendly and healthy.
I also think of ways we can make those foods better for them.
For example, my son likes macaroni and cheese. Even though we both love boxed macaroni and cheese (he got his taste buds from me), we make it from scratch at home. He loves it, and it features simple, clean, budget-friendly ingredients we feel good about.
Why is My Child a Picky Eater?
Experts agree that picky eating is caused by all kinds of factors. Sometimes it has to do with control. Young children are not in control of a lot of their surroundings – where they go, what they do, or what they wear. At the same time, they are learning to control themselves as humans – walking, running, talking, drinking from a cup, playing, and coloring. It makes perfect sense for them to explore controlling what goes into their mouths.
Sometimes, picky eaters just love different food. When I was growing up, I had a friend who hated egg yolks, yogurt, sausage, and fruit. But she loved capers, sushi, olives, and cauliflower. Although she looked like a picky eater when people tried to feed her normal kid food, she actually just liked different food.
Sometimes, it’s just a kid being a kid.
Sometimes, it’s more serious and requires outside help – like a visit to the doctor or therapy. Check this list here for signs you might need outside help.
What do Picky Kids eat for Dinner?
Every picky kid is different. My picky eater does not want chicken or rice for dinner, but he’ll eat lentil soup all day. Kids like what they like, and there’s no shame in that.
While I try to encourage my kids to eat well, I don’t want to shame them for not liking certain foods. We try out food (with the No-Thank-You Portion and other methods), and it’s okay if they don’t like it.
There are TONS of ways to encourage our kids to eat well!
Is Mealtime a Nightmare?
Sometimes our biggest struggle with saving money and eating healthy has nothing to do with us.
Parts of this post is an excerpt from my eBook, The Picky Eater Playlist: 25 Tips & 55 Recipes to Bring Harmony to Your Table. Check it out here!
What Can I Cook for Picky Eater Meals?
Here are 10 real food recipes that many picky eaters love!
Keep in mind that every child is different, so if they have a thing against the texture of oats, they might not like the no-bake energy bars. But generally speaking, these picky eater meals are very kid-friendly, they feature real, whole ingredients, and they are budget-friendly!
Picky Eater Meal Idea 1: One-Pot Macaroni & Cheese
The Cheapest One-Pot Macaroni & Cheese is my go-to simple, kid-friendly, picky-eater meal. I can use different kinds of cheese and pasta based on what we have in the fridge, but the result is always a quick, delicious homemade version of this classic picky eater lunch.
Picky Eater Meal Idea 2: 10-Minute Tomato Soup
Not only was this 10-Minute Tomato Soup one of our favorite meatless dinner when we had $25/week for food, it was an easy win when we had kids. It’s made with simple, budget-friendly ingredients and a dairy-free version!
Picky Eater Meal Idea 3: Snacky Dinner
This is fun for most any kid, but especially for the ones who don’t like their food to touch. Give them a 6-cup muffin tin for their Snacky Dinner. They can fill the cups however they like, and nothing touches. This is a fun, simple way to re-invent meal-time.
Set these items out on the table and let the kids fill their muffin tins. We always add a few guidelines, like at least half of the stuff on your plate should be plants, and at least one of them should be green.
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Sausage or lunch meat
- Sliced fruit (cantaloupe, oranges, apples, berries, bananas, etc.)
- Nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds)
- Sliced bread
- Raisins or other dried fruit
- Veggies cut into bite-size pieces (carrots, celery, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, snap peas)
- Peanut butter (for the celery or apples)
- Ranch dip or hummus
Baked Oatmeal is a winner for all of my kids – even the ones who don’t like oatmeal. I started calling it oatmeal cake when they were little and I wanted to make breakfast sound more exciting. This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free (and miraculously still delicious).
Easiest Bread Ever
The Easiest Bread Ever is just that: it’s our classic, simple, bread recipe that we can make for those kids who just want bread, but you want to give them something with clean ingredients and that costs pennies. We make it with whole wheat, white flour, or a combination of both. If you use white flour, you don’t have to knead it!
Homemade Whole Grain Pizza
Here’s a clean, budget-friendly version of every kid’s favorite meal.
Hamburger Vegetable Soup
Don’t think your kids like soup? This Hamburger Vegetable Soup recipe is an easy kid-pleaser. It’s also extremely budget-friendly and flexible, so you can use what you have and make it work for you.
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Dessert Hummus
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Dessert Hummus may sound strange, but my kids eat it with a spoon – even the ones who don’t like hummus or beans.
High in protein, fiber, and flavor, dessert hummus features whole, simple ingredients and real food. It’s gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, vegan, naturally-sweetened, and sun butter makes it nut-free. Oh, and it takes about 5 minutes to toss into the food processor and blend.
Green Smoothie Pops
When I struggled to get my preschooler to eat veggies, I learned that he loved green smoothies. He especially loved them as smoothie popsicles.
Simply make a green smoothie (budget-friendly smoothie tips here!), then pour it into popsicle molds and let it freeze for at least 4 hours.
No-Bake Energy Bars
One of my kids has a texture issue. Certain textures literally make him gag and sick to his stomach. While we’re gently working with him to improve this issue, I learned when he was young that somethings we put into granola and granola bars didn’t work for us. So we made these budget-friendly, picky-eater friendly no-bake bars instead. These No-Bake Energy Bars are a snack recipe with simple, clean ingredients, and because they don’t have any of those triggering ingredients, they turned out even more budget-friendly!
If you want more simple, creative ideas and recipes for picky eaters (and more picky eater meals!), check out Picky Eater Playlist here!
More Picky Eater Tips:
Check out these tips for empowering our picky eaters to eat well!
- 6 Simple Creative Tips for Picky Eaters
- 28 Easy, Real Food Snacks
- How I am Working Myself Out of a Job
What You Can Do Now: