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HELP! Family dinner ideas for picky toddler!

Our 2 year old son has been a very picky eater from birth. At his first birthday, he refused to taste the cake!

While working and pregnant with my second child (due in just a few short weeks!), I fell into the bad habit of feeding him meals I knew he would eat. But I'm ready to tackle this, and start exposing him to more foods at the family table. I don't want to cook separate foods for him, but I am willing to cook toddler friendly foods that can appeal to our whole family.

So what are some ideas? Anybody else succeed in helping picky toddler over come aversion to new tastes and foods? I'd love any recipes and strategies!

Here is a list of the few things he'll eat: Breakfast foods (cereal, pancakes and french toast, bacon); meatballs or kofte; noodles with pesto (not red sauce!); almond butter and jelly sandwich, yogurt, all fruit; breads; french fries (but not sweet potato).

Thanks for any ideas! I could really use some encouragement, as his refusals broke my will for a while.

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  1. Honestly, he eats a lot compared to some kids!

    - Try making pesto with spinach leaves or asparagus or broccoli. Use mostly basil at first, but gradually up the amount of vegetable.

    - use whole wheat bread, cereal, crackers...

    - Breakfast for dinner- whole wheat pancakes or ricotta pancakes with yogurt and fruit. Add in some baby carrots or other 'pickup' veggie that he might eat

    - Make your own baked french fries. Much healthier than the frozen type, but if you're in a rush, the Alexia brand is pretty good.

    - Explain the food. I do this with my friend's toddler, and she'll pretty much eat anything. I explain to her that carrots are orange because they have a special vitamin that helps us see well. Milk has calcium, which makes our bones tough and strong. Steak and hamburgers have iron to help us grow taller...

    5 Replies
    1. re: cheesecake17

      I'd love a recipe for ricotta pancakes! He doesn't currently eat any veggie, pick up or otherwise. I guess I consider him picky b/c we feel we always have to pack food for him; we can never show up to a dinner or restaurant and know that he'll eat. I'm hoping to get to a place where he'll eat more of what we consider dinner food.

      Thanks for your ideas!

      1. re: sljones

        I made them once, from a Bittman recipe.

        What about trying some sweeter veggies? Butternut squash? Sounds weird, but maybe mix some roasted cubes with fresh strawberries and a splash of maple syrup. He may eat it.

      2. re: cheesecake17

        Toss the broccoli, cut or chopped in really small pieces, in with the pesto.

        1. re: cheesecake17

          PLEASE HELP ME! My 3 yr old daughter refuses to eat meat ( the only exception is Ham deli meat only) She will not eat cooked or raw vegetables. She loves fruit, yogurt, and muffins. It doesn't matter if I grind meat or veggies, and mix it with pasta... she knows! And says, no mommy, I don't like it. I'm running out of idea's here... Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

          1. re: sncwells

            give her what she likes... and keep trying with the vegetables. I know my friend's kids didn't like meat but every so often she would offer deli turket and they would eat it. Try making you own muffins- add in wheat germ, bananas, pureed carrots.. whatever will add a bit of sweetness and bulk. Try sweeter veggies like sweet potatoes and butternut squash.

        2. Your picky 2-year old son sounds a lot like mine in terms of the things he'll eat. (Although I agree with the previous reply -- I don't consider my son particularly picky.)

          My tip: Nearly everything can be turned into a meatball or something resembling breakfast food.

          I've been making lots of variations of muffins or pancakes with veggies, fruits, and whole grains mixed in (bran muffins with pureed figs; pumpkin oatmeal muffins; savory spinach and basil muffins; corn and bell pepper pancakes). On the pancake front, I made fish cakes once with a thin batter and told my son they were "fish pancakes" -- shockingly, he ate them!

          It's also easy to finely chop veggies and add them to meatballs. Unlike, say, a green pancake full of broccoli, these look like normal meatballs if the meat to vegetable ratio isn't too high. Mushrooms are a great addition -- something my kid won't ordinarily eat, but he's happy to eat meatballs with little bits of mushroom, onion, and carrot mixed in. (You have to cook them before adding to the meat mixture.)

          2 Replies
          1. re: Pia

            Thanks for the ideas! I'd love some of your muffin recipes! Pumpkin oatmeal, savory spinach and basil, and corn and bell pepper pancakes!

            He is pretty discerning, so something off color will stop him from trying (pink pancakes.) But I'm willing to give it a try!

            1. re: sljones

              Sorry to take a while to respond!

              Spinach muffins - I very loosely follow this recipe: http://www.laurens-kitchen.com/spinac...

              Corn pancakes: from Chow, with diced bell peppers added. http://www.chow.com/recipes/10057

              Pumpkin oatmeal muffins: from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites. I can't find this one online, so I'll summarize it here:

              Sift 1 1/4 cups flour (I used white whole wheat), 1 T baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cinnamon (I used pumpkin pie spice).

              Pulse oats in food processor until they are the consistency of cornmeal, then add to dry ingredients.

              Lightly beat 1 whole egg and 1 egg white. Add 3/4 cup pumpkin puree, 3/4 cup evaporated milk, 1/2 cup pineapple juice, 2 T oil (I left this out by accident, but they turned out fine), and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Fold wet ingredients into dry.

              Fill muffin tins about 2/3 full. Spoon 1 scant tsp apricot preserves on top of each muffin. (Not essential, but a nice surprise.)

              Bake for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees.

          2. How about quesadillas? You can serve them with toppings and condiments (salsa, sliced avocado, sour cream, etc.), to make them more interesting for everybody else, and also possibly tempt him to branch out.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jlafler

              If you do quesadillas, add in a fruity salsa. Everyone will like it, and it may tempt your son since it's fruit.

            2. Our 20 Month Daughter loves dumplings. Even better if she can dip them in Hoisin sauce. I am lazy and buy the awesome premade ones at the Asian Market, but you could make your own and add lots of veggies.

              She is also not big on veggies, but will eat them frozen. And she loves roasted cauliflower. If we get it nice and brown and crispy she will eat a whole adult sized portion.

              1. Try raw veggies instead of cooked, my daughter will eat almost anything raw, she especially loves red pepper, but it you cook it she flatly refuses. you can also puree vegetables and mix into meatballs or muffins.