Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Jul 8, 2013 03:52 PM

Cooking with picky teens

We recently discovered that my boyfriend's picky eater son will eat almost anything that I put in front of him. He's overweight and not an adventurous eater (most comfortable with junk food) but he likes me and gets excited about food.

I'm finding that involving him in the meal gets him open. He realized that salads aren't so awful once he helped me make a salad dressing, salmon wasn't so bad once we created a glaze for it that we liked, etc.

His dad's diabetic so I'm trying to keep carbs/sugars low. I'm not a big meat eater (though I can get over that if needed). Keeping all of these factors in mind, I'm trying to find meals that are teen-friendly but still healthy. I don't want to scare him off of this path towards a healthier diet.

To make this more difficult, quicker, less expensive dinners would be a huge help. I've had him leafing through cookbooks for ideas but would love options that aren't horribly complex.

Does anyone have any ideas?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Have you checked out the site She has tons of great meal ideas that even picky eaters would like. And, they're not high in calorie either. Here's a list of good ones I've tried, you can use the search function on her site to find them, not all are low carb:

    Cajun Chicken Pasta,
    Pasta with Butternut Sauce, Spicy Sausage and Baby Spinach,
    Pepper Steak,
    Pork Chops w/ Dijon Herb Sauce,
    Bacon Topped Petite Turkey Meatloaf,
    Skinny Chicken Pesto Bake,
    Salisbury Steak w/ Mushroom Gravy (she uses half turkey, half beef, great idea for anything using ground beef to lighten it up!),
    Chicken and Broccoli Noodle Casserole,
    Broccoli and Cheese Stuffed Chicken
    Broccoli and Orzo side dish

    Also some other ideas:
    Bacon and Pea Mac n Cheese (I added chicken, not low carb)

    Chicken Enchilada Spaghetti (I use whole grain pasta, not low carb of course but the kid will probably like it) http://www.traceysculinaryadventures....

    Chipotle Chicken Lettuce Wraps (use 1 chipotle if he doesn't like heat)

    Pork Chops alla Pizzaola http://www.traceysculinaryadventures.... (I use much smaller chops than called for in the recipe, and it would be good w/ chicken too!


    Another site that has a lot of interesting low carb meals is

    1 Reply
    1. re: juliejulez

      I completely forgot about Skinny Taste! I used to use it when I was doing Weight Watchers. These look like great ideas. I'm really drawn to the lettuce wrap idea too- great for this heat!


    2. Tacos! You can use turkey, chicken, fish, or no meat. Make your own seasoning to avoid crazy amounts of sugar and salt, and veggie additions are unlimited. You can make really healthy salsas, and creamy sauces using Greek yogurt. My daughter refuses to eat anything called "salad," but if we put it in a tortilla, she will always at least try it. Good luck!

      3 Replies
      1. re: tracytrace

        Great idea! As they're Mexican (and I'm not), I've been trying to avoid anything at all Hispanic for fear of embarrassing myself. However, I think going pretty untraditional is a great idea- and anything with Greek yogurt makes me happy! Thanks!

        1. re: wandajune6

          A couple months ago we did a Cookbook of the Month for Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. I found a number of the recipes to be pretty low in calorie, and they were all delicious. Here's a link to a few of them.... all quick and easy as well!

          Chipotle Meatballs (I made w/ turkey and skipped adding the chicken broth to the sauce so it was thicker) Meatballs in general are great to have kids/teens help with.

          Mexican Roadside Chicken (I did with bone-in thighs, removed the skin)

          Grilled Yucatecan Chicken (I did with grilled asparagus, vs steamed)

          Green Bean Salad with Red Onion and Salsa (I reduced the amount of olive oil by quite a bit)

          Red Chile Enchiladas with Chicken and Melted Cheese (I know what you're thinking, but 3 of these enchiladas was only 409 calories using corn tortillas and just under a pound of dark meat chicken). Plus, good for him to help with in terms of rolling them etc.

      2. I really liked the book "Clueless in the Kitchen, a Cookbook for Teens" by Evelyn Raab which I used when my kids were younger. Depending on the child's age, standard recipes can be intimidating. This book has easy to follow instructions with minimal ingredients for dishes that range from "Unfettered Frittatas" to "Mushrooms Masquerading as Escargots" that are surprisingly delicious.

        Despite the dorky title, all the recipes are made from scratch, using only real food ingredients (not processed garbage) and have a level of sophistication that does not insult.

        My approach was to let my child choose something that we would then make together.

        2 Replies
        1. re: searchingforclues

          I loved this book and just gifted it to my younger sister!

          1. re: searchingforclues

            That's exactly what I've been going for. He's a pretty cautious eater but I'm finding that he's much more open to things that he's involved in. Plus, he's a little behind with the reading so a kid-friendly cookbook is probably more likely to be successful than the things I've shown him from my current collection. Thanks!

          2. The first thing that comes to mind is fajitas.
            Doesn't need to be traditional, just what you/he likes.

            If you have a BBQ, teach him how to grill chicken, sweet potatoes, vegetables.

            Lettuce wraps are also great

            9 Replies
            1. re: cheesecake17

              I thought of fajitas too. You can cut up the peppers and onions the night before and it's a fast meal.


              Another popular dinner in my house are these Chicken Burgers with Peanut Sauce. You can adjust the spice level if they don't like spicy foods. I don't even need the peanut sauce but my husband likes it on his chicken burger. Again, prep can be done the night before.


              1. re: valerie

                Love the idea of the chicken burgers!
                Do you use the food processor to grind? Or purchased ground chicken?

                1. re: cheesecake17

                  I just buy ground chicken breast. Clearly turkey would work too...I just don't love turkey burgers.

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    cheesecake, if you want to go more inexpensive, you can quickly grind up the raw chicken in a food processor. The prices charged for ground chicken and turkey (as compared to the price for chicken or turkey) is ridiculous in comparison. Grinding your own meat is so easy.

                    1. re: ePressureCooker

                      My food processor is parve, so I don't put meat in it. I can get ground chicken for $4/lb on sale!

                      1. re: cheesecake17

                        Ah, I didn't realize there were kosher considerations ;D

                        But in that case, if you plan on using a lot of ground chicken or turkey, you might want to consider investing in a second (dissimilar looking, so no confusion) food processor. It'd pay for itself soon enough if you pay $1.50 - $2 per pound, instead of $4.

                        My sister started grinding her own meat after my poor little nephew contracted e coli from a burger at a popular Southern California theme park on his 7th birthday and we learned when we alerted them (not for purposes of recouping the money for the emergency room, but so they could clean up their food preparation act) that far from the happiest, they are are the nastiest, most argumentative and inconsiderate place on earth.

                        1. re: ePressureCooker

                          Oh no, I hope he recovered.

                          Honestly, I don't think grinding my own meat would be worth it. Chicken cutlets are sometimes more $$$ than ground. And I've never seen kosher meat that cheap!!

                          1. re: cheesecake17

                            Oh I was referring to taking bone in meat (such as chicken breasts, which are really easy to de-bone and then grind up), not cutlets, but you're right, from my own past shopping experience, you're not going to find kosher chickens at the same price as the regularly available commercial chickens. Maybe you could save SOME money, but not as much of the price difference I mentioned, but IIRC you had mentioned price was a factor, so I was trying to help on that score. That advice might still be helpful to others reading this, perhaps.

                            As for the nephew, yes, he recovered, but spending the evening of his 7th birthday in an emergency room screaming how he wanted to die is not something his mother will soon forget (she still has nightmares about it, two years later). And after the response we got from the theme park in question, and the hospital physician telling my sister how many kids *he* personally had seen get sick from e coli or something else after eating there, my nephew spent his last two birthdays at Knotts Berry Farm instead. (Illness free, I might add)

                            1. re: ePressureCooker

                              Yup, kosher chickens are pretty pricey. I'm pretty good at buying meat on sale and freezing it. I make a lot of hamburgers and chicken burgers to freeze.

                              Thank goodness your nephew recovered.

              2. I second the tacos idea. Many possibilities there for creativity and expanding his cooking repertoire -- marinating and grilling meats, preparing seafood, making salsas, guacamole, ... Lots of territory to explore. Fun and delicious.

                In a similar vein how about spring and summer rolls? This has been a recent thing for me. Like with tacos there's so much room for creativity and exploration, both with the fillings and the dipping sauce. Fill with chicken or shrimp or fish or whatever strikes your fancy, rice noodles or shredded cabbage or what have you. For the sauce start with a basic soy and rice vinegar, then experiment with sesame oil, ponzu, Sriracha, oyster sauce, fish sauce, peanut sauces... Or go in other directions. The other night I rolled up chicken, romaine, and Parmesan and served it with a Caesar dipping sauce. The possibilities are infinite and it tends to be quite healthful food.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Soul Vole

                  I make spring rolls all the time. I was afraid that they would be too adventurous but you're probably right. Plus, if I start with more mainstream ingredients, it's probably less scary.

                  My go-to in the summer is spring rolls with lots of tofu, veg, and sriracha but I could make this much more kid-friendly. Thanks!

                  1. re: wandajune6

                    Spring rolls are a new thing for me (and yeah, the first few attempts were a little awkward, but you get the hang of it). Unfortunately I missed it as Dish of the Month back in April but I'm having so much fun now playing with the concept and possibilities.

                    If somebody had introduced this to me when I was a boy, I would have gone nuts with it. :)

                    1. re: Soul Vole

                      I have a Vietnamese friend who showed me how her family did them- treat it like a taco night. Lots of bowls of fillings on the table and a big bowl of warm water in the middle. Everyone can soak their rice paper then assemble on their own. It was a ton of fun, pretty easy, and no big deal if it's a mess. Plus, I would always throw all of the leftovers into a bowl and eat that as a salad for lunch the next day.

                      I'm loving this idea!