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Fast Food for Picky Preschoolers

Easy Baked Penne

I write about food for a living. I’ve vacationed in cities simply to indulge in the food. I may or may not have married my husband for his pancake recipe. So why is it so difficult to feed my preschooler nutritious meals without a suppertime standoff?

In the beginning I made the rookie mistake of preparing two separate meals – one for her and one for us. Then I insisted she ate what we eat but the leap from peanut butter and jelly to Thai curry was a big one. After a couple years of practice, my husband and I have embraced a few (nearly) surefire ways to feed our picky daughter without too much toil and ensure she gets the wholesome foods she needs. Here’s how:

Time-Saving Tips
We do our best to eat meals together, and time-saving strategies like these below help that happen.

  • Make a meal planner. By choosing and shopping for our weekly meals in advance, we cut down on the 6pm scramble and can plan on leftovers for lunches.
  • Make some. Buy some. Ready-made to the rescue! Frozen fruits and veggies, pasta sauce, hummus, pre-made soups and fish fingers are my superheroes when time is tight. We’re not above frozen pizzas with a side of veggies either.
  • Batch cooking. When we have time, we prepare big batches of staple ingredients our daughter likes (roast carrots and rice) to incorporate into various meals through the week.
  • Loco for pollo. A roast chicken is a wonderful thing. Shredded, chopped or diced, it pleases many palates for many meals.  
  • Cool it. We freeze baked pasta in individual portions.
  • Cut it. We cut up fruit and veggies in advance, so that we have snacks and sides at the ready.

Roasted Kale Chips

Family Favorites

Some day I hope our daughter will eat all the same dishes my husband and I do, but until then we’re working hard to introduce her to new foods, finding new ways to serve her favorites and discovering dishes that we all like. Here are a few examples.

  • Crazy for Quesadillas. Easy to make with endless filling possibilities, these are great vehicles for introducing new foods or masking foods my daughter claims she doesn’t like. (That’s right, you ate butternut squash and liked it!)
  • Pancake Party. Everyone loves pancakes! We make dinner pancakes with sweet potatoes or spinach.
  • Kale is the new potato. Two words. Kale. Chips. Although she passes on raw leafy greens, she devours crunchy kale as a side or snack and so do I.
  • Chick peas for lil’ peas. Packed with protein, fiber and flavor and renamed “crunchies,” oven-roasted chickpeas are one of her favorite sides. We tweak the amount of spice. Tip: there are endless variations of spice mixes that please young palates.
  • Nuggets. Crunchy Homemade Chicken Nuggets and panko-crusted fish are winners. We cut her portion into strips before cooking and leave our fish fillet or chicken breast whole. Tip: leftovers are great for salads and sandwiches.

Crunchy Homemade Chicken Nuggets

  • Basta Pasta. We mastered pasta night when we discovered she’ll eat nearly any red sauce and pasta shape. We experiment with different veggies and protein additions.
  • Mac n’ cheese please. I know it’s pasta, but our mac n’ cheese deserves a separate call out. We experiment with cheeses and stud our mac n’ cheese with corn, peas and shredded carrots.
  • Maximize ingredients. There are some meals that my husband and I enjoy like stir-fries that our daughter won’t eat. She will, however, eat many of the components of the meal. We serve her the rice, veggies and protein (just not mixed together).

Kids’ Choice
Children are often more willing to eat foods they have help to prepare. During the week, kids can still get involved without holding up the dash to the dinner table. We have our daughter pick the pasta shapes, frozen or cooked veggies or type of cheese.

I’d appreciate hearing from other parents of preschoolers on your mealtime tips and favorite family meals. Together we can survive mealtime madness!

Updated June 2015.