14 answers

3 Yr Old Food Ideas

My son will be 3 in Dec. and is not wanting to eat dinner. I was wondering if anyone had some dinner suggestions that worked for their kids (that maybe my husband and I could eat as well)? I do not want to prepare a meal especially for him as I feel he is old enough now to understand we eat as a family and I don't want him to get too spoiled :). We are down to turkey dogs, spagetti, peanut butter/jelly, and chicken nuggets (though he will still eat just about any kind of fruit!).
Thank you so much!!

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Hi J.,
We eat lots of different things... and yes, we do it all together. I put frozen veggies in organic mac and cheese that I prepare in a lowfat way, so it doesn't affect the adults too much. My daughter loves hummus, avocado, tuna helper (again with extra frozen veggies added in), lasagna, shrimp cooked on the grill, baked or grilled sweet potatoes, scrambled eggs, pad thai, chicken curry, veggie fried rice, ground turkey mini tacos or burrito roll-ups - I put vegetarian refried beans in, a little cheese and some of the ground turkey with the taco seasoning - pizza (we usually buy frozen "supreme" to get some veggies bit she likes plain cheese too). She also loves lowfat cottage cheese, yogurt, peanut butter or cream cheese on cinnamon raison mini bagels or bread. Rachel Ray has some great kid ideas on her Web site too, that include good veggies or chicken sausage. She really eats a lot of things and seeing Mommy eat them with her, totally helps. I never cook another meal for her ever and have been super calm from the first time she said she didn't want it. I tell her she has to sit with us while we eat... and that she can make the choice to go to bed without dinner if she wants to, but that she will not be allowed anything other than milk if she leaves the table without eating. I also am a huge fan of puree-ing veggies and cheese into mashed potatoes to get more protein and good stuff into something they like.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Without knowing what he refuses, it is wide open to suggestions.. so be prepared for the list you're gonna get from all of us moms out here... LOL

You're right to consider that you don't want to spoil by making a "special" dinner for him. What I have always tried to do is just be sure that there is ONE thing on the plate that I know they will eat. Then let them have a bite of everything else. At least try one bite of one new thing.. then can eat/not eat from their plate whatever they want/don't.

At 3 yrs old, he should be asking for permission to be excused when he is done, so don't mention anything about what is on his plate until he has asked to be excused/or if he can be done. Then let him know that he needs to eat "one bite of ___", then he can get down.

You might try preparing things differently. Our kids always have liked grilled meats. You just have to cut it up before putting it on their plate. Grilled chicken or steak, our son even (yes at that age) liked grilled salmon! Or smoke some pork and do pulled pork with BarBQ sauce. You can nuke (steam) cut of zuchinni or yellow squash add a dash of Lawry's seasoned salt and pat of butter for some "different" veggies. They also preferred corn on the cob, rather than cut off the cob (they got to use those "special" corn-holders!).
Have you made a Pizza? What kid doesn't like that? Make half like you guys like it (don't forget the mushrooms!), and half how he'll eat it.. Buy one of those pre-made crusts and a jar of Ragu Pizza Quick, some mozz.cheese and go for it! (My husband LOVES it). Let olives be a side dish one night (our kids LOVE black and green olives). Peel and slice up a cucumber or wash some romaine lettuce leaves or baby carrots and let him dip them in some ranch dressing. My kids are MUCH more likely to eat a RAW veg than a cooked one. Will he eat a grilled cheese sandwich? You could put some ham in yours and serve with soup and oyster crackers (our kids like putting the crackers in their bowl).
Another thing we do with our kids is make chef salads... but put all his salad on a plate, without things touching.. a pile of lettuce, a pile of shredded or cubed cheese, some olives, cucumber slices, little ham rolls, turkey rolls, a slice of boiled egg, etc. then some ranch dressing to dip it all in...
What about quesadillas... just cook the chicken and cut it up into small pieces, then throw a tortilla on a pan, spread with some cheese, add the chicken pieces, fold and flip, (you can add peppers and onions or whatever to you and your husband's), let him dip it in sour cream...
Will he eat rice? You could crock pot some chicken and rice...
Our daughter actually began eating steamed broccoli at about that age. Just cut the tops off, rinse, put them in a bowl with some water, sprinkle some salt, and nuke for 5 min. (covered with wax paper). Then stir a pat of butter, or use a dash of lemon juice and stir.. At many restaurants you can get steamed broccoli with their kids' meal (as an alternative to fries).
Just a few ideas... best of luck.. now that mine are older, I STILL struggle with what to cook for dinner! We're always on the go and everything takes so LONG...

My son turned 3 in August and we encountered this same thing a couple of months ago. We tried a few things that have worked for us. We have decided not to force him to eat (as was done to both my husband & I growing up).
1. He now eats a large lunch. I make that a hearty meal with lots of veggies & protein.
2. We offer him what we are having for dinner. If he's hungry enough he'll munch on it, if not then he won't.
3. We use fruit as our "dessert". He gets no fruit if he doesn't eat a good portion of veggies & meat/ protein. This will sometimes tempt him to eat some.

We have days where he's back to the old eating ways where he eats hearty lunches & dinners. We also have those days where he picks at dinner. He's still growing & seems quite healthy, so I am trying to go more with the "flow".

Good luck!


It's just a phase...this is the age that most go through the "picky Eater" stage.

I think three is that age where kids start showing their independence and wanting to make the decisions on everything. Including what they eat. It is a control thing, and truly annoying! lol I did a couple of things to help us in this situation.

1. I have some sesame street shows recorded that are about food. One of them is specifically about trying something new everyday. So we made a game of it, so he would try something new. I never got to wild so I knew he would like the things he tried.

2. I let him "help" me at the grocery store in selecting foods. I also got online and went into food sites with pics to help us decide a menu for the week. He enjoys being part of the decision making. Then when helping with the cooking he feels more in control. So when we sit down to have a meal he eats it because it was "made by him"! The way we discovered this was one day he really needed some mommy time, so I had him help me make scrambled eggs and fruit for breakfast. I had him blow on the eggs, then tap each side. Then he says "abbracadabra!" and I crack the egg. For the fruit I gave him a "bubba cutter" which is a plastic fork and allowed him to cut it into pieces. For a week all he wanted to eat was eggs and fruit, it hit me then that the reason he wanted to eat it was because he got to make it.

3. I stopped having the things he only wanted to eat in the house. For a while it was pizza, I would let him look in the freezer and fridge to see that we do not have any. There were more than a few temper tantrums, but then he would have to pick something from what was available. (this is for lunches, not dinners).

We had a lot of trouble with this because we do not have the opportunity to eat as a family that often with my husbands schedule. Also I had been on bedrest for nearly my whole pg and now a new babe. You know how it is. Our meals may not always be pretty, and sometimes they take a lot longer to prepare. But he gets so much satisgaction and pride out of helping that it is all worth it!

Hey J.,

Have you heard of Jessica Seinfeld's book called Deceptivley Delicious? Go to this site http://www.deceptivelydelicious.com/site/ and see some of her recipes there where you combinepureed vegetables into the entree and you know your child is getting healthy food. I have 2 boys ages 4 and 2 and a husband who is not big on vegetables. I can tell you from the one of the pickiest vegetable eaters, my husband has loved everything I made no matter what I hid in there. Pureing the vegetables isn't that hard, Jessica tell you she spends an hour Sunday night with Jerry in the kitchen doing the vegetables. I bought frozen vegetables that steamed inthe bag, then put them in a food processor, baged and froze them. Do put the bags in a container in the freezer as some vegetables leak over time (red peppers for example).

She has a great spaghetti pie that is made with brocolli in the meatballs and i think cottage cheese in the spaghetti sauce. You would never know it. There is also a chicken nugget recipe, mac and cheese, all the things kids love to eat. She has created breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner recipes for you. It's really a great idea.

Good luck and hope it helps!

C. K.


Try the little meals like
Dinty Moore Beef Stew
Ramen Chicken noodle soup (just don't add too much water)
Hormel Lasagna with shredded cheese on top
toddler meals like
rice with carrots and peas
Also try meatloaf with chicken broth and spaghetti sauce and onions and egg and either ritz crackers or Chicken in a biscuit crackers crushed up.
Mac and Cheese is also a favorite with my kids
I also slice smoked sausage with cheese pieces, fry them in the skillet quickly, then place a stick pretzel in each of them.
We also wrap together, sliced turkey, cheese and pretzel sticks.
You can mix cooked ground beef with cooked mac and cheese and italian diced tomatoes for a great casserole dish, just top with shredded cheese and bake together for 10 minutes.
Little individual pizzas are good too.
my kids love all of these things and then some.
Take Care,

Hi J.,
My 3YO is the same way. I asked the doctor about it at his annual check-up last month, and he said not to worry, that they are learning a more mature way of how to respond to appetite cues, and learning to be in control of their eating habits. He said not to push it one way or the other - just make sure you offer him healthy foods at meal times and let him choose how much he eats (which with my son is sometimes NONE). For me it was frustrating becasue I felt like I was wasting food, so I start with a very small amount on his plate and if he eats it - great, he will ask for more if still hungry.

My son loves broiled or grilled fish. I know that is odd for most kids, but it can't hurt to try. The doctor actually thought my son misunderstood the question when he asked him what his favorite food was (I guess most kids say french fries).

You can do different things with spaghetti really. No meat, with meat or meatballs, chicken, and even pork chops and steak. It's all about the noodles I sure. You could even go with Alfrado for a different spaghetti too.
You could make a chicken night where you fix a chicken dish for you and Daddy but still have nuggest for your son. Just cut up some of your chicken to put with the nuggets.
Stick with finger foods if you can. That what it sounds like he wants. Or let Daddy make it a game to stab food with a fork. I do this with my son when he starts that no eating thing.

Hi J.,

My children have always eaten whatever we eat. Even when I first introduced solids to them as a baby, I ground up our dinner in a food mill and dinner was served..."a-la-pureed." I firmly believe that parents should not feed their children separate meals. Our policy has always been that they must eat what I serve or they can go without (I DO modify spices so they are not too spicy, salty, etc). If your son is hungry, he will eat it. He is old enough to eat whatever you serve, just cut up into smaller pieces. I serve many nutritous meals from recipes in my cookbooks. Don't bother looking for "kid friendly" meals. Serve what YOU and your husband enjoy eating. Heck, when my first born was 2 1/2 years old, she enjoyed salad, sushi, and just about everything else I've offered. My youngest is a picky eater but he has been since the very beginning but I'm not worried. When he's hungry, he gives in...eventually.

My son is also 3 and dinner is probably his "worst" meal. But overall he's a good eater compared to most kids his age. I always try to make him what we are eating or some small variation. Sometimes I make an extra veggie for him if we are having salad or another veggie I know he doesn't eat yet--he still gets it on his plate though to try. But I try to make him at least one veggie I know he'll eat.
But no special meals-- if we are having chicken and rice then that is what he gets--he then has to at least try the items on his plate before he gets "dessert" (which is usually fruit or yogurt). He doesn't starve and the more he tries new foods the more he is likely to eat them later.
I do notice that he eats better and is willing to try more if I limit his afternoon snack--we eat around 6:30pm and he gets a small snack before 4--nothing after 4.
As far as ideas, check out some cookbooks like-those by Annabel Karmel. She can be a little crazy and out there with her presentation and even some of the foods, but has some great ideas and recipes.
Also presentation is VERY important. Make it fun-make faces, animals, etc whenever you can. And make eating fun too--we play a game where we take a bite of food--then he takes a bite...
As far as ideas on things to make, here are some things that the whole family seems to like:
Shepherds pie, pasta with red sauce and ground beef or meatballs, rotisserie chicken (I get it from publix) but my son gobbles it down, meatloaf, light fish like halibut or grouper, dredged in cornmeal and lightly pan fried (with lots of ketchup for my son), pork chops--I shred it up for my son, with mashed potatoes or baked sweet potato fries.
Some tricks to get him to try or eat things:
ketchup on meats--even things you may not like ketchup on it, he may try and like them more with ketchup (of course that is assuming he likes ketchup). Also try ranch dressing...they are at the age that dipping is fun.
butter on veggies--it's simple but he gobbles them down with a little butter.
pretend they are something different--I got my son to try broccoli by telling him they were little trees-it's now one of his favorite veggies...
cheese-for some reason, my son loves Parmesan cheese--so putting it on veggies or meat will sometimes entice him to try it.
put just a small amount of something new on his plate so it's not so overwhelming.
If he is adamant about refusing something--take baby steps-get him to look at it. touch it, even kiss it, then take a "baby bite" show him that it is good by eating it off of his plate.
Finally don't force it-you can only provide him with healthy choices,the final decision is his as to whether or not he will eat it. And as long as you are offering him healthy things to eat--he will not starve. :)
Finally, just because he said no or didn't eat something one night don't avoid giving it to him when you make it again--just keep giving it to him and there is a good chance he will eventually like/eat it.

Missing a meal or two won't hurt him. Don't give him a big fuss over not eating. but praise him foreating.give attention for the good not the bad. Pick a time to cut off afternoon snacks.

the easy thing t osay is to just make dinner & if he won't eat it then have one simple thing he can eat like a cheese stick or a yogurt, that way you know he's not going to starve. but I wouldn't go out of my way to make him a special meal...

any kind of pasta and meatballs or meat sauce or even make a meatloaf- you can make turky meatballs or beef or even ground chicken
I look for whatever brand of store-bought sauce has the LEAST amount of sugar (once you start looking at the labels you'll be amazed at all the SUGAR!)
you can add LOTS of veggies to meatballs/meatloaf! carrots, broccoli, zuccini, even peas!

stir-fry: rice or rice noodles w/ tofu or chicken or shrimp or cubes of meat and lots of veggies
I cut up carrots and put in the microwave w/ water and cook in the microwave for about 3 or four minutes to get them soft before adding them to the stir fry & I then use the water that they were cooked in as some liquid as I cook the stir fry...

tacos or burritos or quesadillas or even enchilladas

breaded chicken cutlets baked in the oven
serve w/ rice or pasta or even couscous!
serve w/ a veggie...

try breakfast for dinner! waffles or pancakes or eggs & potatoes or an omlette w/ veggies & cheese...

I put canned organic peas into organic macaroni & cheese...


Cookie Cutters!!!!
Crazy but works!!!
Use cookie cutters to cut the sandwiches/meats into fun shapes and sizes.... Crazy but works...have the whole family talk about their starfish sandwich, where it came from, funny names..I hope it helps! It did for my nephew.... with fruit we used ice cream scoops and made pyramids, bollowing balls. you hname it!

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