Feeling Less than Creative at Meal Time....

Updated on January 31, 2011
L.W. asks from Beaverton, OR
11 answers

Meal Ideas? My almost 4 year old daughter is in this phase where she really only wants the same food over and over again. I know she is getting plenty of fruits and grains (that's the easy part) but how do you all convince your little ones to eat more veggies and meats? She's the worst about meat. If it's not chicken, goooood luck! I am not the most creative person in the kitchen (and my husband loooves the easy route) so I'm hoping you moms might be able to give me some quick-fix ideas for how to brighten up our day-to-day menu? I'm desperate. I can not feel like I'm giving her healthy food when most of the time she is insistant on PB&J and/or Mac N Cheese.
I know I will have to put forth more effort (always, in the mom realm) but a little list of go to's would be a life saver!!

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answers from Portland on

I have one that won't eat veggies or meat. I serve veggies first while I am finishing up dinner. That gives them 5-10 minutes to eat their veggies while they are hungry and have no other options. I only put half of the called for amount of ground beef in any recipe. I also have a very strict rule about how everyone is required to eat at least one bite of everything offered. Real size bite, not nibble or one pea. If they don't want more than that one bite, then they may be excused as soon as one other person is also finished. Also, most importantly, I NEVER make an alternate meal or allow after dinner snacking for those that did not eat what I deem to be "a healthy amount". My son, the picky one, remains in the 98th percentile with this method, so he's not starving, but many days he eats only the required one bite of everything.
I refuse to make food something we fight about.

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answers from Portland on

Hi KiwiMom,

I used to be a nanny, so I know how tough this can feel some days. One thing that works in our family (I have a nearly-4 y.o. boy of my own) is to reserve the pjb for lunch, and only for lunch.

In regard to veggies, I have learned two things: a little something to dip them in sometimes helps. This doesn't have to be ranch or a fat-heavy salad dressing either; hummus or a ginger-soy vinaigrette that's got a little sweet to it are nice. Some children prefer raw veggies, some steamed. Some other kid-faves in our house are fried rice, loaded with finely chopped veggies and use a good sauce at the end (add in the egg, too, so you've got a protein in there); black beans, corn and rice mixed with some of the Trader Joe's Soy-Yaki sauce; this sauce is perfect for marinating and frying up some tofu, too. We are a partially-vegetarian family, and everyone loves to eat tofu like this, and it's not too difficult. Just use a reasonable amount of peanut oil when cooking (you can use olive oil/veg oil too) and let tofu sit on some paper towels to collect any extra oil before serving. Our son likes a bit of fish, but not too much, but we don't do any real meat per se in our home, other than eggs and fish. He's still very healthy.

If she loves noodles, consider a soup with veggies and noodles, or pasta with diced sauteed veggies. Red sauces are also a great place to hide veggies; just sautee them and then puree, and add into the mix. Obviously, won't hide broccoli so well, but zuchini or cauliflower, carrots, red peppers all work here and will complement the flavor of the sauce. Since you are in our area, too, you can pick up a bag of Bob's Red Mill TVP: this is Texturized Vegetable Protein, and follow the directions. It will be unnoticable in the sauce (I used this on my picky-eating former MIL with great results) and you'll be replacing the meat she's not eating. And it's less expensive than the Morningstar Crumbles.

What about a recipe for Mu Shu vegetables with a plum sauce, over rice or on the requisite little rice wrapper? Yum!

Lastly, I'd make sure to have at least one mac-n-cheese night on the menu that she's able to look forward to (every Tuesday, for example--same day of the week); otherwise, offer her a nice plate at meals with at least two things you know she's 'sorta okay' eating and whatever else you want for the menu. This is my standard operating procedure for meals.

The other thing I would suggest is that when you hear "I don't like that", don't immediately respond or try to fix it for her. My son says this regularly about things he's rather not eat--but does eat regularly-- and so we just ignore it. Guess what? When we don't provide immediate substitutions, if he's hungry, he'll eat it. (We have a no-bite rule in our house, which means that no one has to eat even one bite of anything they don't like, but they aren't accomodated otherwise.) Getting kids involved in food prep and gardening also helps. Kids love to eat the baby carrots and pea pods they grow themselves, even kids who normally "don't like that". :)

I hope some of these ideas help. And a book: Deborah Madison's 'Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" (most entrees willl stand up as either main courses or side dishes, and the meat-eaters can enjoy a nice cut of meat with it.) is tasty and easy to follow, as is the Tassajara Cookbook. In case you're looking for ideas.


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answers from Savannah on

***Edited: just thought about this: shredded meats in casseroles. I'd do a chicken and rice casserole, or king ranch, etc. That helps. And I second someone else's suggestion for hummus as a dip.
I've done some pretty scary concoctions with mac 'n cheese (since you say she loves that)....NOT for the adults, but the boys. I've put peas, bits of chicken or beef, left over mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, corn, apsaragus), whatever. I wondered if they'd pick the stuff out, but surprisingly, they eat it. The other day my 4 year old picky eater was watching veggie tales while I cooked. Then he picked up an asparagus spear and studied it. I tensed up, bracing for an argument, and he said "Is this the guy on my movie?" (yes it is) And he smiled and popped it in his mouth. I caught him whispering with asparagus in his hands, like it was talking, and then he'd eat it and kinda giggle to himself. He ate it all! So now veggie tales are my friends. He used to refuse to eat meat and would cry just looking at chicken fettucini alfredo, so I started letting him cook with me. I would pour everything out in measuring cups (now I'll tell him to pour something "to this line", but at first, I'd pre-pour it all). Then he would pour the things into the mixing bowl or give "2 shakes" of pepper or whatever. Then I'd let him stir first, be like "Wow, that's great! My turn" and do it more if it needed it. His favorite foods now are spaghetti and meatballs and chicken fettucini. So I started sneaking in other foods to make it healthier. Whole wheat pasta really used to be nasty, I remember! So I was a little cautious about that and would do half "normal" pasta, half wheat. Now we're fine with just wheat; it's sooooo much better than it used to be a decade ago. I finely chop bell peppers, sweet peppers, a little more tomatoes, some mushrooms, whatever I have on hand (if it's finely chopped in a sauce, they don't seem to notice it as much). Then I let him slide everything in and stir. I brag on him profusely as he cooks! I take a rectangle casserole dish and will pinch off bits of the meat and he'll roll some meatballs, and I'll do mine too. He copies me. I'll set him off to do another job, or find a dishtowel or check on his little brother, whatever if I want to tighten up his meatballs a little more. Then we he helps me with the timer (turn it to this number and help me listen for it). For chicken fettucini: we do wheat pasta, and add fresh sliced mushrooms and a couple handfuls of frozen spinach, and sometimes some drained rotels that we may have in the fridge still. He "makes" it, and is proud, so he loves it. If you know she loves chicken, you can stuff it with whatever you want. One of our favorites is basically like this: lay wax paper out, put the chicken breast on top, put more wax paper on top, then flatten it out with a mallet. We put thin sliced mushrooms, a couple rotels, chopped up artichokes, a little chopped spinach, and 2 asparagus spears in it, and a little sprinkle of mozzarella cheese. I roll it up, stick a couple toothpicks in to keep it closed, I rub the egg wash all over it (egg/milk) so that the chicken doesn't lose it's "stuff" by being rolled around. Then I cover the chicken in Italian bread crumbs, lightly brown it on all sides in a skillet with butter or cooking spray, then bake it until done.

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answers from New York on

Personally, I wouldn't stress TOO much over it - I think most kids that age go through phases with food. My two only ate chicken nuggets, pasta with sauce, mac and cheese, and the like at that age also. It took a long time for them to eat most things I made, and even now that they are teens they still have a few foods they flat out won't eat. My pediatrician kept assuring me that they would be fine, and encouraged me to continue offering a variety of foods and eventually they would come around. When my kids were younger, the blender was my best friend! I used to "sneak" veggies into things like homemade tomato sauce (saute onion, carrots, celery, peppers in some oil, and then puree the whole thing and add it to crushed tomatoes with some italian seasoning) to serve over pasta. Fortunately, both my kids always loved all kinds of soup - easy to saute a mixture of vegetables and blend them up before adding to broth and rice or noodles. You could even make mini meatballs using ground chicken, pork, or turkey and add them to the soup or tomato sauce as well. Also, roasting cut-up veggies with a little olive oil and salt brings out their sweetness and may be more appealing to your daughter - I have tried this method with all different veggies and found it to work well with just about anything: butternut squash, beets, cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, etc. Just make sure you use a HOT oven so the veggies get caramelized, and watch them carefully so they don't burn! Hope these few suggestions help! Good luck.

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answers from Houston on

My DD thinks that a pork chop is chicken...(thats because we tell her that)....is that a "ooh, 'my bad' moment"? (it IS the other white meat ;)

I also make a cauliflower mash....it tastes just like mashed potatoes....again...my bad...or should I say, "liar, liar, pants on fire!!"?

When it comes to food with a picky eater (not saying yours is...mine is,,,you gotta lie, fib and trick...)

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answers from Seattle on

have you tried having her help "cook" some things w veggies in/on them? some kids like things better if they made part of it. my son will eat more veggies if he can cut them with his baby knife. also, recipes in kids cookbooks are super easy, which sounds like a win-win :)

i try to give my 3 yo. his veggies first- when he is hungriest. he LOVES to sprinkle parm cheese on them (i bought the grated kind and leave the holes mostly closed, so there is a lot of shaking to get limited amount of cheese)

also, have you already tried a lot of different ways of serving things? my son hates anything with slippery texture (roasted) but will eat more veggies when they are drier/crisper (grilled, raw)

it sounds like she is actually eating foods with protien, so i wouldnt worry too much about the meat from a health standpoint. there are a lot of ways to get protien without meat. we love black bean quesadillas, pastas, anything with cheese, tofu in a sweet sauce (extra firm only!) chicken or tofu in different asian sauces can be really easy and kid friendly. other easy things we like are hummus w anything. also quinoa, couscous, etc (if you buy bulk they're really cheap and if you buy Far East brand in a box they are really fast/easy :)

last idea, my friends, who's daughter is now 6, had a rule she had to pick something green to eat everyday. they always had at least two veggie choices on hand, usually more. it kinda became a game and she participated really willingly. i think it helped at other times too, b/c she got used to those foods.

good luck!

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answers from Anchorage on

Well one thing I tried for veggies - I cut up a portobello mushroom put it in the pan with coconut oil and browned it. The kids loved it, but I did not tell them it was a mushroom or they wouldn't eat it - we called it 'steak' and they all loved it.
For meat - I have one picky eater, try making chicken teriyaki (tiny pieces) and cook them on a wooden skewer - let her eat it off of the stick, kids seem to love that - and you could throw in a few veggies on the stick, in between the meat - green pepper, cherry tomato, onion (grill it all) my kids love it.

Faux Mashed potatoes made with cauliflower instead. Check out www.allrecipes.com they have a ton of great recipes, and people rate them so I only look for ones that have been rated the highest.

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answers from Seattle on

My son, in the 105 percentile, will NOT eat meat. He would prefer to not eat, which he does often. Our go to meal, besides PB&J, is bean and cheese burritos, or bean and cheese quesadillas. I take a tortilla, slather it on one side with Rosaritas fat-free refried beans and sprinkle cheese on it. Put it in the frying pan for a minute or two on both sides and cut into slices with the pizza cutter. I don't use any oil or butter, just tortilla, beans and cheese. He probably averages one quesadilla per day. At dinner I make him try one bite of everything we are eating, then he can make himself a sandwich (with a little help - he's 4 also). I don't really expect my kids to eat what my husband and I eat. If I can get them to great, but he has been a self vegetarian since he started eating, so I don't fret about it. We also love the spinach ravioli from Costco, breaded cod or halibut, yogurt and cheerios with bananas or berries. Veggies definitely require dip and I always put them out way before dinner. Peppers are a favorite, but carrots are a staple.

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answers from Kansas City on

i agree with april c - i also do it with rice. my son likes pasta and rice, so i make a lot of one-pan wonders, as i all them. add a meat, throw in some veggies. if it starts getting a little dry, add some extra milk, sour cream, or gravy. voila - home made hamburger (or chicken, tuna, whatever) helper! it's a standard template i use at least once or twice a week :)



answers from Seattle on

There is no need to push a child to eat meat. A vegetarian diet is completely healthy and will give her everything she needs.


answers from Eugene on

NO JUNK FOOD. No matter how much she calls for it. It will not build a healthy body. Why do you think kids get cancer? Pesticides and junk food.
You're not handy in the kitchen. Well if you have children you have to learn.
There are an amazing number of cooking shows on TV. I've learned many new ways to prepare food from the ones I've watched.
If she is A or B blood group she does not need red meat. If she is an O it is very necessary. The book on the topic is Eat Right for Your Blood Type by Peter J D'Adamo.
You may not be the same blood group as your child and that does make it difficult. The foods you crave are not the ones her body is calling for. When shopping we see what we want and not what some other blood group wants.
For our grandson we figured our which 4 vegetables he would eat and served them over and over again. Between broccali, carrots, corn, and peppers we felt we have it covered.
I became a vegetarian cook because my children's blood group called for it.
Chicken can be prepared 1,000's of ways. Make it organic.
My children were never sick because I put the money into organic food and not into the doctor's pocket.

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