The Foods That My Kids Actually Eat and Healthier Substitutions for What They Want

I don’t want to sound like one of those braggy, better than thou parents, but my kids eat only an organic, non-GMO, low sugar, cruelty-free, free-range, grass-fed, mostly plant-based diet. And they love it! No feeding my kids crap food. I don’t understand why you all say it is so difficult to get your children to eat well.

OK, just kidding!

One of the biggest struggles I have had so far as a parent has been getting my children to eat. This seems to be a universal issue – why is it so hard to get kids to eat?

We started off great with our first kid. Juice, soda, sweets, fast food, all were no-nos. My daughter ate almost everything we put in front of her. Then at daycare and with help from her grandparents she slowly became exposed to other foods and started to only want things like macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, Happy Meals, ice cream, “fruit” snacks, and others.

It has only continued as we’ve expanded our family. If I were to leave it up to them, my kids would have cereal, cookies, and many other unhealthy foods all day long, rather than the meals I prepare.

I have long been of the opinion that I will not be the parent who makes more than one meal just to get kids to eat. While my kids generally will eat most of what I cook, they still whine, cry, and refuse to eat a lot of different foods.

In our home, we have a “three-bite rule,” which means that they must take at least three bites of food that they don’t want to eat or say that they don’t like. Sometimes this is enough to get them to eat the whole serving, sometimes it reinforces their insistence that they dislike the food, and sometimes it will change their opinion about said food.

When I cook meals I try to include healthy options that I want them to eat or that I want them to see me eating regularly so that they have a good idea of what healthy options are and think that maybe they aren’t so bad if Mom eats it. Hopefully what they see me eating and what they must eat by the “three-bite rule” will change their opinions on certain foods or at least pique their interest.

Below is a list of the foods that my kids will usually eat with no questions asked, no whining, and no crying at the table, plus some suggestions for healthy substitutions or alternatives, and a few other tips to help.

Foods my kids will usually eat

Pigs in a blanket/covered wagon: A hot dog or sausage wrapped in a crescent roll, with or without cheese inside.

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Tortilla roll-ups: These are usually a mix of shredded chicken or lunch meat with cheese, veggies, hummus, or condiments rolled up in a tortilla.

Quesadillas: Meat and cheese are cooked in between 2 tortillas or one large one folded in half in the skillet. I can sometimes sneak extra veggies in and they can go relatively unnoticed in the shredded cheese.

Soft tacos: Pulled chicken or ground turkey is cooked with taco seasoning and wrapped in a tortilla, then garnished with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, black olives, plus sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.

Grilled cheese sandwiches: These are pretty basic, cheese cooked between two pieces of bread in the skillet, but I try to use a small amount of cheese and add veggies or slices of ham or turkey.

Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches: An obvious classic, but I use low-sugar grape jelly and mix peanut butter powder (like PB2 or PB Fit) with some milk to make it creamy. Most of the time they don’t notice that it isn’t a product like Jif and Welch’s on their bread.

Macaroni and cheese: My kids both LOVE mac ‘n cheese. I hate the boxed kind. I prefer to make mine from scratch and to throw in some pureed squash. No one can tell it’s in the cheese sauce.

Chicken nuggets or chicken strips: In a perfect world I would make my own from scratch but never don’t always have time to. I try to look at labels and find the healthiest versions I can.

Pancakes: My kiddos would probably eat pancakes every day if I would let them and I can’t lie, I love pancakes with gobs of peanut butter on them… mmm…

French toast: French toast is another of my kids’ favorites, again covered with butter or peanut butter and maple syrup.

Eggs: Scrambled, fried, as an omelet, there aren’t many ways my family doesn’t like eggs.

Hot dogs/corn dogs: At least in my experience, most kids love hot dogs.

Pasta: My kids will eat just about every kind of pasta, but if there are obvious vegetables they usually pick them out.

Fresh fruit: With a couple exceptions, my kids would eat almost any fresh fruit you would sit before them.

Canned foods: SpagettiOs, canned ravioli, and anything made in cartoon character shapes.

Pizza: Unlike a lot of parents I know, I’ve never served cheese pizza just so my kids will eat. They’ve never had the option of not eating the same pizza everyone else is eating so most toppings they happily eat. Pizza is one of their favorites.

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That’s not a lot of variety, is it? And then, just when you think you’ve got what they will eat and enjoy eating figured out they decide they are never going to eat it ever again. Oh, the frustration.

As I said above, I refuse to cater to what they will eat every day and I will not make two meals. In my efforts to expose my kids to more foods and expand their palates, I do take some steps to make foods more appealing to them.

Ways to make meals more appealing

Cut it into fun shapes: Use cookie cutters or molds to make boring foods into fun shapes.

Use fun colors: Sometimes all it takes to get my kids to try new food is to add a little food coloring to make it look more “fun.”

Remove the crust from bread: My daughter “hates” bread crust and will not eat anywhere close to it on anything made with bread. If I peel the outside brown part of the crust off, she will eat 99% of the crust.

Give them something they can use their hands to eat: Bananas or mandarins that are easy to peel, cherry tomatoes or baby carrots, and mini muffins are favorites in our house.

Involve them in making the meal: Let your children look through cookbooks to find photos of meals they would like to try, get them to help grow veggies in the garden, or allowing them to get their hands dirty while cooking are all easy ways to get them more interested in trying new foods or eating what they helped to grow or cook.

Earlier I listed the foods my children will eat without too much arguing and I think we can all agree that most of them are not exceptionally healthy. That being said, when I can I try to make the foods they will eat and the other food I cook as nutritious and healthy as possible. Read on to find out some of my tips and tricks.

Ways to make meals more nutritious

Add vegetables: This sounds counterintuitive, but when you add pureed or shredded veggies to sauces, casseroles, or breads, muffins, and cakes they will usually go unnoticed and get gobbled up. My kids never notice shredded zucchini in zucchini bread or chocolate zucchini cake.

Substitute whole grains: When you can, buy whole grain products instead of bleached flour.

Find healthier alternatives for favorites: Foods like veggie tots instead of tater tots, sweet potato fries instead of french fries, mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes, lentil or veggie pasta instead of grain-based pasta have mostly been eaten without fuss in my house.

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Lose the beef: We will often use ground chicken or ground turkey rather than ground beef in a lot of recipes. It isn’t that noticeable of a change and it has a lot less fat than red meat.

Other tips

Don’t stress about what they don’t eat. Fed is best. If all they eat will eat is strawberries and crackers for two days at least they are eating something. Gently encourage them to add additional foods and give it time.

Consider textures: Some kids just don’t like foods with certain textures. Foods like water chestnuts still gross me out and it isn’t the taste, it is the texture. I don’t mind cooked celery, but the stringiness of raw celery also bothers me.

Try preparing food in a different way: If you usually make boiled potatoes, try baked or roasted potatoes. Use a different seasoning or sauce and see if you have better luck.

Be sneaky: If you really can’t get your child to try a veggie, look for some yogurts, pureed food pouches, and other items that have a mix of fruits, veggies, chia seeds, or other ingredients that taste good and have vegetables inside.

Be strong, mama.

If you have specific concerns about your child’s diet or eating, please speak with your pediatrician for additional information on food and nutrition.

I hope you have a good eater. If not, I hope that some of the suggestions above will help you get a little extra variety and nutrition into their diet.

Don’t give up. Remember, they will eat if they are hungry enough and their tastes will change. Keep introducing them to different flavors and textures and they will find foods that they like.

Do you have a picky eater or a child who refuses to each certain foods? Have you previously had a picky eater and they now eat more foods? I would love to hear your story in the comments below!

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