Feeding your picky eating toddlers or fussy eaters a meal they’ll actually eat can be hard. We know that ideally kids get a version of what we’ll be eating later, but this isn’t always practical… So, accepting the reality of the situation (I am an annoying, obsessive, organic foodie evangelist, but I am also a real mother who knows what time wine o’clock is ), what do you give them?? I’m often asked, what do I give mine? So here goes with some Fussy Eaters Meal Ideas!

Rice, Fish and Peas. My kids LOVE this as do most picky eating toddlers I’ve tried it on. It’s kind of risotto. But so much quicker and is a brilliant store cupboard / freezer stand-by. You will need:

  • a bag of rice (preferably wholegrain, but I won’t judge you);
  • some fresh or frozen fish (I buy the bags of frozen cod/haddock/salmon from the supermarket.  But it has to be JUST fish – i.e. no batter, breadcrumbs, no extras – just  fillets of real fish).
  • And some frozen peas or any other fresh or frozen vegetables

Put a pan of water on to boil (I add some organic, low salt stock to the water for extra taste). When it’s boiling, add your rice (if it’s wholegrain you’ll need to give it a good 10-15 mins, if it’s white basmati or whatever then 5 mins), then add the frozen fish +  peas or fresh veg (cut small).

That’s it – all in the same pan of stock, simmer for a few more mins and then strain and break up the fish a bit. Just keep trying a forkful of fish to make sure it’s cooked but not leathery. My kids like the tiniest splash of soy sauce and then happily devour a huge bowlful.

The Picnic Tea. Easy easy easy, and healthy and quick. Great for fussy eaters as everything is separate and they have some control! Place in a bowl (or a tupperware – this is also a fiendishly simple packed lunch or picnic), mixed up and chopped up, any combination of  the following:

  • banana; apple; actually any fresh fruit…; raisins; oatcakes*;  rye-bread*;  dried apricots (NO additives – that means they’re brown, not orange), cheese (organic please, and try goats, or sheep’s for variation); almond, cashew or proper peanut butter*; hummus; raw carrot, celery, broccoli, peppers or tomatoes.

The list is infinite – but hopefully you get the idea. Even picky eaters will love being able to pick out separate mouthfuls of finger food – they love small, raw bits and pieces and it’s a great way to introduce  tastes, colours and variety.

Pasta and Tomato Sauce. No sorry, not from a jar. This comes back to an earlier post on how the same words can describe very different foods, but what I am referring to is:

  • pasta – wheat is fine, but make it wholewheat, and try spelt, buckwheat or corn pasta* for a change. Incidentally, don’t go there with the ‘my kids only like the white soggy stuff’. Only if that’s what they always get… It’s all pasta, it’s just that some of it is good for you, and some of it is high GI gluten with next to nothing to offer. So try the other stuff and make it interesting
  • The sauce. You’ll need some veggies… any combination of: carrots, broccoli, onions, garlic, celery, courgettes, any greens, peppers, whatever you can find. The key is to chop them up small – kids are often phased by big chunks of vegetables. I don’t usually advocate disguising or hiding vegetables, but  depending on the age and fussiness of your kids you could blitz this sauce with a hand-held blender once it’s cooked to make it easier for them). Heat some olive oil in a thick-based pan, add the vegetables, cook for just a few minutes, add a tin of plum tomatoes, break them up (or use a tin of chopped ones) and heat through. Stir into your cooked pasta.
  • Make it taste good! Add a splash of worcestershire sauce, or some fresh or dried herbs, some grated parmesan or other strong cheese, a little pepper… Just because they’re kids it doesn’t mean they need or want bland food!

When you use meat, make sure its organic (or at least free-range) but remember too that protein comes in other, very cheap, easy, and incredibly healthy forms! Add a drained and rinsed can of cannelini beans, kidney beans or chickpeas to a homemade pasta sauce, a vegetable casserole, soup, shepherds pie, lasagna… instead of meat sometimes.

Don’t be scared of cooking with fish – buy it fresh from the fish counter in the supermarket or a fishmonger, and always ask for it it filleted, skinned and ready to cook if you’re not sure about doing it yourself. It doesn’t matter what type of fish, any basic white fish will fill out a fish pie, grill beautifully when brushed with olive oil, or simmer for a few minutes with rice and vegetables. A single salmon fillet or steak will easily feed 2-3 small kids – just add some steamed or stir-fried broccoli or greens and some noodles or rice.

Picky eaters will often surprise you… my friends tell me that salmon is rarely refused!

Tinned oily fish like pilchards, sardines or mackerel – you may well be surprised how much kids love these warmed through on some wholegrain toast with butter…

Don’t forget the english classics… Beans on Toast, Boiled Egg and Marmite Soldiers, Scrambled Eggs… they’re all good nutritous foods, but remember the finer, but essential differences: wholegrain toast, free range or organic eggs, real butter.

Cook in olive oil, buy only free range or organic meat, buy fish minus the coatings and fillings and colourings. Organic butter and olive oil are real, pure foods which in moderation are a thousand times better for your kids than weird spreads and ‘pretend’ butters (and they certainly don’t need the ‘low fat’ hang ups either).

More Fussy Eaters Meal Tips – and a Shopping List!

*Oatcakes: a great snack, bread alternative, and almost gets away with being a ‘biscuit’ or ‘cookie’ (well OK, maybe your kids are clever-er than that)…  perfect with a scraping of butter, hummus or nut butter. An oatcake with butter and jam is a favourite treat too.

*Rye or spelt bread: wheat alternatives – you buy it in packs in the bread section of the supermarket, or fresh from a specialist baker. Rye bread can be a bit heavy – it needs to be cut thin and spread with something so it’s not too dry. Spelt has a very mild sourdough taste. Again, don’t pre-empt them ‘not liking it’ – they may surprise you!

* Nut butters – peanut butter should be made with unblanched peanuts and no added sugar or sweeteners (Whole Earth is a good brand – available from supermarkets). If you’re not a fan of peanut butter, almond, cashew and seed butters are absolutely delicious, eminently good for you and slightly less ‘claggy’ or dry – buy them in health food shops.

* Wholewheat (not just ‘brown’), spelt, buckwheat, corn and vegetable pastas – all in the supermarket (the latter ones in the ‘wheat-free / free-from / healthy’ aisles… where you should be shopping anyway ;-)

Oh, and PS I know you’re probably eating later, but try and take a break, grab a cup of tea and sit with them while they eat. The difference in table manners if you join them and engage your picky eating toddlers or fussy eaters in some light conversation, instead of ignoring them or shoving spoonfuls of food in their face is quite something. I mean would YOU want to eat something that was being thrust in your face by someone a bit stroppy and pretending to be an aeroplane? Me neither.