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What are the best foods for picky eaters? What should I feed my child with autism or sensory issues? I get these two questions or some iteration all of the time. Unfortunately, I don’t have a clear answer. There is no one size fits all diet for extremely picky kids and children who experience barriers to eating. I wish there was!

While I can’t tell you which foods specifically a picky eater will eat, I do have a few ideas that tend to go over well. You’ll find those below. Beyond that, I encourage you to consider the answer that I more often share: what does your child like to eat? By looking at your child’s current preferences, you can identify which new foods they might be most inclined to accept.

Selecting New Foods for Picky Eaters:

  • Keep it basic

    • Deconstruct more complicated foods like sandwiches and saucy pasta. Mixed dishes are usually harder for picky eaters.

  • Think about texture

    • Do they like a lot of one kind of food? Crunchy foods like crackers and pretzels? Or soft foods like bread? When you know a child’s flavor preferences, you have direction for identifying new foods they might like.

  • Think about flavor

    • Offer foods with the same types of flavors that your child likes, but try a new form or presentation.

  • Make small changes

    • You may not be able to introduce a completely novel food, but can you make any changes to a current preferred food? For example, think about changing the way you cut an apple or even the dish that you serve it in. For some kids, even these small changes may be jarring, but for others, adjustments like these can help to introduce variety into their diets.

Healthy & Easy Foods Picky Eaters Will Actually Eat

Crisp bacon

  • Kids who usually avoid meet tend to love the crisp, dry, easy-to-chew consistency of well cooked bacon. Salami chips are also a good option. Just slice some salami and pop it in the oven or microwave until it’s crisp.

Frozen fruit

  • Frozen fruit has a more homogenous and reliable texture than fresh, which can make it more appealing to kids with sensory issues. Sensory-seekers might also appreciate the coldness. I love frozen grapes, banana, and mango in particular.

Crispy chickpeas or broad beans

  • Crispy beans – either packaged or baked at home – are great options for kids who love crunchy salty snack foods like crackers, chips, and pretzels. With more protein and fiber, they’re a healthier alternative and a great first step to transitioning to beans on their own. (You can also find chocolate coated chickpeas and crispy edamame.)

Beef jerky

  • Jerky is another great way to introduce meat to kids who usually avoid it. Again, the texture is more consistent and easier to manage than meat in other forms is. You can also find vegan jerkies and many meat-alternatives such as salmon and turkey in most health food stores.

Taco bar

  • Your child may not love tacos but they may willingly eat some of the ingredients on their own. Deconstruct taco night by serving your usual taco ingredients in separate bowls. Your child can take what they want. This concept also works well for sandwiches.

Apple chips

  • Crunchy or chewy apple chips are a great way to get fruit into kids who otherwise avoid it. I love crunchy Bare Apple Chips which come in a variety of flavors without additives.

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Nuts

  • Nuts are a great option for crunch lovers, packed with healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Note that they’re typically not recommended for children under 3 years old.

Banana ice cream

  • Some people call it n’ice cream. It’s really just blended ripe frozen bananas turned into a soft-serve like treat. You can add in more fruit for some extra flavor or enjoy banana on its own. It’s a fun way to get kids involved in cooking, which can increase their interest in trying new foods, and a great way to introduce their palate to banana with a more palatable texture.

Smoothies and frozen yogurt pops

  • Like the banana ice cream, smoothies and frozen yogurt pops have a more appealing texture and a fun presentation that kids tend to enjoy. You can pack a smoothie full of protein, fruits, and even veggies. Try these nutritious popsicles to start.

Quesadillas

  • I love quesadillas as a vehicle for introducing new foods. They’re a great source of protein and calcium on their own, but you can try adding in small amounts of beans (refried, mashed, or whole), avocado, salsa, or even shredded chicken. Remember to start small with any additions and let your child know that they’re there. Food surprises don’t usually go over well with very picky eaters.

Baked parmesan crisps

These are a perfect and super easy homemade alternative for kids who love crunch and salt and especially anything cheesy. Shred parmesan into clumps and bake until the moisture is out. You’ll be left with a nutritious one-ingredient crunchy snack.

Recap

Picky eaters like the foods they like for a reason. So it’s hard to make a universal list of picky-eater-approved foods. These options are a great place to start, though. Be sure to consider the sensory qualities of your child’s preferred foods when determining which ones to introduce. That will give you a lot of information about which new foods they’ll be most likely to enjoy.

Homework

Take a look at your child’s preferred foods. What similarities do they have? Are there any foods on this list that share some of their preferences? Pick one or two to introduce this week.

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