Side Dishes for Picky Eaters

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Side Dishes for Picky Eaters

Is your child a picky eater? Make sure they get all the nutrients they need with our tasty side dishes.

a woman with long hair wearing a white lab coat
By Kayla Bridges
Dorian Rhode
Edited by Dorian Rhode

Updated May 31, 2024.

A little girl sitting on a tree stump eating a carrot with formula in her other hand.

Kids require all the nutrients they can get, including proteins, fats, vitamins, fibers, and minerals. It’s always a good idea to look for healthier foods like fruits and vegetables—but, actually getting picky eaters to eat certain dishes can be quite challenging.

And yes, there are ways you can have healthy side dishes for picky eaters—while getting them to eat fruit and vegetables can be such a challenge, it’s not impossible.

» Try this formula that your little picky eaters will love

29 Healthy Side Dishes for Picky Eaters

The healthiest side dishes for picky eaters are packed with nutrients and flavors. Meanwhile, contrary to general thinking, they don't need to stop at roasted vegetables. There are different ways to elevate your fruits and vegetables into hearty and satisfying sides for kids. Follow along as we share some of the best kid-friendly side dishes that will soon become your kid’s favorite.

1. Applesauce Pancakes

Pancakes are an excellent side for kids, and with the addition of applesauce, you get a side dish that picky eaters will learn to love for breakfast. These fluffy pancakes are very simple to mix up, and oh, they taste delightful and yummy. Add applesauce to the pancake mix with other ingredients, then fry each batter over medium-high heat. You can also substitute the oil with applesauce and serve the pancakes with maple syrup or apple butter.

2. Banana Sushi

Simple, fun, and high in fruit nutrients, banana sushi is very easy to make. It’s also a great way to involve kids in making their meals and inspire them to eat them. Peel bananas, add some toppings, and have them cut into bite-sized pieces.

3. Carrot with Dried Veggies

Most parents of picky eaters want their children to eat more vegetables, and this meal is a perfect veggie dish for kids. Simply toss carrots with some dried cherries, and simmer in butter. If you don't have cherries, sweet cranberries can also do the trick.

4. Butternut Squash Noodles

Vegetable-based noodles can make nutritious side dishes for picky eaters. Instead of pasta, you can use butternut squash as a substitute. Simply toss strands of butternut squash in a cheesy sauce for a child-friendly side dish. You can also serve it with meatballs, chicken, or fish.

5. Honey Glazed Baby Carrots

Carrot may not be a great meal choice to serve a picky eater, but coat it with honey, butter, and brown sugar, and you have a delicious side meal that kids are unlikely to say no to. Once you coat the carrots with honey, bake them for about 30 minutes and serve with fish or chicken.

6. Parmesan Roasted Broccoli

There are always exciting ways to cook broccoli, and roasting it with Parmesan is a surefire way to convince picky eaters to eat their vegetables. Drizzle the broccoli with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast until it’s caramelized. Then, sprinkle grated Parmesan over it and continue to cook until the Parmesan melts.

7. Cauliflower Cheese Bread

Cauliflower cheese bread is a healthy way to replace bread with cauliflower dough. It requires no unique ingredients, just your cauliflower, eggs, cheese, garlic, and other spices. 

8. Rice Cakes And Peanut Butter

If your kid loves peanut butter, consider serving them rice cakes with peanut butter. This fun and healthy snack is a wise choice for picky eaters, and you can also substitute peanut butter with Nutella or jam. Also, you can make the food extra fun by creating animal faces with fruit.

9. French Toast Sticks

French toast sticks are a fun and healthy snack for toddlers, kids, and parents! Whisk eggs, milk, honey, salt, and cinnamon together and dip finger-cut breadsticks into the mixture. Heat 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat and cook until both sides are golden.

Serve with fresh fruits like strawberries, blueberries, or bananas before rushing to add honey, maple syrup, or sugar.

10. Sweet Potato Cakes

Tasty potato cakes are like cakes but in potato form. With this potato cake recipe, you can pack healthy veggies with natural flavors into your baby’s breakfast. You can use your leftover mashed potatoes for this recipe, add ingredients like milk and cinnamon, and bake or cook over a nonstick pan.

11. Cinnamon Apple Chips

For picky eaters who prefer crunchy and crispy meals and overcooked food, these delightful apple chips make for perfect side dishes or midday snacks. With just two ingredients—cinnamon and apples—you can create a nutritious treat.

Simply sprinkle sliced apples with cinnamon, then bake them for about 50 minutes until the slices turn golden and crunchy. This snack offers a healthier alternative to many salty and sugary staples while providing kids with a boost of essential vitamins.

12. Broccoli with Cheese Sauce

Another broccoli recipe for picky eaters, but this time with cheese sauce! Broccoli is a versatile veggie and one of the best kid-friendly side dishes for picky eaters.

This simple 2-ingredient side dish packs tons of nutrients and flavors that are healthy for the whole family. Once you've steamed your broccoli over medium-high heat, transfer it into a baking pan and top it with grated cheese. Leave until the cheese melts and becomes crisp.

13. Veggie Chips

Veggie chips can be one of the best and crunchiest healthy vegetable recipes for picky eaters. You need some vegetable roots and simple spices to create this meal. Oven-dry and then fry it, and you have your homemade veggie chips.

You can add it as a snack to their lunch box or serve it as a side with a burger or chicken nuggets.

14. Cucumber Sunomono

This Japanese-style salad makes a perfect side dish for any meal. The main flavor in this salad recipe is vinegar which highlights other flavors in the meal.

Start by making the dressing, mix rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, salt, ginger, and other desired ingredients. Then add salt to thin-sliced cucumbers to remove some moisture. Toss the cucumbers with the dressing and refrigerate for a while before serving.

15. Sweet Grilled Corn

Picky eaters usually love to try new foods in micro portions. Instead of serving them whole corn on the cob, we recommend offering them kernels of corn. You can then gradually work up to bigger pieces of cob. Also, you can serve your grilled corn in a salad by introducing more veggies like cucumbers and tomatoes, avocado and adding dressing with olive oil, lemon, and salt.

16. Guacamole

Easy guacamole requires only six ingredients  (avocados, lime, garlic, chili powder, cilantro, and salt). Scoop out the avocado flesh, then add some lime juice and other ingredients until you are satisfied with the taste. Mash everything together and serve immediately or leave to refrigerate for a while.

17. Baked Cauli Tots

How to make healthy cauliflower tots a picky eater will enjoy? Bake them rather than frying them! Cook the cauliflower for a few minutes, pulse in a food processor for a few seconds, and then transfer into a large bowl. Add your onions, Parmesan cheese, eggs, salt, breadcrumbs, and pepper, and mix thoroughly. Now mold into a tot and bake for about 20 minutes. You can serve it with ketchup or any dipping sauce your kid will like.

18. Nuts

Many picky eaters love crunchy food, so you can try offering your kid peanuts, almonds, cashews, and other nuts. It's best to serve them to children older than 5 to prevent a choking hazard. Also, consider roasting the nuts to enhance their flavor. Else Nutrition's Ready to Drink Shakes for Kids are made with over 90% real, whole foods, including nuts. It is a perfect choice for your little one's daily nutrient intake.

19. Baked Broccoli Tots

Have you ever thought of broccoli tots? It can be quite an appealing choice for kids who are picky with vegetables. This meal is similar to cauliflower tots, except that they are made with broccoli.

Boil your broccoli in water for a few minutes, dice, and then pulse in a food processor for a few seconds. You can now combine it with egg, cheese, onions, parsley, and some breadcrumbs. Shape the mixture into a tot and bake until golden brown. Serve with ketchup, ranch dressing, or other dipping sauce.

20. Easy Veggie Mac and Cheese

Creamy, cheesy, and delicious. This healthy mac and cheese is packed with hidden veggies and is perfect for picky eaters. One of the best ways to make picky eaters eat veggies is by sneaking them into their favorite meals like mac and cheese. You can consider cauliflower (since they may not taste it) or next time you are making the meal, you can try adding more vegetables like broccoli, kale, and peas. Preferably one at a time. 

21. Sweet Potato Casserole

Potatoes generally make great side dishes for picky eaters, but if they don't like it, you can try potato casserole. Mash the potatoes, add some spices like salt, honey, and cinnamon, blend until smooth, and bake.

22. Baked Avocado Fries

You can make fries with avocado! These delicious oven-baked fries make great snacks for kids, including picky eaters. Combine lemon, lime, breadcrumbs, and salt in a bowl, dip avocado into the juice, and bake for 12-15 minutes. 

23. Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Chicken is a tasty side dish for many people, but picky eaters may have a hard time with it because of its texture. They generally love some crunch or crispiness, and that’s why this chicken nugget recipe is a good idea. It’s best to make the nuggets as juicy and thin as possible to improve the texture and make them easier to chew. 

24. Coconut Flour Waffles

These healthy coconut flour waffles are easy to make and can be served with maple syrup for extra yumminess. Mix your ingredients with coconut flour, spread the batter over your waffle iron, and leave to cook.

25. Homemade Cheese Crackers

Is there any snack more filling and enjoyable than crunchy crackers? With six easy-to-get ingredients, you can make these delicious cheese crackers for picky eaters.

Combine your flour batter with shredded cheese and butter, pulse it, and wrap the dough in plastic wrap for about 30 minutes. Cut the flour into interesting shapes kids will love and bake for about 14 minutes until both sides are brown.

You can make a big batch and keep these crackers in an airtight container, so you can always have a crispy side dish on hand. 

26. Baked Potato Skins

Homemade potatoes are a great way to get your whole family to enjoy more nutrients, including the picky eaters. Roast washed potatoes for about an hour, scoop out the potato inside, and then brush the potato skin with cheese, butter, or olive oil. You can also use the scooped-out potato for another meal.

27. Whipped Sweet Potatoes

Yummy sweet potatoes are exactly what to give kids if you want to see an empty plate. This recipe is extra tasty because it involves mixing pepper, vanilla, salt, and nutmeg together.

28. Green Bean Casserole

Green bean casserole can be the comfort food for the whole family. This traditional holiday dish makes healthy side dishes for picky eaters.

Stir all ingredients (sauce, spices, onions, milk, garlic, chicken broth, etc.) together and then combine with green beans until it’s well coated. The secret recipe for this casserole is to add some ring onions to the mix once the casserole is baked for about 40 minutes.

29. Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Add peanut butter to make this banana bread, and you get one of the yummiest sides for kids. Peanut butter brings a certain sweetness that kids will enjoy in their bread. After you’ve made the batter, add some teaspoons of peanut butter and bake for about 45 minutes. 

» Take a look at our high-fiber food options for kids

How to Introduce Vegetable Sides to a Picky Eater?

It's best to introduce vegetables to kids when you first start incorporating solid foods into their diet. If they don't immediately eat their kale or broccoli or other vegetables you give, it is advised to suggest several times as it takes time to accept this new taste, especially when it comes to the bitter taste of green vegetables.

Here are some tips to get your kids to like veggies:

Make It Fun

A great way to get kids to eat veggies is by making it extra fun. Instead of serving it plain, make it interesting. Like serving bananas as sushi with peanut butter or using cranberries to create fun animal faces on their pancakes. You can also create plate designs with veggies in different colors and shapes.

» Find inspiration for creative toddler meals here

Get Kids Involved in the Process

Involving kids in the meal-making process is another trick to get them to eat their veggies. Tell them to choose which vegetable they would like to eat and make them together.

Be Their Role Model 

Sit with them for one meal a day—if that’s not possible, a few times a week will also do the work. Serve all kinds of veggies to the table and show your enjoyment when eating them. You can suggest your kids eat but with no pressure. If you do this on a regular basis, it is most likely they will try it at some point.

Tell Them Why the Food Is Beneficial

When you serve a child food, and they don't like it or look at it funny, you can try explaining what the food does to their body. For example, tell them, ’This is fish, and it’s good for the brain. This is broccoli, and it promotes your health.'

» Discover the benefits of a whole foods diet for infants and toddlers

Tweak the Cooking Method

For some kids, the problem with vegetables is the taste and texture. Try to vary your cooking methods to see if the kids like a particular recipe over another. You can boil your veggies, bake them, blend them, or serve them with other meals. Keep trying until you find what your kids love best.

» Discover delicious textured food options perfect for picky eaters 

Sneak It Into the Food

If your child doesn't like veggies, you can try sneaking them into their food. There are many vegetable recipes for picky eaters, and most of them involve mashing vegetables into the food, trying veggie snacks similar to foods they already love, blending them into smoothies, or even air frying them!

Conquering Picky Eaters, One Bite at a Time

Feeding picky eaters can be overwhelming, especially if you want to increase their vegetable intake. However, encouraging them to try new foods is achievable.

Start by incorporating vegetables and fruits into their usual meals, and experiment with different recipes. This may be a trial-and-error process, but it’s not impossible, and it’s a great way to find balance with a picky eater’s diet.

The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.