Meal Planning: Families with Tots and Particular Tastes

Sometimes it’s hard to get your kids to eat anything healthy. And it can feel overwhelming to to try plan and prepare meals that will meet everyone’s nutritional needs and also taste preferences.

This is my current and ongoing struggle {as mentioned in a recent previous post}. Add in fatigue and boredom and it can make dinner time down right challenging.

This week I decided to plan a menu completely catered to my child’s taste preferences, while sneaking in nutrients as much as i could. And you know what, it’s easier to cook for my kid than it is for me and my husband.

It’s less time consuming, easier to prepare, and perfect for a quick weeknight dinner or something you can really work on over the weekend and use through the week as needed.


soup + grilled cheese: start with a soup that has some veggies and/or protein in it (vegetable, tomato, black bean, even broccoli cheese). Cut the grilled cheese into fun finger-friendly shapes (can use cookie cutters) and let the child get whole grains from the bread, protein from reduced fat/2%/light cheese, and hopefully some extra nutrients with the veggies in the soup.

pizza: for shortcuts use mini whole wheat bagels topped with a homemade or jarred marinara topped with part skim mozarrella cheese, and again sneaking in veggies. The red sauce or marinara can count for your veggies, but if you can add artichokes, mushrooms, thinly sliced spinach, it’s all good efforts.

spaghetti: whole wheat pasta and marinara with meatballs or meatsauce. I prefer to make my own marinara because it’s an opportunity to add veggies that my daughter will not eat, even ones that my husband won’t eat. This week it was sliced mushrooms and zucchini, but I’ve also added carrots and you could add bell peppers, eggplant, etc

quesadillas: whole grain tortilla + reduce fat cheese + sneaking in veggies when can (think: pureed pumpkin, squash – even from the can – or shredded zucchini, in my case it was just a side of salsa, hoping she would dip it. Small steps, remember).

breakfast: whether it’s smoothies, pancakes, muffins, you can sneak veggies into all of these. Just have to be a little creative or experimental – or have reliable blog recipes – to play around with recipes that also have whole grains and low sugar.

pinwheels: whole grain tortilla wrapped around sliced veggies, protein, and a spread of something like cheese, hummus, guacamole. Slice it up and it’s like kid-friendly sushi.

crudite platters: assemble a mix of whole grain crackers, finger-friendly veggies, fruit slices, nuts, cheese, spreads like hummus, and some protein (think hard boiled eggs, chicken or tuna salad, guacamole). Switch our your types of fruits, veggies, crackers, protein etc. next time to keep everyone interested.

{For older kids who want and could benefit from more decision-making and involvement, I love taco bars, pizza bars, build-you-own burritos, etc to give them options of what they are adding in. As long as whole grains and veggies are made available, it’s a great opportunity for kids to pick what they want to try. If it’s nothing at the present moment, maybe next time they’ll be more adventurous.}


{yes, I know I’m missing a veggie in this photo- it was a quickly thrown together afternoon weekend snack platter}

Your goal is to offer a protein, a veggie, and a whole grain {fiber-rich} option at each meal. If fruit and milk or yogurt also ends up on the plate, that’s fine too, and can often count towards the fiber and protein needs, respectively.

I find it helps to also include a small amount of something you know they’ll love. While my daughter didn’t try the salsa or the edamame here, she did eat more of the chicken quesadilla than anticipated simply because she was reassured by the 100% whole grain sun chips also included. Again, baby steps.While she really only ate grains/fiber and protein in this meal, next time I prepare it I can try to add a veggie to the quesadilla  OR replace the sun chips with my homemade brussels or kale chips {it depends on the day if she’ll eat these}.


Just try to remember and reassure yourself no matter what your struggles are with nutrition, as with many things in life, it’s about progress over perfection. Yes, we want to offer the most healthy foods (whole grains, fiber, lean protein, healthy fats, vitamins/minerals), minimize added sugars, empty calories, and junk but we don’t want to foster a stressful and negative environment around food. Whether that’s for ourselves or for our children. Food is fun and comforting and that’s okay. We just also need to work towards it nourishing us as much as possible.

Happy meal planning!



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