Young children are infamous for being picky eaters. Up to 50 percent of children are described as picky eaters by their parents or caregivers. Trying to feed a picky eater is easily one of the most frustrating aspects of caring for a child.
If meals were up to the little one, each one might revolve around chicken nuggets, pizza, or macaroni and cheese. While delicious, these foods lack the essential nutrients a growing child desperately needs.
One popular method for breaking the stalemate is to use dessert as a bribe. The promise of something special is usually all it takes to break the resolve of a picky eater and nudge them to finish their dinner.
Using dessert might be an option for dinner (though experts warn against doing it too much), but it’s not something that can be used during snack time. The trick is to combine the two and create a snack that tastes like dessert. It might sound crazy, but there are plenty of healthy snack options out there that are just as delicious as dessert.
It’s important to note that being a picky eater isn’t limited to young children. Roughly 30 percent of adults self-identify as being picky eaters.
The best strategy for kids and adults alike? Offer tasty snacks they couldn’t possibly turn down.
6 Snack Ideas for Picky Eaters
Finding healthy snack ideas for the morning or afternoon isn’t usually difficult. Fresh fruits and veggies make perfect snacks that are delicious and nutritious. The problem is that they don’t compete with many commonly consumed snack foods. It can be impossible to convince kiddos that they would prefer the taste of cucumbers over candy.
Unfortunately, the majority of preferred snack foods are pretty unhealthy. Potato chips, fruit snacks, pretzels, cereal bars, and cookies are far from the most nutritional options for children or adults. Not only do these foods lack nutritional value, but they’re also high in refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and sodium.
The good news is that there are great snacks out there that are just as tasty as these options. Here are six examples of healthy snack options that even the pickiest of eaters can enjoy:
Apple Slices and Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is a cheat code when it comes to creating a snack. You can add it to almost anything and immediately improve the taste. Pairing creamy peanut butter with crispy apple slices creates a unique texture that can satisfy picky taste buds.
If apples aren’t an acceptable option, you could easily substitute them for bananas. Bananas don’t have the same crisp texture as apples, so they can mix well with crunchy or creamy peanut butter. Having the option for different fruits may make it easier to please your picky eater.
It’s also possible to use a different type of nut butter to mix things up. Peanut butter might be the most well-known, but almond butter, walnut butter, and pistachio butter are rapidly gaining popularity. These options can be a little more expensive and harder to find, but may have just the flavor profile to appease your picky eater.
The only downside with peanut butter is that you’ll want to be careful not to overdo it. There are a ton of nutrients in peanut butter, but it’s also pretty high in calories, saturated fat, and hydrogenated oils. It’s best to limit daily peanut butter consumption to two tablespoons at most.
Homemade Trail Mix
Trail mix is a wildly popular snack for active people for three reasons: it’s convenient, delicious, and nutritious. Any snack option that ticks all three boxes can be a great choice.
The thing is that you may want to avoid buying it from the grocery store. It’s very common for store-bought trail mix to be loaded with added sugar. Plenty of natural sugar can be found in the common ingredients of trail mix, so the added sugar isn’t really needed for a delicious bite.
The good thing about making your own trail mix at home is you can customize it however you want. You could build a trail mix that’s specifically tailored to the taste buds of the picky eater in your life.
The most common trail mixes pair salty and sweet flavors. The salty flavors come from lightly salted granola (stick to whole grain if you can), pretzels, nuts, or seeds. These ingredients also provide a bit of a crunch to keep any eater interested.
The sweet flavors usually involve dried fruits, chocolate chips, or natural candies. There is bound to be a variety of salty, crunchy, and sweet options that meet the high expectations of your picky eater.
Carrots and Hummus
Hummus is a lot like peanut butter as you can easily add it to another food and dramatically improve the taste. Traditional hummus is made from chickpeas that are cooked, mashed, and blended with a few other ingredients.
All hummus includes a healthy oil, such as olive oil or avocado oil. The savory spread can be seasoned with various spices, allowing for a wide range of flavors.
Eating hummus by itself is a nutritious snack option. However, adding some fresh vegetables to the dish will take it to another level. Carrots (especially baby carrots and carrot sticks) are one the most popular veggies to pair with hummus.
The crunch of a carrot goes well with the creaminess of hummus. The same is true for celery, bell peppers, kale chips, zucchini, and cucumber slices. There’s no wrong answer, as hummus goes with pretty much anything.
Greek Yogurt and Blueberries
Earlier, we discussed how dessert could effectively motivate a picky eater to finish their meal. But what if the dessert was the meal? Combining Greek yogurt with a handful of blueberries, pomegranate seeds, or fresh raspberries will taste like dessert, even to the pickiest eater. The highly nutritional snack is disguised as a sweet and pleasurable treat. It’s the perfect Trojan horse for picky eaters.
The key is to make sure that you’re using Greek yogurt. Regular yogurt typically has twice the sugar content compared to Greek yogurt. It’s not quite as bad as ice cream, but it’s more sugar than you may want for a “nutritious” snack. You can also look for plain Greek yogurt to avoid the extra sugar found in flavored varieties.
That said, plain Greek yogurt isn’t exactly an exhilarating snack option. That’s why it can help to flavor it with blueberries or other fruits. There are few foods that are as good for you as blueberries, and many don’t taste nearly as delicious. A handful of blueberries is all it takes to give Greek yogurt a delicious flavor and create an ultra-healthy snack.
If blueberries aren’t loved by your picky eater, you can easily swap out another fruit. There is no wrong answer for fruits that pair with Greek yogurt, so you have a long list to choose from!
You could also add in some whole-grain granola or almonds, cashews, or pistachios for a crunchy kick. You can serve your Greek yogurt-based concoction in a bowl or blend it into a nutritious smoothie.
One of the ways to sidestep a child that’s picky about food is to make a game out of eating. They may not be so focused on their picky tendencies if they're having fun. An easy way to do that is to have them make their own snack. Cracker sandwiches are one option for mixing snack time and playtime.
A cracker sandwich is exactly what it sounds like. It is two crackers with some variation of stuffing in the middle. It’s a very simple recipe that can be delicious with the right ingredients.
Peanut butter is one option that pairs well with crackers. You could also go with cream cheese to give a silky sweet-but-tangy taste. You could also use deli meat slices to build cracker sandwiches that provide a punch of protein. The options are limitless.
The largest downside with cracker sandwiches is they may not be especially nutritious. If you’re looking for strictly healthy snack ideas, the other foods on this list may be better options.
Crackers aren’t often as unhealthy as potato chips, but they can be pretty high in sodium. It’s best to use low-sodium whole-grain crackers for this snack.
You’re probably surprised to see popcorn appear on this list. It’s not usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a healthy and nutritious snack. However, it’s a pretty healthy option if you air-pop it and consider the seasoning and toppings.
Even the pickiest eaters love popcorn; getting yours to chow down on a bowl at snack time shouldn't require too much convincing.
The tricky thing is that most popcorn is loaded with butter and salt. You don’t need to be a dietitian to know those two aren’t the healthiest options for toppings. The good thing about popcorn is that you have a few options that make it taste better without making it unhealthy.
Cinnamon is a great option, as it has a very robust flavor with zero calories. You could also use cocoa powder, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, or grated parmesan if the cinnamon is too intense.
Mix and Match To Please Your Picky Eater
Young children usually aren’t too keen on trying out new foods. Once they find something they like, they tend to latch onto it tightly. That can be good news for parents if their food preferences are well-balanced and healthy.
Unfortunately, it can often skew toward unhealthy foods loaded with fat, sugar, or salt. That’s especially the case when it comes to snack time, with options like chips, cookies, and white-bread toast.
Hopefully, the list above features at least a few options for foods that your picky eater does enjoy. You might have to mix and match a little to find the perfect snack, but it should be a solid place to start!
Hopefully, as time wears on, your picky eater's taste palette will start to expand. That’s when the real fun begins, as you could introduce them to some of the more exotic flavors out there!
Popcorn as a snack: Healthy hit or dietary horror show? | American Heart Association
Healthiest Crackers for Snacks and Parties | Consumer Reports
Greek Yogurt vs. Regular Yogurt: Is One Better? | AARP
The Healthy Perks of Peanut Butter | Denver Health Medical Plan
Yes, adults can be picky eaters. Here's how to stop. | Washington Post
Anti-Bribing Strategies for Picky Eaters | Action for Healthy Kids
Six Key Nutrients For Keeping Kids Healthy | Good Health
Picky Eating: How to Help Change a Child's Food Habits | Nationwide Children's Hospital