Fresh Food Ideas for Picky Eaters

apple slicingAre you blessed with a picky eater? Or, do you have a child that seems to gobble everything up at daycare/school only to turn his/her nose at what YOU have cooking? Breezy Mama turned to Sara Hooper, Owner/Director of Mission Montessori to get ideas on what foods they serve to get your kid eating this summer.

What are the recommended vegetable and fruit servings for preschool age and what is your best recommendation on meeting these servings?

According to the National Network for Childcare, a preschool aged child’s diet should include 3-5, ¼ cup servings of vegetables and 2-4, ½ cup servings of fruit. Children are natural grazers, so offer fruits and vegetables at every meal and throughout the day. Keep portions child-sized and keep snacks healthy. Some ideas are blueberries, dried bananas and pumpkin breads. Smoothies (see recipe at bottom) are also a great way to pack lots of fruits (and even veggies) into your child’s diet. They are also fun to make and children love to help add fruit into the blender and push the button.

Do you have any recommendations on getting kids to try new foods?

Role model! If your children see you eating different types of foods they eventually will too. Children eat what they know. Keep food exciting and your children will have an adventurous pallet. If you only offer your children “kid foods” they will turn their noses on anything else.

I ran a pre-school in Irvine for almost 10-years. We had a very high population of Korean families. You should have seen the variety of foods the children brought in their lunches. A very popular lunch item was anchovies–the children gobbled them up, heads and all! Most Americans would never think to give their preschoolers anchovies in their lunches, but it just goes to show your children eat what they know.

Preschool age kids tend to be picky eaters! What foods have you had the most success serving?

We try and offer minimally processed foods and we use fresh, natural and organic ingredients on our menu whenever possible. We have a small school garden with foods that our children as young as three help to plant, water and pick. A picky preschooler is much more open to eating a new food item when they’ve had the opportunity to pick it themselves and when they see other children having a nibble. At our school this has included tomatoes, strawberries, bok choy and even collard greens! Not everyone will like all vegetables but most are willing to give it a try. And more important is the fact that children are simply being exposed to healthy eating and different foods. Our snacks include blueberries, cherry tomatoes with mozzarella and fruit and cereal necklaces that they string themselves.

Around the age of two, children’s growth begins to taper and they have difficulty sitting still, so eating will often temporarily slow down. During this time it’s more important than ever to continue offering healthy foods. Many moms begin giving their children unhealthy choices “just so that she will eat!” Most children are grazers at this age so don’t get frustrated when your child won’t sit and eat an entire meal. Allow your child to eat throughout the day, just make sure that you are offering healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein versus goldfish crackers (even the organic ones!) and things that are empty on nutrients.

Can you give examples of the Healthy Hot Lunches you serve?

We try to stick with foods that children are comfortable with, but that are prepared with healthy fresh ingredients. That includes a variety of pastas, such as bow-tie’s tossed with a little butter, fresh parmesan and endamame or mini quiche (see below for recipe). We serve fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal.

What snacks have you had success with?

Snack time is a great time to offer new foods. Children will often be open to trying new foods at snack time versus meal times, because the pressure is off.

The most popular snack foods seem to be the ones that the children help make or prepare for themselves. One popular choice is apple slicing. The children get to wash and dry the apple first. Next they place the apple on a small cutting board and slice it with an apple-cutter, the child may need a little help with the first push into the apple. The apple slicer is not very sharp and when the apple is cut it spreads open like a flower. The child then pulls off the apple slices and sets them on a plate, throws away the core and washes the slicer and board (click here to purchase). It seems like a big job but children love feeling independent and it’s one of the best ways to get a child to eat an entire apple. This also works great for pears which are even easier to slice.

What are some healthy snack ideas that we can bring to our child’s preschool class (for those schools where the parent provides the snack?)

Fruit kabobs are fun and healthy. You can use a variety of seasonal fruits such as blueberries and strawberries or melon balls. Cut the pointy tips off of wooden skewers and then cut the skewers in half. You can either assemble them at home with your own child or send them in unassembled for the children to assemble themselves (if it works for your child’s classroom environment).

For those schools that provide the food, what should a parent be on the lookout for?

Parents should be on the lookout for fried or processed foods. In my opinion, it’s fine to offer breaded food items like chicken nuggets from time to time but they should be paired with fresh fruits and vegetables such as mashed potatoes and carrots versus tater tots and French fries. Daily eating of processed, high fat foods can set your child up for future health risks and just as importantly, will limit their ability to enjoy full-flavored, fresh tasting foods in the future. Remember the further the food item is from how it looked in its natural state, the less healthy it probably is.

Any other creative food ideas to share with us?

Think outside the box. Literally! I’m a busy working mom and even when I wasn’t, I couldn’t spend hours in the kitchen with two busy little boys. However, eating healthy and enjoying family meal times is very important to me. Lentil and vegetable soups are super quick and easy to make and I know my kids are getting lots of healthy vegetables and plenty of iron. A roast chicken, a bag of carrots, and some sliced new potatoes can be tossed with salt, pepper and olive oil and thrown into a pan. But when I haven’t planned ahead some of my easy, family favorite dinners are a rotisserie chicken paired with Trader Joe’s brown rice and a fresh vegetable or the Egg White mushroom quiche from Costco paired with a green salad.

Mission Montessori Recipes:

Mixed Berry and Banana Smoothie

•    1 ½ cups frozen mixed berries
•    2  bananas
•    1-1/2 cups plain non-fat yogurt or vanilla
•    3 cups vanilla soy milk (you can also use regular milk)
•    1 tablespoon honey (if using regular milk instead of vanilla soy, use 1.5 tablespoons honey)
•    2 tablespoons peanut butter or vanilla protein powder
•    2 tablespoons flax oil
•    Sprinkle of cinnamon

Add frozen berries to the blender first so that they become well blended.
Add remaining ingredients in the order listed and blend well.
Water can be added to thin the smoothie down which is good for toddlers since it makes it easier to fit in a sippy cup.

Mini Crust-less Quiche
These are super easy. Don’t be afraid to substitute different veggies and meats—perfect for using what you have on hand!

•    4 oz diced ham
•    4 oz diced broccoli
•    8 oz mushrooms, sliced
•    ¼ cup diced scallions
•    ¼ cup cheddar cheese
•    ½ teaspoon salt & ½ teaspoon pepper
•    1 tablespoon olive oil
•    5 eggs
•    3 egg whites
•    1 cup 1% milk

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325°F. Coat a nonstick muffin tin generously with cooking spray (see Tip).
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to the pan. Dice the vegetables very small so that children aren’t thinking about that they’re eating vegetables.  Add scallions, mushrooms and ham cook, stirring often, until softened about 5 minutes.
Let cool for 5 minutes. Stir in cheese, salt and pepper.
Whisk eggs, egg whites and milk in a medium bowl.
Divide the egg mixture evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the ham & vegetable mixture into each cup.
Bake until the tops are just beginning to brown, 25 minutes.
Let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
Place a rack on top of the pan, flip it over and turn the quiches out onto the rack. Turn upright and let cool completely.
Tip: A good-quality nonstick muffin tin works best for this recipe. If you don’t have one, line a regular muffin tin with foil baking cups.

*Adapted from recipe

breezy_deal1Breezy Mama Exclusive! Mission Montessori will apply your registration fee towards your first month’s tuition and give you two weeks tuition free!  Registration must be received by September 1, 2009 and discounted tuition will come off of the second month of enrollment. Mention Breezy when applying.

SH Number RodsSara Hooper recently started Mission Montessori in Mission Viejo, California. She has served as director for two other Montessori schools in southern California and was caught by surprise last year when the school she had run for nine years, Christian Montessori of Irvine, lost its lease to a real estate developer. But it didn’t take her long to find the perfect property in Mission Viejo, and the encouragement and investment from parents and the Small Business Association, to make a fresh start.

Hooper says that as a parent herself, the opportunity to work in a nurturing, healthy, natural learning environment and to spend time close to her own children each day is the best of both worlds. But she says that while the school itself is a beautiful facility, it’s the people who make the experience a great one for parents and children alike. Check out Mission Montessori by clicking here.

Let's Get Social!


  1. Anchovies? Now that’s a food I haven’t tried yet w/ my son. I’ll pick up a can of this savory treat next time I’m at the store! Great article!

  2. Great article! I am blessed with a very open-minded eater and one who has clear preferences of likes and dislikes. My littlest…ok, I am fine to just call him picky, will not even touch a fruit kebab (yes have tried), let alone an anchovy quiche! This child loves processed meat (aka nuggets and dogs), so lately I have been trying to find good versions of the above. Like a nice Bratwurst, with good meat vs. a hot dog. Or a healthy-ish pizza (I like Annies frozen).

    Anyone else have any easy fav’s for picky eaters??? I could use some ideas, am sort of stuck in a rut with PB&J.

  3. This is a wonderful article – right on target in terms of childhood development and food! I love how you suggested that kids eat better when they are involved with their food – growing it is wonderful…and cooking with kids is fantastic, too. I have owned a cooking school for children for over 5 years and love watching the children’s tastes and enthusiasm blossom as they play with their food. Well done!

  4. I want to send this article to MY childs preschool….imagine..teaching our kids to eat healthy!?!! I wish all schools would adopt this philosophy…it seems so easy and so important.

  5. I’ve been browsing through your site, and it is very interesting and very informative. I enjoed reading it thanks for posting
    Keep working, great job!

  6. After volunteering at my son’s school and seeing the types of food they were serving I attempted to make some changes. Some of those changes were along the lines of those suggested in this article. I was surprised at how hard both the district and the contracted vendor fought to block menu changes even in places where it was clearly cheaper and healthier. The ego of the administration was more important then the health of the children.

  7. I am forever indebted to you for this ifnaormtion.


  1. Breezy Mama says:

    […] Cook: No, I’m not much of one. However, simple snacks like blueberry muffins out of a box are a great way for even a two-year old to become a chef. We have used this tactic many, many times and our son just loves pouring in the mix, cracking the eggs and stirring. Then of course the eating. Other fun ideas are to make popsicles by pouring juice in ice cube trays or making fruit kabobs. […]

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.