Meal Prepping for Picky Eaters: An Experts Guide

By Penelope Henderson, MSc, RNutr/ 06/12/2024
Meal prepping some carrots, peppers and other vegetables on a wooden chopping board

Meal prepping can be a game changer when it comes to saving time, money, and making healthier food choices throughout the week. However, meal prepping for picky eaters can seem daunting. 

Finding recipes that cater to specific taste preferences and ensuring that meals are enjoyable can be a challenge. In this blog, we will explore some tips for meal prepping for picky eaters so that everyone can reap the benefits. Along with some meal plan ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner to get you off to a flying start.

What is the difference between meal planning and meal prepping?

Think of meal planning and prepping in three stages or the 3 P’s. 

  1. Plan
  2. Purchase
  3. Prepare

Meal planning is the planning of a schedule for the different meals you have for the next week or so. It can be very basic and include just one or two meals a day or more detailed and include the three meals and snacks. Meal planning also includes the purchasing or shopping for the ingredients from the meal plan.

Meal prepping is the final stage of the meal plan and that is the preparation of the foods from your meal plan. It can be preparing complete meals to store away in the fridge or freezer or partial prep, for example chopping some ingredients or making sauces that make up a meal. 

What are the benefits of meal prepping?

  • Structure/plan to follow – Once you are following your meal plan you have a structure and plan to carry through so you are very organised for the meals that week. 
  • Variety of foods – By having a plan of what you are prepping for picky eaters you can make sure you are getting a variety of different foods and nutrition.
  • New Inspiration  – meal prepping offers the opportunity to mix and match with some new inspiration of dishes you may not have tried, rather than flicking through recipe books at the last minute wondering what on earth to make. 
  • Save time – Meal prep can seem like it takes a long time but once you are organised you save time in the long run as you won’t be cooking every night or you have some simple meals to put together saving you time. 
  • Reduce stress – Imagine not having to think about what to make each night, it will save you the stress of that last minute panic. 
  • Create healthy balanced meals – By seeing what you have planned for each meal you can ensure you have a balance of different foods and nutrition across the week. 

Mastering the basics of meal prepping

Plan your meals

Start by finding a day and time that suits you to plan out your meals for the week. Allow up to an hour depending how much detail you want to put in. 

weekly meal plan template lying on a work top

Write down what meals you will have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can plan just for main meals if it is easier. Think about what activities are on during the week and days you want quick meals. Plan those meals as ones you grab from the freezer such as your ready prepared meals or sauces. 

Add in a few family favourite meals and also mix it up by adding a couple of new meals or make some small changes to existing ones for variety. Include the different food groups so you have healthy balanced meals. 

Shop for your meals/ingredients

Before you can prep your meals you will need to shop for the ingredients. Use a list of ingredients you made from your meal plan and stick to this. 

Equipment for prep/batch cooking 

Decide and organise when you are going to do some prep and batch cooking. Usually best to do this when you have a good amount of time available so you are not rushed. 

Make sure you have the equipment needed to start prepping. You may not need to prep all meals but some will definitely be helpful. 

Freezer bags or containers are useful for storing your meals, sauces, soups etc. Make sure they are sealed well so there are no leakages.

Label and store

Remember to label what they are along with a date. Typically most foods will store well for up to 3 months in the freezer.

Ready to go – once everything is organised you can relax knowing you have some meals ready to go for the week. 

How to meal prep for picky eaters

These steps are key to giving your fussy eater a chance to be involved with food before it goes anywhere near the plate. These are my tried and tested foolproof ways to meal prep for a picky eater. 

  1. Let them be involved in the planning and make suggestions for what they like. Although you will want to include a range of different foods to meet their dietary needs, throwing in a couple of family favourites each week makes life less stressful.
  1. Introduce a new food each week. For example, try a new vegetable or other ingredient they like the look of from a magazine or cookery book. 
  1. Offer a new food alongside a safe or familiar food so they have at least something you know they will eat. 
  1. Use familiar ingredients in new ways – for example if you only offer cooked carrot, try grated raw carrot. Think of different ways you can change the shape, texture or cooking method.
  1. Blend old and new – Use less familiar ingredients alongside their favourite dip or sauce. So if they love pesto add a new vegetable to coat it in. 
  1. Make it fun – let them do some fun stuff in the kitchen like chopping into fun shapes or using a fun tool. 
A flower shaped cutter cutting through a slice of courgette on a wooden. board
  1. Buffet style servings to mix and match different foods together giving your fussy eater some autonomy of what they want to eat. For example DIY or build your own type meals often go down well in our house. So meal prep the separate parts of the meal like chopping some raw veggies, cooking some rice and then let them combine them how they want. 

What are some tips for meal prepping to save time and money

  • Having a meal plan is an essential part of meal prepping so you know exactly what you need to prep for and when, saving you time thinking about what to make and prepare each day. 
  • Shop from a shopping list and stick to it rather than just second guessing what you need. I can guarantee that you will save money this way.
  • Batch cook more complex meals to save time. Although it takes time initially you will save on some cooking costs and time from doing it all in one go.
  • Use frozen pre chopped vegetables as the hard work is done for you. Simply throw some into the meal or use as a side. 
  • Only make what you need so there is less wastage and it saves you money. 

What are some creative and healthy ways to prepare vegetables for picky eaters

My biggest tip is to make vegetables look appealing. So preparing them in different ways can make all the difference as to whether they try them or not. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use lots of colour, whether this is from the variety of colourful vegetables or adding some colour from pick sticks, other utensils or plates.
  • Different shapes – get creative with preparing vegetables in different shapes. Use crinkle cutters or cookie cutters to create these.
  • Think textures – whether raw or cooked, grated, strips or cubes. All these textures will feel slightly different in the mouth and one type may be preferred over another so experiment to see what works. 

If you want more ideas then here I share 19 creative and delicious ways to expose vegetables that are guaranteed to make even the most reluctant eaters fall in love. 

What are some tips for picky eaters when it comes to trying new foods

Using some of the creative ways above will help them to try new foods. However the biggest challenge can be managing resistance to try new foods in the first place. 

Putting pressure on them to try new foods often backfires. Instead offer reasonable choices like would you like broccoli or carrots with your dinner? This gives them some autonomy and choice over the meal. 

Sensory or texture issues are also common problems. Experiment with different cooking methods to make the texture different and see if they prefer one to another. 

For further ways to support your fussy eater learn more about the 6 steps to eating healthy nutritious meals and ways to make it fun. 

Meal planning for picky eaters

Meal planning does take some time and thinking of ideas can often be the hardest part. To help you on your way I have come up with some picky eater meal ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Breakfast Weekly Meal Plan Ideas for Picky Eaters

Breakfast weekly meal plan ideas for picky eaters including 7 pictures (overnight oats, frittata, toast, egg & spinach wrap, granola, smoothie and pancakes)

Monday – Overnight oats. Simply soak some porridge oats in milk overnight and then top with some seeds and chopped fruit. These can also be made in batches which keep for up to 3 days. 

Tuesday – frittata with egg, tomatoes & peas, made in advance and frozen in portions.

Wednesday – peanut butter on toast with banana

Thursday – egg and spinach wraps

Friday – granola with yoghurt & nuts

Saturday -fruit smoothie with a base of banana and yoghurt and then add the fruit of your choice such as kiwi and mango or soft fruits like raspberries. 

Sunday – mini pancakes, which can be made in advance and frozen. Simply defroze when needed and top with fruits.

Weekly Picky Eater Meal Plan: Lunch and Dinner

Lunch for picky eaters can be challenging when you are pushed for time. These ideas I have created can be used for either lunch or dinner depending how much time you have. 

Things to keep in mind when planning these, If your child is young and gets quite tired in an evening it may be better to keep the dinner meals to the simpler ones and ensure they have a bigger meal at lunch time.

These ideas are easily customisable by changing some of the ingredients to suit your fussy eater and dietary needs. For example toppings, salads etc. I have arranged these ideas into three groups. 

Make ahead meals – batch cooked 

  • Mince and kidney bean tacos

Prep some minced beef with a chopped onion, garlic, tin of tomatoes, tomato puree and kidney beans and cook for about 30 mins until a thick sauce. Once cooled, freeze, refrigerate or serve straight away with some taco shells or tortillas. 

  • Red lentil soup – this can be batch cooked and stored in the fridge or freezer.
  • Chicken rice noodle & sweetcorn soup – use some ready roasted chicken strips or leftover chicken with some rice noodles cooked in some chicken stock along with some vegetables like sweetcorn. This can be cooled and frozen too.

Quick and customisable/ DIY type meals

  • Pitta pizza – Use pitta bread or wraps as a base to add tomato puree or some passata, mozzarella and other choice of toppings. 
  • Jacket potato with baked beans, tuna and cheese – Jacket potatoes can be easily cooked in the microwave and oven to finish them off before adding your choice of toppings. You can cook jacket potatoes in the oven before you need them, such as when the oven is on and reheated. 
  • Rice bowl with tofu or halloumi – Steam some rice and prep the other ingredients such as some raw veggies and tofu into pieces and serve into a bowl. Slices of carrot, pepper and mange tout work well.          
  • Omelette with help yourself toppings – Make a basic omelette and top with your favourite toppings include; spinach, cheese, mushrooms, ham, tomatoes and cooked chicken. 
  • Hulk green pasta -You can separate out the ingredients with the pasta instead of blending them so that they appeal to your fussy eater. For example you can have chopped avocado with grated cheese and pasta. 
hulk green pasta tubes on a pasta plate

One tray/pan – easy, that require minimal meal prep

  • All in one tray bake – use salmon or other fish, new potatoes, roast vegetables such as tomatoes, chopped courgettes and onions.
  • Oven baked risotto – Make a basic risotto, cook in the oven or hob and add some ingredients of your choice such as tomato and cheese, mushroom and ham, salmon and asparagus or peas and ham.
  • Breaded chicken burgers with salad – simply coat some chicken strips in egg and then breadcrumbs before baking in the oven. Serve in a bread bun alongside a salad of your choice. 

The Best Recipes for Picky Eaters

If you like the above ideas and want some more healthy meals and recipes for the whole family then I have created 21 nutritious meal ideas for fussy eaters.

Our GoTo Meal Plan Template 

Now you have some meal plan ideas and recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, use this meal planning made easy template to write down your meals. It shows you how to create a meal plan in 10 easy steps along with creating calm and happy mealtimes.

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MEET THE AUTHOR
Author Penelope Henderson

Hi I’m Penelope Henderson RNutr Registered Nutritionist specialising in children’s nutrition and responsive feeding therapy.

I am a mum of 2, with over 15 years of experience in nutrition. I support parents to feel confident in how and what to feed their child. I hope you find my recipes and nutrition posts useful, so you can enjoy stress free cooking and mealtimes.

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