Picky eaters tend to eat the same things for every meal…and healthy meals for picky eaters don’t always go hand-in-had.
In my 25+ years of clinical and personal experience with picky eating, I’ve seen it all! Like these picky eater stories…
- The kindergartener who only ate 4 types cereal. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, he ate Honey Nut Cheerios as the main dish, Fruity Pebbles and Cap’n Crunch as the sides and Lucky Charms as the dessert.
- The 2 year-old who only ate chicken nuggets, French fries, and Goldfish crackers. Nothing else.
- The patient with mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) on a low histamine, low oxalate diet who only ate two daily, including steamed veggies and chicken thighs or a turkey burger
- The woman with chronic constipation who only ate winter squash with sea salt and olive oil
- The 17 year old teen boy who only ate bread, pizza, noodles and potato chips
- The college girl with a history of anorexia who lived on Lean Cuisine frozen dinners and protein bars
- The 56 year old, the 29 year old and the 7 year old who would not touch a vegetables
“Healthy meals” did not exist for these picky eaters.
Why Picky Eaters are Picky
Picky eating goes far beyond just deciding to be a picky eater.
There are many “root” causes behind picky eating.
Raised as a Picky Eater
Some picky eaters were raised that way—eating a steady diet of processed foods or the same 5 to 10 foods they prefer to this day, without thinking twice about it.
Trying to Meet the Human Need for Control
All humans have an innate need for control. It’s the reason why we freak out when the plane encounters turbulence in the air, or why we don’t like being told what to do by others. The desire for healthy control is not a bad thing. However, some picky eaters may develop picky eating preferences as a means of control in their lives (when their external or internal environment else seems out of control—such as coping with their parents’ divorce or a health condition they have).
Some turn to picky eating for stress reduction—if life feels chaotic, there’s nothing like the usual turkey and cheese, the usual salad with fat free dressing or the usual Bagel Bites for a sense of peace and calm.
Desiring Validation, Love and Connection
Others subconsciously use picky eating as a lifeline for validation (attention) or love—especially young kids. If mom or dad bend over backwards to make Little Johnny’s Mac and cheese or hotdog, instead of the family meal, obviously love is there. Adult picky eaters may also find a sense of love and connection through their picky eating diet community—vegan, keto, clean eating or carnivore die hards unite! The need for love and connection trumps the elimination of entire food groups. And individuals who wrestle with disordered eating and eating disorders may turn to picky eating (dieting, restriction) as a means to find worth and validation (from themselves and others).
Picky eating can develop from chronic illness and “therapeutic” elimination diets prescribed for a variety of conditions—autoimmunity, SIBO, leaky gut, thyroid disorders, hormone imbalances, food allergies and more. Studies show that people with food allergies are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop disordered eating, due to the extreme focus on their food sensitivities. ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder) is actually a common eating disorder I see in clinical practice when an individual is fearful of eating certain foods that make them feel poorly (ie. Gas, bloating, constipation, hives, acne, etc.).
An Imbalanced Gut Microbiome
Regardless of the drivers behind your picky eating, all picky eaters share one common theme: Picky eaters have dysbiosis—an imbalanced gut microbiome.
Multiple studies show that picky eaters have an entirely different gut bacteria landscape than healthy, varied eaters. Without plenty of diverse, healthy gut bugs inside, picky eaters naturally crave foods that the select handfuls of (imbalanced) gut bugs in their gut bugs crave—chicken nuggets, pizza and Lucky Charms included.
Gut dysboisis is the reason why “super tasters” hate Brussels sprouts and broccoli, why sugar is addicting, why some people don’t have an “appetite” for protein, and why others cannot tolerate veggies without feeling bloated or brain fog.
Further complicating things, an unhealthy and imbalanced gut can be both a cause and an effect from picky eating—meaning, dysboisis “sets the stage” for picky eating
45 Easy Healthy Meals for Picky Eaters (Nutritionist & Occupational Therapist Approved!)
Although “healthy meals for picky eaters” may seem like an oxymoron, these 31 easy, nutritionist-approved healthy meals for picky eaters—45 breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks that mimic “fan favorite” staples in your diet already.
Healthy Breakfast for Picky Eaters
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(1.) Paleo Frozen Waffles. Make it complete with sliced bananas, vanilla ghee, sugar free syrup, and organic chicken sausage links.
(2.) Gluten-free Oatmeal with splash of coconut milk, berries, scoop of vanilla paleo protein powder, pecan butter
(3.) Breakfast Sandwich: Coconut flour English Muffin with scrambled pastured eggs, pasture raised farmer’s market bacon, orange slices
(4.) Chocolate Shake: Unsweetened almond milk, chocolate protein powder, blueberries, ice, spoonful unsweetened nutbutter
(5.) Breakfast Tacos: Coconut flour tortilla, scrambled pastured eggs or ground turkey sausage, guacamole or paleo Ranch dressing
(6.) Toast: Coconut flour bread or almond flour bread slice with ghee, homemade berry “jam”, scrambled eggs or turkey sausage on the side
(7.) Cereal: Wildway grain-free granola or homemade Cinnamon Toast Crunch, plain coconut yogurt, strawberries, scoop of collagen peptides
(8.) Blueberry, Banana Nut or Pumpkin Muffins with a hardboiled egg or turkey bacon
(9.) Green Monster Smoothie: Coconut milk, vanilla paleo protein powder, spinach, kale, banana, avocado, ice, Manuka honey
Healthy Lunches for Picky Eaters
May your charcuterie boards be merry + bright! 🧀🍇🎄✨
📸: @rachaelsgoodeats pic.twitter.com/IZFdJCYlmI
— Simple Mills (@SimpleMills) December 23, 2020
(1.) Grown Up “Lunchable”: Organic ham, roast beef and/or turkey rollups, “cheddar” crackers, grapes, fermented cucumber pickle, dark chocolate “Reese’s”
(2.) Turkey and grass-fed cheddar cheese on almond flour bread, side of carrots and paleo Ranch dressing, apple slices
(3.) “PB & J”: Pecan butter and sliced bananas or berries on homemade coconut flour bread, ham or turkey bacon wrapped asparagus
(4.) Bagel Sandwich: Paleo bagel (Pagel) with organic deli meat or chicken, roasted zucchini “chips”
(5.) Chicken Legs: Roasted chicken leg or thigh, roasted veggies (carrots, bell pepper, cauliflower, broccoli) in grass-fed butter and sea salt
(6.) Chicken, Egg or Tuna Salad with avocado mayo in romaine lettuce wrap, piece of fruit, seaweed sheets, cucumbers
(7.) Stuffed Sweet Potato: Sweet potato, ground turkey, coconut butter or cheddar cheese (melted), pastured bacon bits, broccoli
(8.) Meat & Rice: Chicken, salmon or shredded beef, veggie medley, cooked and cooled rice, coconut amino “soy sauce”
(9.) BLT: Pasture raised bacon + chicken + tomatoes wrapped in lettuce, celery and carrot sticks with Ranch dressing, berries
(10.) Dinner Leftovers (anything!)
Healthy Dinners for Picky Eaters
(1.) Chic-Fil-A Chicken Nuggets with honey mustard, roasted carrot fries and steamed broccoli with “cheesy” grass-fed butter
(2.) Turkey Burger Patty with sugar-free ketchup, sweet potato fries and green beans
(3.) Meat Loaf with cauliflower mash and sautéed spinach
(4.) Spaghetti Squash Pizza Casserole
(5.) Taco Meat in lettuce wrap, guacamole, roasted summer squash, roasted carrot fries
(6.) Coconut Flour Crust Pizza with chicken, pineapple, grass-fed cheddar, arugula and spinach
(8.) Mac & Cheese with shredded chicken, ground beef or turkey
(9.) Beef & Broccoli
(10.) Shredded Pork with coleslaw and sweet potato chips
Healthy Snacks for Picky Eaters
- Deli Meat Rollups
- Plantain Chips
- Grassfed Jerky
- “Fruit Rollups”
- Simple Mills “cheddar” crackers with turkey or ham
- Chocolate protein powder (shake up in water or almond milk)
- Veggies and Ranch dressing
- Pepperoni chips
- Avocado chocolate pudding
- Seaweed sheets,
- Chicken or tuna salad with paleo mayo
- Siete tortilla chips with guacamole
- Chicken “soup” (bone broth) with pink sea salt
- Keto Cup
- Leftover protein (chicken nuggets, turkey meatballs, burgery patty, chicken leg, etc.)
And search “healthy meals for picky eaters” to see what we are competing with!