Nothing busts your food budget quite like a picky eater.
Offending foods go uneaten and may spoil, while you spend extra time and money preparing separate meals from what the rest of the family is eating.
Fortunately for parents, picky eating isn’t uncommon—and it’s usually just a phase.
“Remember to be patient,” says Robert Nickell, the founder of Daddyscrubs.com. “Your child’s pickiness could very well be a short phase that is simple to supplement with a vitamin and protein-rich drink like Pediasure.”
Take the opportunity to get creative with your recipes and food presentation, and try each food multiple times.
Here are some tricks to entice picky eaters and make foods more kid-friendly:
Bring out the cookie cutters.
“If you’re trying to get kids to try a vegetable or new piece of protein, cut it into fun shapes,” says Chef Michael Schulson, owner of Philadelphia-area restaurants Sampan, Izakaya and The Saint James.
Foods look more tempting arranged in a design (check out Pinterest for inspiration).
Cultivate the crowd
Introduce unusual foods around other kids who already eat that food, suggests home cook Trish Sweeney.
“At friend’s houses where unique dishes are offered, seeing other kids eat it is sometimes the best encouragement for a picky eater to try something new that they just might love,” she says.
A recent example: Her son tried dried seaweed snacks because his more adventurous cousins liked them.
Get kids cooking
Experts agree: Food can seem a lot tastier if you make it yourself.
Even toddlers can be helpful in the kitchen, with the right tasks.
“Kids like to dip things, so giving them a special cup of low-fat ranch or a special sauce can often help them eat their vegetables,” says Nickell.
Play (up) favorites
Take an item your child already likes and work new ingredients into it.
To entice his son to try fish, Schulson made tacos—a family favorite—with fish in them.
“Davin wasn’t thrilled at first, but with all the same seasonings and the fun taco shells, he went for it and loved it,” he says.
Hide healthy items
Jacqueline Fisch of BarefootEssence.com says it’s easy to beef up recipes kids like with healthier fare.
Greens like kale, chard or spinach can be added to smoothies, as can flax or chia seeds. “Leafy greens are easily hidden if pureed and added to red pasta sauces,” she says.
Even deserts can hide healthy items, like chocolate pudding using avocado, or carrots in brownies.
Try new techniques
If at first you don’t succeed, try presenting a new food prepared in a different way.
For example, Catherine McCord, founder of Weelicious.com, makes kale chips. “It tastes like a potato chip—the flavor is intense, it has a nice crunch and you can add salt,” she says.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.