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Meal prepping is one of the best life hacks to save money, save time, and eat healthy. There’s no question that it works.
But some people just can’t do it. They hate eating leftovers and they need variety. They may even have legit reasons such as allergy restrictions or just dietary goals.
If you’re trying to meal prep for yourself or a picky family member, we’ve got you covered today. Whether you, your partner, your kids or someone else is a picky eater, meal prepping can be challenging — but not impossible.
We’ll give you some of our best tips for how to meal prep for picky eaters and we’ll give you some of our best meal prep ideas for picky eaters.
Meal prepping doesn’t have to be hard when you or somebody else has specific food restrictions. Here are five helpful tips for preparing healthy, balanced meals for the pickiest eater you know.
Buffet-style meal preparation is somewhat foolproof when you have several people with varying tastes and dietary needs. Buffets allow people to decide what they want themselves.
Start with a carbohydrate base, such as noodles, rice, quinoa, polenta or potatoes. Then, prepare a protein. For example, bake chicken cutlets to cut up over salads, using gluten free breadcrumbs for restrictive diets. Check out our list of gluten free meal prep ideas if you’re trying to prep for someone who doesn’t get to enjoy life.
Slicing and dicing vegetables is often the most time-consuming part of meal prepping. Keep things simple by choosing one or two vegetables and have several condiments or dressings on hand for others to decide what topping they prefer.
This method works best for customizable creations like pasta or stir-fry bowls, taco salads and wraps.
Research shows food texture acceptance begins between 9 and 36 months old with the development of chewing mobility. No wonder it plays such an important role in meal pickiness.
Prepare foods properly for picky eaters who have texture aversion. One example might be avocados. While some people may love eating guacamole, others may prefer a sliced avocado. The same goes for Brussels sprouts, typically favored as roasted and caramelized rather than mashed.
Other examples may be to use onion or garlic powders in cooking rather than diced onion or minced garlic.
Picky eaters have a hard time opening themselves up to trying new foods — yet eating the same thing every day can get boring. Sometimes we convince ourselves we’ll hate a particular food before trying it. Other times, it’s all in the way it’s cooked and prepared.
Cauliflower is a versatile, mild-tasting vegetable people either love or hate. Florets may not be to everyone’s liking, but mashed or riced cauliflower is a carb-free alternative many are surprised to discover they enjoy.
Suppose you’re aiming for a Meatless Monday or cutting back on animal protein in general. In that case, black bean patties are a healthier, vegetarian way to add new ingredients and flavors to the typical burger familiar to picky eaters.
Meal prepping isn’t just about the meal itself. Hunger may arise throughout the day, as well. That’s why it’s essential to keep some healthy snacks on hand.
Snacks are a lot easier to prepare for picky eaters than meals, and there are hundreds of options for people to choose from.
Keep fresh fruits and vegetables in the house, such as strawberries, bananas, carrot sticks, clementines and cucumbers that are quick and easy to cut and pack in baggies. Crunchier snacks could include pretzels, mixed nuts, granola bars or seed crackers with cheese cubes.
If you decide to keep packaged snack foods around, pick low-sugar, high-fiber products like rice cakes, organic popcorn, individually portioned hummus or apple chips.
It’s common for picky eaters to change their minds at the last minute. Even if you decided on trying something new or cleared a particular recipe with your household, takeout may be in order for the unpredictable taste buds.
Prevent food waste and extra costs on groceries by prepping meals in smaller batches. You’ll have better luck finishing the week’s meals when you make fewer servings at one time. It also removes the pressure of feeling like you need to eat everything you spent hours cooking and putting together.
It may be best to plan for midweek meal prepping in these situations. It’s a bit more time-consuming, but it’s worth it.
While picky eaters are often set in their ways, it never hurts to try new foods every once in a while. Taste buds develop over time, so something you did not like as a kid might actually taste good to you later in life. You might steer clear of foods like avocados because of their consistency, but they could surprise you if you just give them a chance.
If you find a recipe that sounds good, but you’re uncertain about one ingredient, don’t be afraid to give it a try. A salad recipe might call for a type of cheese or dried fruit you’ve never tried. Before skipping it altogether, buy a small amount to add to your salad. When all the ingredients are mixed together, you might not even notice the unfamiliar flavor.
If you’re daring enough to try something new, you can pair it with something you already enjoy. Maybe you want to try a new vegetable. Serve it with your favorite chicken tenders or mix it into your go-to pasta dish.
Especially if you are trying to sneak more nutrients into your diet, mixing healthy ingredients in with comfort foods is a great way to ease into it. You could even blend up your vegetables and mix them in with marinara sauce if you really don’t want to taste them. As long as you’re getting the nutrients you need, there is no shame in making meal time easier.
Meal Prep Ideas for Picky Eaters
With these tips in mind, it’s time to get started on your meal prep journey. It’s best to start with a basic idea and build a recipe from there. Decide if you want salad, pasta, rice or another easy meal prep dish, then pick what ingredients you want to make the recipe your own. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Customizable Pasta
Pasta is a great dish to meal prep. You can cook noodles in large batches and simply separate them into individual containers to reheat each day of the week. Plus, you can switch up your sauce and toppings to keep it new week to week.
For something simple, go for marinara sauce, your preferred vegetable, and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. If you want to expand your food tastes, mixing a new ingredient in with your favorite sauce is a great way to test something out.
2. Build-Your-Own Salad
Build-your-own salad restaurants are popular for a reason. They give you all the control to pick what you want. Why not recreate this method at home? There are endless meal prep salad ideas, so all you have to do is find what ingredients you like.
This option is great for families with picky eaters. Simply buy a variety of ingredients and let every family member choose what they want. If you’re not sure where to start, try some of these toppings: cucumber, tomatoes, bell peppers, sliced almonds, orzo noodles, black beans, corn, croutons, dried fruit, and your favorite cheese. Top it off with your preferred dressing, and you’re good to go.
3. Rice Bowls
If you don’t want noodles or lettuce as your base, rice is a great alternative, and it works with a variety of cuisines. Maybe you love Mexican food. Try a burrito bowl using all the ingredients you’d normally order at a restaurant, like beans, corn, salsa and chicken.
If you prefer Asian cuisine, you can cook a large batch of stir fry, adding whatever veggies you like with soy sauce. Or go Mediterranean, with chickpeas, olives and feta cheese.
If you’re tired of salad and want to cut back on cooking, you can try a dip-based meal. Think about what dips you like to eat. That could be salsa, guacamole, spinach dip, hummus or even yogurt. Then pick a few sides to go with it.
Carrot sticks, peppers and cucumbers go great with hummus or veggie dips. You can also go with pita bread or chips. With salsa and guacamole, chips are the obvious choice, but you could also tear up tortillas to dip. For something sweeter, pick out your favorite fruits to dip in yogurt. To prepare, simply put a few spoonfuls of dip into one container and your sides in another.
If you’re new to meal prepping or are still trying to master it, you may be looking for some general information. Here are the most common questions meal preppers ask when getting started.
The general rule for meal-prepped foods is to keep them in the refrigerator for up to four days. If you’re looking to meal prep for the entire week, consider doing it in the middle of the week. You can also create freezer meals you can reheat in the oven at a moment’s notice.
Dishwasher-safe and BPA-free glass or plastic containers are the most popular containers for meal prepping. Make sure they have airtight lids to tightly seal and preserve your food. You may want to let your meals cool for about half an hour before storing them in containers.
Some vegetables are prone to faster enzymatic browning than others when cut and cooked. For meal prepping, you’ll want to use vegetables that hold up longer, such as broccoli, carrots, asparagus, cauliflower, green beans, leafy greens, eggplant, squash, onion and celery.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), you should reheat cooked food to 165 F, whether on the stovetop, oven or microwave. Use a food thermometer to ensure it’s at the correct temperature. Anything between 40 F and 140 F can increase the risk of bacterial growth.
Read more: How to reheat meal prep
Like having a morning routine or taking a multivitamin every day, cooking becomes habitual. Remember: The real motivation in meal prepping stems from wanting to eat healthier, boost your energy and save more money. Is there a better justification to get started now and stick with it?
If you’re trying to meal prep for picky eaters, put our advice into action and try to create meals that have variety. You’ll be able to change things up from meal to meal without getting bored.
If you have specific dietary restrictions, check out some of our recipe roundups:
Richmond Howard started Meal Prepify in 2019 and has helped over a million people learn how to meal prep, get better at meal planning, and create a kitchen they love to use. He’s an avid home chef and loves to bbq, grill out, and make awesome food for family and friends. He’s been featured on MSN, Renaissance Periodization, and Good Financial Cents.