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7 Recipes Even the Pickiest of Eaters Will Love—Seriously!

Want to raise a more adventurous little eater? Try these tips from some of America's top chefs.

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macandcheeseVia, Michael Harlan Turkell

Sneak new foods into their mac and cheese

Kids are more likely to widen their palate if you add a new ingredient without telling them. “I know my son, and most kids, love simple pasta dishes such as mac n’ cheese, so I will add a new protein or vegetable like duck or zucchini that I know he may not want to try otherwise,” says Aarón Sánchez, celebrity chef and guest judge on MasterChef Junior. “After he eats it, I ask if he tasted that difference.” When mixed in with one of their favorite meals, a child is more likely to give it a try and actually find that he likes it, says Sánchez. Get inspired by these homemade mac and cheese recipes.

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indianfoodVia, Debby Wolvos Photography

Spice up their foods

“Get kids acclimated to different flavors and spices by adding them to dishes that your children are already accustomed to and love is a great strategy,” says executive chef Sunil Kumar of Marigold Maison, an Indian eatery in Chicagoland and Phoenix. Chicken Pakora is a traditional Indian dish of seasoned and marinated fried chicken, and you can turn this dish into something a little more familiar: chicken nuggets. “Instead of the traditional preparation, use chickpea flour, chatt masala, and other Indian spices to introduce the traditional Indian flavors while maintaining the chicken nugget presentation that children are already used to.”

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sesameoilVia, Erin Neil

Add the “mystery ingredients” in small amounts

Jim Caiola and David Salama, proprietors the Central Park staple Tavern on the Green, have had to get creative when it comes to integrating high-end ingredients in their children’s culinary lives. “Whether it’s a vegetable or a spice, I introduce it in small amounts so that they are as imperceptible as possible.” For example, put a dash of sesame seed oil in a simple salad dressing or kid-friendly stir-fry, or try swapping chicken broth in a noodle soup with an easy-to-make miso broth (water with a bit of miso paste).

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spaetzleMaria Kovaleva/Shutterstock

Introduce very simple dishes from other cultures

Pick a recipe from another culture that mirrors the comforting elements of kid-friendly American dishes. There are a lot of good swaps in German cuisine, for example. “We love to grate cheese and add it to a breadcrumb mix for schnitzel,” says Salama. “The kids think of as a different version of Chicken Parm. Or we make our own spaetzle and dress with a bit of olive oil and salt, it tastes and feels like macaroni to the kids, but broadens their horizons.” To make spaetzle, combine two cups of flour with three lightly-beaten eggs and a cup of milk, and scoop spoonfuls of the batter into a pot of boiling water. Cook for three to four minutes, and drain it into a bowl of ice water. Drain again, toss with olive oil, and toast for a few minutes in a large skillet with butter or oil. Serve as is, or with a bit of garnish.

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fisheggsVia, Erin Neil

If all else fails, try fish eggs

Although their kids are not big fish eaters in general, David and Jim discovered that both their kids actually really like fish eggs. The fun, easy-to-eat bubbles shapes and the savory, but not-too-fishy flavor make it a great morning or afternoon toast topping for the more adventurous kid. “Tobiko is their favorite but I’ve given them salmon roe and sturgeon that they always enjoy eating. “The less expensive varieties are always their favorites,” adds Caiola.

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wafflesvia, Gabrielle Pedriani

Let them play with their food to create colorful art

For the same reason that kids will try to eat Play-Doh and crayons, they’ll also be compelled to try a new “scary” food if it appeals to their eyes, so, keep the dishes colorful and fun. “Practically, this translates into adding colorful additions to simple, healthy dishes, even if they’re seemingly a bit superfluous,” says chef Braulio Bunay of Industry Kitchen. “The more color you can incorporate, the more you’ll be able to distract them from the fact that they’re eating something new.” For example, if you’re trying to get them to eat a whole-wheat waffle, top it with strawberries, blueberries, and kiwi to make it vibrant, bright and inviting. Or, if you’re aiming to amplify a bowl of Greek yogurt, try sprinkling it with some colorful chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, suggests Bunay. When serving dips, like hummus or tahini, try placing a diverse array of brightly colored vegetables in an alluring pattern around the dips, which makes eating it more like a playful game than a task.

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salmonlollipopvia, Chef David Burke

Serve food in fun shapes

When at a garage sale, Chef David Burke came across a lollipop mold that would later inspire his famous cheesecake lollipops—and a smoked salmon pop for his kids. “I tested the waters by putting smoked salmon into the molds to encourage them to try new things,” he says. “Making them is a great rainy day project.” To make your own, roll thinly sliced smoked salmon onto a stick, then give it another roll through with cream cheese, poppy seeds, scallions and lemon zest, and you’ve got an inventive smoked salmon “pop.” Or when you want to swap almond butter for traditional peanut butter, distract them by cutting the sandwich into a fun shape with a cookie cutter.

Helaina Hovitz is an editor, journalist, and author of After 9/11

Helaina Hovitz
Helaina Hovitz is a native New Yorker, editor, journalist, and author of the memoir "After 9/11." Helaina has written for The New York Times, Forbes, Teen Vogue, Glamour, Huffington Post, Women's Health, Bustle, Prevention, Thrillist, VICE, HEALTH, Salon, SELF, the Daily Meal, and many others. Follow her on Twitter @HelainaHovitz and Facebook/HelainaNHovitz.