‘Gateway’ foods entice finicky eaters

I'm a foodie, and the mother of two picky eaters. Not the best combination. I grew up eating everything my parents ever fed me (and, for the most part, liking it), so my kids' finicky tastes still surprise and frustrate me. Cajoling, threatening, dousing with cheese/ketchup/butter hasn't worked. We're in this for the long haul.

I've had a small measure of success with what I call "gateway" foods. If I can find a food they like, I try to serve them something slightly different, but in the same category, soon thereafter. I also draw as many creative parallels as I can between this slightly different something to the already-approved gateway food.

For example, my kids like french fries. All potatoes are now compared to lovely, delicious, non-threatening french fries. French fries lead to hash browns, which lead to potato latkes…

Here are some more gateway foods I've discovered:

• Hot cereal: cream of wheat
• Condiments: ketchup
• Beans: edamame (shelled soybeans, available frozen)
• Green vegies: broccoli, artichokes
• Orange vegies: pumpkin (pumpkin pie and jack o'lanterns helped here)

I'm always looking for inspiration — which "approved" foods have nudged your kids further along the culinary path?

Related: Let new eaters sample foods from the salad bar


  1. says

    I started Girl Scouts when I was about 5. I used to not eat corn or anything like that. My dad made spaghetti shortly after our first camping trip was scheduled. He explained that you do “one pot spaghetti” when you camp, because you don’t have a dishwasher. One pot spaghetti means you mix in your veggies (corns and green beans work best). I’m still not really fond of corn, but I started eating green beans and peas (not mixed with spaghetti) because of this.

    Ranch dressing is also a great gateway food. My mom used it to get us to eat carrots, celery, salads, lasagna, etc. I had several friends in college who used it on chicken, pizza, french fries, scrambled eggs.. pretty much anything you could buy at the student union. Mayo also seems to fall into this class. (And yes, we were some picky eaters.)

  2. Jill says

    I’ve found that between ketchup, Ranch dressing and cinnamon sugar, I can get many of the borderline foods to get consumed. At the holidays we sprinkled colored sugars on a few items just for fun. I’ll up the ante to ice cream sprinkles if I have to some day!

  3. Kat says

    My 6yo will only eat vegetables if they’re either raw (crisp green beans, carrots, celery w/ peanut butter & raisins), or in soup. He’s a soupoholic and will eat just about anything that can be surrounded in broth, thinly pureéd, or made into chili. Cooked vegetables on a plate next to a main course? He won’t touch those.

  4. momofboys says

    One way to get my kids to eat ANYTHING is to buy the 99 Cent Bottle of colored sprinkles, we put it on the table with Salt and Pepper. We just let them put a little across the top of their foods. We have a rule that they must use their utensils, as they go to eat the sprinkles, they can’t help but get the nutritious meal beneath.
    Also, a way we have found our children trying new foods, is finding meals they make themselves at the table. Like Tacos or Lettuce Wraps, where they get to build what they like. My son trys new foods that he wouldn’t usually try, had it not been for his creative streak. (We also love egg salad sandwiches with veggies that they get to use to create faces. Tomatos for the nose, sprouts for the hair, again, can’t you just feel the creative juices flowing?)

  5. Wendy says

    I have discovered that you can put almost anything in a hoagie bun topped with cheese and kids will gladly eat it. Add some spinach and scallions in meatballs, boil them until they float, drain, add some spaghetti sauce, throw them on a hoagie, and add cheese before baking in the oven a few minutes! Use turkey ground if you like. Good luck!

  6. says

    Another friend with a 6 and 9 year old swears by making food fun to eat. Over the years, she’s bought a bunch of cookie cutters and other cutting tools at sales and then uses them to make the food into fun shapes and faces and such. She said that her kids hated turkey slices until she stumbled onto this trick in desperation. She used a star cookie cutter to cut out a star of meat and then added stars of cheese and stars of bread into a funky sandwich. Her kids couldn’t get enough.

    Now, she picks up books on making food fun for kids and clips articles and makes food into faces and animals and shapes (oh my!). Lunch boxes that used to come home half empty and now always completely bare.

    She said it was a lot of work at first, but that the simple stuff still works great.

  7. says

    This is similar to foodchaining, a concept becoming quite popular and the subject of a book coming out soon.

  8. zgma says

    I’m all over the cool shapes. I got my son to try cucumber by cutting cucumber stars. It’s not for every day, but it opens the door.

    Also – cream cheese or peanut butter on anything.

    And pureeing cooked veggies with broth, then cooking them a little longer with cheese until the cheese melts, or with coconut and cilantro, makes a soup that my finicky son will gobble up.

    Also, I have a trick. Here it is: Item number one is something he will gobble up, like plain pasta or macaroni and cheese. I put a small portion of item #1 on the plate. Item number two is some veggie or sauce with veggies in it. I put the amount of item #2 on the plate that I would like to see him eat. When he asks for seconds on item #1, he knows now that he needs to eat all of item #2 “so that we don’t waste any food.” After that, he can have as much of item #1 as he wants, and more of item #2 if he wants it. I get the veggies into him, and I’ve gotten him to actually try, and to discover that he likes, quite a few good veggies this way.

  9. kat says

    Garlic. My girls will eat just about anything that has garlic on it. Ranch dressing works pretty well too. And then there’s SAW-SAW (Salsa)…it makes just about everything better!

    My girls love spicy stuff. Bland and/or overcooked foods are passed over.