Feeding toddlers can evoke fear in strongest of moms and dads, but coming up with toddler food ideas doesn’t need to be a nightmare. You don’t have to make everyone in the family a different meal, either. Leading nutrition and pediatric feeding experts all agree that short-order cooking be reserved for restaurants, not for the family table.
Let’s explore meals that are tasty enough for the whole family!
Start the Day With a Good Breakfast
Keep breakfast simple, but nourishing enough so you don’t have a “hangry” toddler on your hands two hours later. It may seem easier to pour a bowl of cereal, but a protein-focused breakfast will get things off on the right foot.
- Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal. Use whole milk.
- Cheesy Egg Puffs. These egg muffins can be made with whatever vegetable you have on hand. Little hands love something to hold and eat, so egg muffins are a great alternative to scrambled eggs.
- Morning Glory Pancakes. Toddlers love pancakes. You can take your favorite pancake recipe and blend in cottage cheese or nut butter to give these traditionally starchy favorites a healthful boost. If you add in nuts, be sure they are finely chopped, as whole nuts are a choking hazard.
- Green Breakfast Smoothie. If you find yourself on the go in the morning, consider some blended options like this smoothie.
- Lemon Chia Seed Parfaits. Stirring in chia seeds adds in a healthy dose of fiber and omega-3 fats, which are important for toddlers.
Pack a Healthy Lunch
No need to take a class on the art of bento boxes, I promise! Yes—fun shapes, textures and color can help with picky eaters, but you don’t always have to resort to those efforts. Let’s instead focus on toddler food ideas that fit in a lunch box. You can pick and choose as you see fit.
Build a better lunch box with 2-3 fruits and/or vegetables + a protein + healthy fats + complex carbohydrates.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Julienned bell peppers (any colors)
- Steamed broccoli florets
- Grated carrots
- Quartered or halved berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or cherries—remove pits)
- Banana fingers (sliced lengthwise and rolled in crushed cereals or almond meal if too slippery)
- Mango bites (be sure it is very ripe and in small bites or fingers)
- Watermelon fingers
- Steamed green beans
- Cucumber spears
- Roasted sweet potatoes (spears or fry-shaped)
- Vegetable soup
- Applesauce or vegetable/fruit pouches
- Bean fritters (like these chickpea fritters—without the spicy sauce)
- Bean dips (like this hummus recipe or this garbanzo bean spread)
- Cottage cheese
- Cheese sticks
- Chicken salad
- Tuna salad
- Ground meat
- Lentil soup
- Peanut butter toast (thinly smeared on bread)
- Avocado spears
- Whole fat yogurt
- Nut butters (thinly smeared on foods)
- Whole fat cottage cheese
- Cheese sticks
- Cooked whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, couscous, bulgur or millet)
- Mashed or roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes or squash
- Whole grain tortillas (quesadillas or mini soft tacos)
- Whole grain English muffins
- Beans (lentils, kidney, pinto, black beans, soy beans or cannellini)
- Breakfast cookies
Bonus: Lots of these lunch components can make great snacks for bringing along to a playdate. Here are even more ideas to help your wee one’s social hours go smoothly.
Serve a Balanced Dinner
Here are 10 meal ideas that fit the whole family. As a standard side dish, and something to prep in advance (for early snacking), cut up raw fruit and vegetables to balance out the plates at dinner. Our family favorites include halved grapes, baby cucumbers and halved cherry tomatoes.
- Grilled Steak. Serve steak in bite-sized pieces based on toddler’s chewing skill, plus grilled corn on the cob and grilled sweet potato wedges.
- Veggie Macaroni and Cheese. Load the pasta with vegetables and serve with crispy chicken tenders for protein.
- Mom’s Swedish Meatballs with Snappy Green Beans.
- Hot Dog Roll-Ups with Roasted Carrot Fries and Dill and Chive Peas. Slice the hot dog lengthwise for toddlers and then into bite sized pieces.
- Parmesan Fish Sticks with Mini Mac and Cheese Bites and steamed broccoli.
- Tacos. Note that crunchy taco shells or chips are not appropriate for small children due to choking risks, so serve toddlers a “deconstructed” taco—soft tortilla, ground meat, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes and avocado.
- Sloppy Joe Pasta served with sautéed spinach.
- Make Over Lil’ Cheddar Meat Loaves served with mashed cauliflower.
- Chicken Pot Pie served with sautéed green beans.
- Lunch Box Pizzas served with Sautéed Orange-Glazed Carrots and Oven-Roasted Asparagus.
Quick Tips to Remember
Keep food safety in mind—educate yourself on choking risks—and carefully prep foods that pose a greater choking risk in young children, such as grapes, nuts and marshmallows.
Toddlers need regular, positive exposures to food. Try not to assume that they dislike a food when they’ve only just been introduced to it for the first time. Give them time, stay positive and keep introducing new foods regularly!