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Feeding toddlers can be a rightfully daunting task. You want to make sure you give them a balanced diet with good nutrition, but that can definitely be easier said than done. This is especially the case since toddlers tend to be picky. If you (and your spouse) are not a stay-at-home parent, it can be even more challenging.
My wife and I both work full time and we often lament prepping meals. I should really restate the last sentence to say that we lament thinking about prepping meals. We often talk about how actually prepping the meals is easy, but it’s the brainpower that goes into coming up with what to prep that is so difficult and tiring.
With my wife and I both working full time, it’s hectic mornings to get our 4 and 1 year olds fed and lunched packed for school and day care. When we get home, it’s equally hectic to get dinner ready. Given these scenarios, here is my guide to quick and healthy meals and food for toddlers.
General Guidelines for Feeding Toddlers
Regardless of all the different food and meal ideas you read about, feeding your toddler is never going to be 100% smooth sailing. The idea is to have a variety of healthy food and meal ideas that don’t require a lot of time to make. You can then try different combinations and variations until you find a solid number of staples you can rotate between.
With this said, here are three tangible tips that might make a difference in being more successful feeding your toddler from my own personal experience. I say tangible because you can actually try these. I often can’t stand the philosophical tips like, “be patient”, “be realistic”, “don’t give up”. We’re having trouble doing those because we need tangible tips!
Tangible Tip #1 – Cut foods into bite-size pieces
Toddlers (and even adults) tend do better when they can see their progress. Instead of a large piece of chicken that may immediately seem too much to them, bite size pieces allow them to see something more doable. For example, cutting something into 10-15 pieces allows toddlers to see their progress towards a goal. It often gets them to practice their counting too 🙂
Tangible Tip #2 – Use divided plates
I’m a fan of divided plates and lunch boxes as I personally find them to help with better eating, especially with our older son who is almost five years old at the time of writing. He’s always been a good eater, but I still feel it helps him see clearer what we expect him to eat versus the food all on a traditional plate. While we’ve never used divided plates with pictures of the food groups, there is a study showing preschoolers eat more vegetables using such plates. There’s even a construction-themed plate with construction vehicle utensils. I’m not necessarily a believer in making meal time “fun” to get kids to eat, so we never got one, but the plate does look fun and my son would love it. And on a side note, if you need to keep something cold in your kid’s lunch, these owl ice packs are nice and thin and quite cute.
Tangible Tip #3 – Consider Temperature
We really noticed this with our second son. He was just pickier with the temperature of foods. Even a food he generally ate he often wouldn’t if it was cold. So, we started to try and have foods at room temperature or slightly warmed up. Maybe your child is particular about temperature too.
Proteins, Fruits, and Vegetables for Toddlers
The general guideline we follow particularly for lunch and dinner is to prepare meals consisting of proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
– Grilled Chicken
– Turkey Meatballs
– Soft Taco or Quesadilla with Ground Beef or Turkey – Add beans, cheese, tomatoes, etc. for additional protein and other nutritional value.
– Tofu – My son loves just plain tofu, but baked tofu is pretty easy to make as well.
– Grilled Cheese
– Turkey or Ham and Cheese Sandwich – Meats from the deli are generally better than the prepackaged ones.
– Peanut Butter and Jelly – Get natural peanut butter and non-high fructose corn syrup jelly.
– Quinoa or Couscous
– High Protein Muffins/Waffles/Pancakes – There are many high protein mixes you can find such as Kodiak Cakes. You can also add in some of your toddler’s favorite fruit.
Less Healthier Proteins
Let’s be real. Sometimes we just need to throw something together even if it’s not the healthiest. There’s no need to feel guilty if you have to do this once in a while. We all need to take the more convenient route sometimes to preserve our sanity. Plus, the items below also aren’t terribly unhealthy especially if you make a point to get healthier kinds. To be honest, I’m not even sure if these are less healthy than some of the proteins above.
– Mac and Cheese – I recommend Annie’s brand.
– Chicken Nuggets/Tenders – Get healthier kinds like the Perdue SimplySmart ones.
– Fish Sticks – Get ones that are all fish with no fillers.
– Hotdogs – Get all beef or turkey dogs and you’ll want to cut them length-wise to prevent choking.
– Grapes – Cut them to prevent a choking hazard. It’s definitely worth getting a grape slicer.
– Apple Slices – Like with grapes, an apple slicer is worth it.
– Blueberries – Frozen ones are great too, especially on hot days.
– Fruit Cups – We like mandarins, peaches, and pears. Definitely get the ones in 100% juice and not syrup. Fruit is naturally sweet enough.
– Fruit Smoothie – Smoothie’s are yummy and quick to make. Get a good blender, which doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s also a good idea to use frozen fruit as it keeps and is much more cost effective versus fresh fruit. If you add yogurt, just use plain as flavored yogurts often have a lot of sugar. As I said above, fruit is naturally sweet enough.
– Frozen Peas and Other Frozen Vegetables – I mention frozen partly because my son has always loved peas frozen. Peas have the added bonus of being high in protein too. Frozen vegetables in general though are conveniently quick and easy to steam or boil. Many frozen vegetables even come in ready-to-steam bags. Plus, frozen vegetables are more nutritious than canned. Our go-to vegetables are peas, carrots, green beans, broccoli florets, and lima beans.
– Sweet Potato Fries – These are easy to make and delicious. Cut them, brush on olive oil, sprinkle on some cinnamon, then bake.
– Roasted Vegetables (asparagus, squash, zucchini) – Similar to sweet potato fries, a little olive oil with some salt and pepper and an oven is all you need.
– SimplyNature Veggie Bites – I believe only Aldi carries this brand. They have cute shapes, are non-GMO, and contain simple ingredients. They come in three kinds: spinach and kale, broccoli, and sweet potato. Green Giant does have a similar Veggie Tots product.
Admittedly, breakfast is the least formal of our kids’ meals. We simply don’t have much time between when our kids wake up and when we have to be out the door. Still, there are plenty of quick options that allow us to make sure they get healthy foods to begin their day.
– Oatmeal – Look for high protein ones with less sugar. Consider adding in fruit such as berries, bananas, peaches, etc.
– Yogurt – It’s great by itself, but once again, fruit can be added. There are many unhealthy yogurts out there, so don’t assume all yogurt is good for you.
– Smoothie – See my notes in the fruit section.
– Frozen Waffles – It’s very convenient to just pop them in the toaster. There are plenty of healthy ones out there including ones with high protein.
– Hard Boiled Eggs – You can make a bunch and they’ll keep for about a week in the refrigerator.
– Healthy Granola Bars – It’s pretty overwhelming the plethora of granola bars out there. So many of them are simply not healthy. Just do a little online research and you can find some good tasting and healthy ones.
– Toast with Spread – A nutritious bread toasted along with a good spread is simple enough.
Share Your Thoughts
I hope you found some of the information in this post helpful. Feeding our toddlers has truly been one of the biggest challenges for my wife and me. We feel like through a lot of effort and trail and error, we’ve gotten to a pretty good place with it. If you have any suggestions or comments, please feel free to share via the comments below. Thank you!