Tips to Make Toddler Meals Easy and Healthy
By Anna Keller, curiouser & curiouser
Life as the parent of a toddler is a busy one, and mealtime can really add to the stress of it all (not to mention be incredibly time consuming!). We all want our toddlers to eat food that’s good for them, but we also want those good-for-them toddler meals to be quick and easy for us to prepare and for them to be meals our kiddos will actually eat. (A stand-off at the dinner table over a healthy toddler meal is the last thing we want at the end of a long day.) Here’s the good news: you can have the best of both worlds. Here are a few toddler meal ideas and tips to help you check all the boxes!
Let Your Child Participate in the Prep
Now, you probably don’t want your kiddo involved in all steps of the meal prep process because that will take away from the “quick and easy” element, but think of a couple of key pieces they can be involved in. This can be broad, including planning a toddler dinner menu and then having your child help select some produce for the healthy recipe at the grocery store. You can discuss what role that food will play in their healthy toddler meal, and also talk about what some of the key nutrients are in that particular food (and how those nutrients help our bodies feel healthy and strong).
Or maybe your child’s involvement is at home, helping to stir in a particular ingredient for their healthy toddler meal or chop an ingredient to add to the meal (using a butter knife or a kid-safe knife). The more involved your child feels in preparing their healthy toddler meal, the more likely they will be to happily consume it!
Keep Things Simple
And no, “simple” doesn’t have to mean frozen chicken nuggets every night (even though we know most kids will gladly dine on nuggets any time!). What I mean by simple is don’t feel like you have to make an elaborate dinner for your child every night in order for it to be a healthy toddler meal, and you certainly don’t have to be preparing something completely separate for your toddler. Instead, consider what the rest of your family will be eating for dinner, and if that feels like something your toddler will turn their nose up at, think of what elements can be put together for them to enjoy along with the rest of you as a healthy toddler dinner. For example, if your family is having a stir fry, a toddler dinner idea could be a plate with brown rice or quinoa, some of the protein that will be in the stir fry, and some of the vegetables from the stir fry (ones you know they’ll eat). You can go light on the sauce and seasoning to keep it more of a toddler-friendly meal. Because let’s be real: no one wants to prepare two completely separate meals!
Don’t Be Afraid to Repeat Toddler Dinner Recipes, but Modify Strategically for Variety
If your toddler is loving a certain healthy food or meal, that’s something worth celebrating! You can incorporate that healthy food or healthy toddler meal often, but you can make small adjustments to those kid faves to help them eat the rainbow. Here’s an idea, for example: If your toddler loves spaghetti with tomato sauce as a toddler dinner, you can play with both the noodles and the sauce as you create healthy meals for your toddler. Sometimes you can use spaghetti squash instead of noodles, or other times you can go with a lentil-based or black bean-based noodle instead. You can also add things to the sauce, like mushrooms, spinach, carrots, freshly chopped tomatoes, and more, to incorporate lots of delicious and yet healthy elements into your toddler dinner menu. This also helps acclimate your child to food flexibility, so every meal doesn’t have to be exactly and only one certain way in order for it to be acceptable. (This will pay off in a big way, both immediately and long term!)
Incorporate Convenience Foods to Make Putting Healthy Toddler Meals Together Even Easier
Don’t feel like in order to be super mom you have to make everything from scratch in order for a toddler meal to be a healthy toddler meal. And also don’t feel like in order for a food to be healthy, it has to be created in the most time-consuming way possible. The great news for moms today is that we live in a world surrounded by convenience food that’s also healthy, so let’s take advantage of that! (Of course, not nearly all convenience food also meets the healthy criteria, so we still have to be mindful consumers, but there are so many great options right now.) Some healthy convenience foods that help healthy toddler meals and adult meals alike come together so much faster include: organic frozen brown rice, frozen cauliflower rice, healthy pizza crust, bone broth or veggie broth, thoughtfully chosen salad dressings (look for fewer ingredients and lower sugar!), ready-made salad mixes, canned fish, frozen meals/meal elements (again, be aware of the ingredients, the sodium level, etc., but there are lots of great options now!), frozen fruit and veggies, canned beans, tortillas, and more. (You can often find some good healthy convenience food options here on Zulily!)
Ask Your Child for Input on Their Toddler Dinner Menu When Appropriate
This is something you can navigate judiciously (as in, it’s not something you want to bring up right before dinner when your child is hungry and potentially grumpy or uncooperative), but let them give you feedback on which healthy toddler meals they like most, what they liked about them, etc. This will help them feel like they have a say on what kinds of foods they’re eating, which makes them feel respected and included. Of course, you’ll want to go about this in a way that makes it clear they need to be kind about their input (no “yucking someone else’s yum,” as we say at our house), but you can ask them if they prefer kale or spinach, for example, or which green veggie is their current favorite to include in their healthy toddler meal. Then you can make a point to include that food in an upcoming healthy toddler meal, showing you’ve listened to them.
Model Healthy Eating Behavior
When children see others around them eating healthy meals, they’ll be much more open to doing the same. (This is a win, too, because of course it’s better for your diet as well!) But you can go beyond just mealtimes when it comes to modeling this healthy eating behavior, and find time to have conversations with your child to talk about why healthy foods are important for our bodies, and what they do to keep them strong, to keep our brains working well, and more. Then when they see a healthy toddler meal placed in front of them at dinner, they’ll be far more likely to be excited (and knowledgeable) about how it’s going to make them feel!
(To listen to a helpful resource chat about getting kiddos involved in the healthy cooking process, you can listen to this episode of The curiouser & curiouser Podcast with the plant-based blogger behind The Colorful Kitchen and cookbook author, Ilene Moreno.)
Creator of Curiouser and Curiouser, Anna Keller blogs about parenting, pregnancy, health & wellness, fashion, and more. Her compelling content can be read by those who love brands such as Beyond Yoga and the blog Triad Moms on Main.
Anna’s priority in all that she does – whether it’s with her family and friends, through her writing, during her work as a Pure Barre teacher, or as a Beautycounter consultant – is connection. After all, from connection comes understanding, purpose, and joy.