There’s no denying that when it comes to mealtime — especially healthy mealtime — toddlers can be a tough crowd.
Whether they’re picking through a salad for just the cheese or crying that two foods on their plate accidentally touched, getting your little one to (happily) eat a square meal can present a serious challenge.
It’s no wonder many parents resort to hiding fruits and veggies in stealth packages like smoothies and muffins.
But you don’t have to work some sort of ninja magic in the kitchen just to get your toddler to eat broccoli. (In fact, we’d recommend against it, as it doesn’t teach kids that healthy foods can be enjoyable.)
Instead, better strategies include incorporating nutritious items into familiar packages, offering choice whenever possible, and of course, making food fun!
If you’re looking for meal ideas to please your junior gourmand, you’ve come to the right place. Here are 20 simple meals that are sure to please toddlers — and even adults — without making tons of work for you.
1. French toast fruit skewers
Food is always more fun when served on a stick! Next time you whip up French toast for weekend brunch, make extra for this handheld breakfast later in the week.
Grab a kid-friendly skewer, such as a drinking straw, and thread with sliced French toast and fruit pieces. If time permits, let your toddler DIY. A bit of independence goes a long way toward helping little ones eat well.
2. Banana ‘sushi’
Nope, we’re not talking about raw fish for breakfast. Instead, replicate the look of sushi by smearing banana slices in nut butter, rolling them in crushed cereal, then lining the pieces up in a “roll.” You can even let your child try their hand at eating breakfast with chopsticks.
3. Fruit and yogurt parfait
Not only is this one pretty to look at, but it’s healthy, too! Fresh or frozen berries are an easy go-to base for a layered parfait that can also include yogurt, cereal, or granola.
Give your big kid toddler the say-so on how they’d like their layers: Yogurt first? Two layers of strawberries? A drizzle of honey on top? You got it, kiddo!
4. PB&J waffles
If PB&J works for lunch, why not try it for breakfast? Health-ify this classic combo by choosing a lower-sugar jelly — or make your own no-sugar-added fruit compote from frozen berries — and serving on whole wheat or multigrain toaster waffles.
The plant-based protein in peanut butter (
5. Toad in the hole toast
Another great source of protein? The
Use a shaped cookie cutter, like a heart or star, to cut a hole in a piece of bread, then cook in a skillet with an egg cracked in the hole. For extra fiber and nutrients, use whole wheat bread and serve with a side of fruit.
6. Egg muffins
Your muffin tin isn’t just for muffins. It’s also the perfect vehicle for toddler-friendly mini frittatas!
For 10 egg muffins, whisk together 8 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, and your choice of cut up veggies like broccoli, bell peppers, or tomatoes. Pour into muffin wells and bake at 375°F (191°C) for 15 to 20 minutes.
7. Veggie pizza
Working healthy foods into familiar, well-liked dishes is a tactical move for every toddler parent — and what kid doesn’t like pizza? Start with an English muffin or mini naan and add marinara, shredded veggies, and mozzarella. Bake at 400°F (204°C) degrees for about 10 minutes.
8. Chickpea salad wraps
While a wrap of mashed chickpeas, mayo, and fresh dill may not be on traditional kids’ menus, its texture is reminiscent of tuna, without the strong flavor. Your kiddo just may wolf down this lunch rich in fiber, protein, folate, and iron.
9. DIY ‘lunchable’
Prepackaged kid lunches are certainly convenient, but they’re often loaded with sodium and additives. Let your toddler enjoy the freedom of making their own (healthier) mix-and-match lunch by providing a spread of:
- deli slices
- carrot sticks
Got a plate with built-in dividers? Even better.
10. Refried bean quesadillas
If you’ve lamented that your kid only likes bread and cheese on repeat in various forms, we feel you. And while a refried bean-and-cheese quesadilla is technically another iteration of the bread and cheese theme — upping its toddler approval factor — it also packs plenty of fiber and protein.
11. Tomato soup with toast dippers
As soups go, tomato is one of the quickest to whip up from scratch and fill with extra veggies. But for the sake of time, you can always choose a lower-sodium prepared kind.
Either way, your kiddo will get loads of lycopene, the powerful antioxidant in tomatoes. Pair with whole wheat toast sliced into “dippers” for your little one’s dipping pleasure.
12. Veggie mac and cheese
Plenty of recipes have you go through the rigmarole of concealing butternut squash or other veggies in mac and cheese, but bright pops of color from carrots or peas actually can create visual appeal for kids.
Grab a bag of frozen veggies and stir them into a finished mac and cheese while still on the stovetop.
13. Taco bar
Everyone likes assembling their own perfect dinner from a spread of options — especially young kids (and especially when it comes to tacos).
Taco Tuesday can be a family affair when you let toddlers build their own Mexican meal. Just be sure to provide healthy toppings like diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, beans, and avocado.
14. Veggie fried rice
If you’ve got cooked rice on hand, you’re well on your way to an easy toddler-friendly dinner. Fried rice is endlessly customizable for adding vegetables and protein to your child’s diet.
In a skillet or wok, cook prepared rice with frozen mixed vegetables (or veggies of your choice). Crack in an egg or two and scramble, then dress lightly with soy sauce and sesame oil.
15. Sausage, apple, and zucchini skewers
Remember what we said about food on a stick? This fun serving method bears repeating at dinnertime. Thread slices of kielbasa, apple, and zucchini on bamboo skewers (with flat tops for safety), brush with honey mustard dressing, and broil until lightly browned.
16. Healthier chicken fingers
If you had to rank definitive toddler foods, we’re pretty sure chicken nuggets would top the list.
Please grown-ups and kids alike with a more sophisticated take on the freezer favorite: Dredge chicken strips in Greek yogurt, then coat with whole wheat bread crumbs. Bake at 400°F (204°C) for 7 to 10 minutes, then flip the strips and give them another 7 to 10 in the oven.
17. Peanut butter noodles
Expand your child’s pasta horizons beyond mac and cheese with this Asian-inspired noodle dish.
To cooked spaghetti, add a mixture of 3 parts peanut butter, 3 parts soy sauce, 1 part sesame oil, and 1 part rice wine vinegar. Toss in shredded carrots and bean sprouts for color and cooked tofu or chicken for protein.
18. Baked potato bar
Potatoes sometimes get a bad rap, but they’re actually a
Related: 11 recipes that will make you love broccoli
19. Kid-friendly poke bowls
Toddlers can jump on this popular foodie trend, too! Make a simple poke bowl at home using cooked rice, canned tuna, and diced cucumber and avocado. If your child is up for it, let them get adventurous by trying a dab of Sriracha on top.
20. Turkey skillet hash
Small pieces for little fingers? Check. Protein, veggie, and healthy fat? Check, check, and check.
To make this simple dinner, heat olive oil in a large skillet, then add garlic and diced onions, followed by ground turkey. Once cooked, set the turkey mixture aside and use the same skillet to cook veggies of your choice, such as bell peppers or zucchini. Season to your liking and serve (cooled) to your hungry kiddo.
- Mix, don’t hide. Hiding fruits and veggies in other foods doesn’t teach kids to enjoy these healthy items, and can lead to a sense of mistrust when your little one discovers your strategy.
- Offer choice. Dipping sauces, toppings, and other extras all build in choice — an important factor for toddler mealtime success.
- Think outside the box. Who says you can’t have breakfast for dinner (or dinner for breakfast)? Your toddler doesn’t have preconceived “rules” around food — so sometimes it’s smart to let yours go a little, too.
- Try different preparations of the same food. If your kid doesn’t like a food prepared a certain way, no need to write it off forever! Simply try another recipe or cooking method.
- Play with presentation. At this age, fun is the name of the game. So enjoy this whimsical time in your child’s life. Serve dinner on a stick, make a smiley face of blueberries on a waffle, or write their name on their plate with peas.
Related: 28 healthy snacks your kid will love
There’s no reason these healthy meals can’t feed you (and the whole family) as well as your toddler. The bonus: You can set a good example for your child by eating well right alongside them.
And if your little guy or girl turns up their nose at one dish, keep trying! By exposing them to a wide variety of foods, you’re working to broaden their palate for a lifetime of healthy eating.