Toddler Meal Ideas

Are you constantly searching for toddler meal ideas? Do you struggle to find foods and recipes that your toddler will eat? 

I have an important truth bomb to drop here. If you regularly prepare a special meal or serve foods that are different from what you eat, you are setting up a future that involves preparing two different meals. 

Your picky toddler will not wake up one day and decide that he prefers the regular chicken you make over the special breaded chicken pieces you prepare for his meal. 

Right now, you can be teaching your child how to enjoy the foods YOU eat! Feeding a toddler doesn’t require special foods or recipes. If you are skeptical and sure that this approach isn’t going to work for your picky eater, read on.   

This article shows you how to create toddler friendly meals from the foods you like to prepare and eat. You will be able to end the time-consuming searching for toddler meal ideas and simplify mealtimes.

My other articles on feeding children offer even more ideas and resources to help you feed with confidence.

Building Blocks of Toddler Meals

Your active, growing toddler needs nutrient dense foods. The foods that meet his nutritional requirements are nearly identical to the foods you need, too. It isn’t necessary to serve special foods or recipes for your toddler. While you may find that you need to make small adjustments to your meal plan to accommodate your toddler’s feeding skills, remember that you are teaching your child how to eat the foods you enjoy, not serving the foods you think he wants or likes to eat.

In general, aim to serve 1 tablespoon per year of age for each of the foods at a meal. It’s easy to overwhelm your little one with more food than he can eat. 

By keeping portion sizes age-appropriate, you will be setting your child up for success and be more able to recognize hunger and satiety cues. 

Include a protein such as eggs, beans, tofu, meat, fish or poultry. Dairy products such as milk and yogurt are also a great source of protein, but are low in iron, a key nutrient for toddlers.

Calcium rich foods such as dairy products, beans or fortified plant-based foods such as tofu should be offered at meals and most snacks. Include a fruit or vegetable (or both) at meals as well as whole grains.

Be sure to include healthy sources of fat such as nut or seed butters, avocado or plant oils.  Egg yolks are also a source of fat for your toddler. Fat offers a concentrated source of energy for your toddler and helps to promote fullness.

As adults, we should be aiming for 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, so offering fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks helps you meet your requirements and gives your toddler plenty of opportunities to be exposed to a wide variety of options as well. Keep your child’s skills in mind and serve pieces that are easy to pick up or eat with utensils. Your toddler needs practice with feeding skills but can become frustrated if foods are difficult to eat. Keep a balance of skill building and easy to eat foods.


Choose Recipes that Can Be Deconstructed – Toddler Meal Ideas

An easy way to find toddler meal ideas is to choose recipes that can be deconstructed, and various elements served separately. This might mean serving pasta separate from the sauce and meatballs or serving the ingredients for tacos separately. Help you toddler explore various foods by playing games without pressure to eat the food.

It may take many times of offering a food or combination of foods before your child decides to try a taste. 

Playing with food, touching and smelling it are all necessary steps on the journey to trying new foods. 

Toddler Meal Ideas - Include an Anchor Food

A toddler palate can feel limiting when planning meals for your family.  Including an anchor food at meals will allow you to prepare a wide range of foods, but still offer foods that are accepted by your toddler. An anchor food is a food that your child easily accepts.  This might be bread, pasta, rice, fruits or crackers. When you are serving a new food or one that is less preferred, including an anchor food will provide your toddler with a food that he can “fill-up” and prevent you from worrying about if he is hungry or has eaten enough. 

Summary for Toddler Meal Ideas

The search for toddler meal ideas can start you on a path that leads to preparing a second meal for your child. However, remember that your real goal is to teach your child to enjoy the foods you eat. 

Each culture and family has a different tradition when it comes to food as well as flavor profiles. By taking a feeding approach that is aimed not at serving what your toddler seems to like eating, but instead is focused on helping him eat the foods enjoyed by your family, will help create a positive and low stress mealtime environment.

Understanding the building blocks of a toddler meal and choosing recipes that can be easily deconstructed are valuable for successful meal planning. Including an anchor food with meals allows you to expose your child to a wide range of foods.

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