Meal Planning for Toddlers

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If your little people are still little, you might vaguely remember the days of yore when you ate sitting down instead of standing, holding a fussy baby. You might recall those meals that were spontaneous and sophisticated — as opposed to those that need to be regimented in order to avoid a total two-year old meltdown. You might have realized that…

Meal times change when you’ve got babies and toddlers.

But, that doesn’t mean they have to be less fun or less tasty. It just means you have to have a plan and a few techniques to making meal times pleasing for everyone in the family, no matter his or her age.

Set a regular time.

Young children thrive on routine. They like to know what to expect. They crave ritual. Ever try to give a kid a blue plate when he “always” uses green? Yeah, they’re creatures of habit. Go with it.

You don’t need to have dinner ready at 6:05 every night, but you might consider the same 1 hr window for dinner to occur. Not only will you keep grumbling tummies at bay, but it will also help you in your time management and may get the rest of the evening on an even keel.

Keep it safe.

Make sure that the foods you serve are not choking hazards or inappropriate for smaller children to eat. Also, require that your children eat sitting at the table. Roaming the house with chipmunk cheeks poses a great risk for your child to choke.

Offer a healthy appetizer.

Some of my most successful meal times are the ones when I’ve set out a tray of veggies or fruit or some cheese and crackers in advance. The kids (and hubs) can munch while they wait for dinner to be ready, and I can prepare it without a thousand interruptions.

I don’t mind if they fill their tummies with healthy snacks and it makes for a much more pleasant evening.

Consider feeding little ones earlier.

If your little people’s hunger schedules don’t match the time you get off from work or home from afternoon activities, think about feeding them at an alternate time. A simple PB&J alongside a cup of applesauce is a fine alternative to waiting for a bigger meal. You can still capture that family time by sitting with your child while he eats. Later he can play — or go to bed early — while the adults enjoy a quieter dinner together.

This is a particularly helpful strategy if you’re starting to feed your baby solids. Feed him or her before you start prepping dinner so that you can focus on the feeding first. Later you can prep dinner without the distraction of a wailing baby. Both of you can be happy this way.

Serve customizable meals.

Kids like their food “separate. ” Offering a salad or taco bar allows them to pile their plates in orderly fashion, but still allows you the opportunity to doctor your plate up any which way you want. Offer sauces on the side and allow kids to sprinkle their own cheese, spread their own butter, and otherwise prepare their own meal.

Try these meals on for size.

FishChick2 is our resident toddler. She’s a great eater, but a typical two year old, nonetheless.

Here are some of her favorites:

  • A Snacky Lunch – basically a homemade lunchable
  • Noodles and Cheese – plain noodles and a little cup of Parmesan that she adds herself
  • Not Soggy Nachos – toddlers love to dip!
  • Grilled Fish, Mashed Potatoes and Salad – yes, really. She loves this meal, especially when she can squeeze her own lemon
  • Chicken Noodle Soup
  • anything with chocolate – nuf said

How do you plan for toddler meals?

Don’t forget for more meal planning inspiration, visit Menu Plan Monday.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. This is a reall fun site for kids lunches. Technically school lunch box stuff but a lot can be adapted for home/toddlers

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @Bethany, THAT is very cool. My kids particularly liked the Pikachu sandwich. LOL

  2. Candy says

    I have a picky 5 year old, and a 3 year old that’s a little more adventurous. I use my pizza cutter to make things into strips, and I keep some small cookie cutters on hand to give food interesting shapes. Whatever will work to get food in those tummies!

  3. Candi says

    My kids love to eat quesadillas with apple slices hiding inside; peanut butter, honey and banana roll ups; carrots dipped in a homemade ranch cream cheese dip; vegetable soups with grilled cheese and tomatoes (I dice up a fresh tomato so when they bite into the sandwich, the whole tomato slice doesn’t pull out). I shared some of our other favorites on a post back in November.

  4. Excellent pointers!

    My five year old twins and my two year old have become very picky eaters. I need to make some adjustments (esp for lunch time) and your suggestions are spot on!

  5. I’m so glad I read this today! Mommy amnesia sets in for me as my oldest gets older–I forget how picky he was as a toddler, and get frustrated when my current toddlers are typical picky eaters! Thanks for the reminder that my kids are totally normal (even if normal toddler eating is frustrating!)

    Love the cute lunch plate too. And yes, we eat waaaaaaay early at our house!

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