a toddler in a high chair with an empty plate and a spoon

15 Picky Toddler Dinner Ideas

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Dealing with a picky toddler at dinner time can be quite the challenge. Even though it’s a normal phase, it can be worrisome. Here are 15 picky toddler dinner ideas that can help.

15 picky toddler dinner ideas

Kids’ tastes can be unpredictable, so what they loved yesterday may not be a hit today. Keep experimenting with different flavors and textures.

Believe me, after caring for over 100 children in my career, I have dealt with every level of picky eating. And knowing how to finesse food to interest them is an important part of running a home daycare. With a little creativity and patience, you can introduce them to a variety of meals that not only cater to their current tastes but also gently expand their culinary horizons.

  • Deconstructed Pork Tacos: Make a fun, hands-on meal with all the elements of a taco, but served separately. Cooked ground meat, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, and soft tortillas on the side. They can choose to assemble them as they like or eat the ingredients separately.
  • Pasta with Spaghetti Sauce: Blend some cooked veggies into a tomato sauce for a nutritious pasta topping. They’ll get all the benefits of the vegetables without the potentially off-putting texture.
  • Pizzas: Use whole-grain English muffins, bagels, or pita bread as the base. Top with tomato sauce, cheese, and toddler-friendly toppings like ham, pineapple, or cooked veggies. They can help to build their own pizza, which might increase their willingness to eat it.
  • Meat and Cheese Quesadillas: Shred some cooked meat and cheese into a tortilla and cook until the cheese is melted and the outside is crispy. You can sneak some finely chopped veggies in there too.
  • Meatballs: Make small-sized meatballs that are easier to eat for toddlers. Serve it with mashed potatoes and a mild tomato sauce. The meatballs can also have finely chopped veggies inside.
  • Fried Rice: Mix cooked rice with finely diced veggies (carrots, peas, bell peppers) and scrambled eggs for a complete meal in one dish.
  • Chicken Noodle Soup: A classic comfort food, filled with protein and veggies. Choose fun pasta shapes to make it more appealing to your toddler.
  • Mac and Cheese with Hidden Veggies: Puree some cooked vegetables (like butternut squash or carrots) and mix it into the cheese sauce for an extra nutrient boost.
  • Cheeseburger Pasta: The yummy flavors of a cheeseburger in a pasta casserole.
  • Pepperoni Pizza Pasta Bake: The familiar flavors of pizza that all kids (and most grown ups) love. Pepperoni, cheese, with the twist of being mixed in pasta instead of on a crust!
a toddler enjoying eating with a spoon

Toddler meals for picky eaters

  • Roll ups with ham and cheese or whatever you want to put in them are easy for toddlers to pick up AND they love them because they are made with tortillas. Again, a toddler pleaser for most kids.
  • Don’t overlook a good ole sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese are big hits at Little Sprouts. Kids also love grilled cheese!
  • A favorite soup that most of my picky kids have loved is our world famous Taco Soup. It’s great for kids that don’t prefer meat but still need protein too.
  • Another meatless favorite here is cottage cheese. We serve it with some crackers and some healthy sides and kids love it.
  • And one more meatless idea if you have a natural vegetarian there is the black bean quesadillas here. My kids LOVE these!

Remember, patience is key when dealing with a picky eater. It’s also important to model good eating habits and make meal times as stress-free as possible. Keep serving a variety of foods, even if they don’t get eaten right away, as it can take multiple exposures for kids to accept new foods. For more ideas on feeding picky toddlers, check out zero to hero nutrition!

Fruits for picky eaters

Picky eaters can be a challenge to cater to, but the variety of fruits available worldwide can help provide some options. Here are some fruits that are generally well-received by most (not all) picky eaters:

  1. Apples: They are crispy and sweet, and come in a variety of types, from tart Granny Smith to sweet Red Delicious. Apples can be eaten fresh, juiced, baked into pies, or added to salads.
  2. Bananas: These are easy to eat and sweet. They can be eaten alone or added to smoothies, yogurt, or cereal.
  3. Fruit Kabobs: A fun and easy meal that lets your toddler pick up their food. Alternate pieces of cheese and fruit on a skewer.
  4. Strawberries: These berries are sweet and juicy. They can be eaten fresh, in salads, desserts, smoothies, or even dipped in chocolate.
  5. Grapes: Green or purple, they can be eaten fresh, frozen for a chilly treat, or included in salads.
  6. Oranges: These are sweet, juicy, and full of vitamin C. They can be eaten fresh, juiced, or used in salads and desserts.
  7. Pears: Similar to apples but often sweeter, they can be eaten fresh, baked, or added to salads.
  8. Peaches: These are juicy and sweet. They can be eaten fresh, used in desserts, or added to yogurt and salads.
  9. Watermelon: This fruit is sweet, hydrating, and perfect for a hot day. It can be eaten fresh, used in salads, or blended into a refreshing drink.
  10. Mangoes: Sweet and tropical, these can be a real treat. They can be eaten fresh, used in smoothies, salads, or desserts.
  11. Blueberries: They are sweet and slightly tart. They can be eaten fresh, added to pancakes, muffins, or used in smoothies.
  12. Pineapple: This fruit is sweet, tangy, and tropical. It can be eaten fresh, grilled, added to salads, or used in desserts.

Remember, it’s all about presentation when it comes to picky eaters. Try to make the fruit fun and appealing. For example, use cookie cutters to cut fruit into fun shapes, make fruit kabobs, or create a colorful fruit salad.

a child happily eating food

Books for picky eaters

Books can be a great resource to help picky eaters explore new foods. Here are several books that can help:

  1. “Eating the Alphabet” by Lois Ehlert: This is a beautifully illustrated book that introduces children to a wide range of fruits and vegetables from A to Z.
  2. “I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato” by Lauren Child: This book is part of the Charlie and Lola series and deals with a young girl who is a fussy eater.
  3. “Bread and Jam for Frances” by Russell Hoban: Frances, a little badger, decides that she likes to eat only bread and jam, but soon she understands the importance of variety in her diet.
  4. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle: This classic children’s book can be used to introduce the idea of eating a variety of foods.
  5. “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss: This classic encourages kids to try foods that may seem strange to them.
  6. “Gregory, The Terrible Eater” by Mitchell Sharmat: This story is about a goat who is a picky eater and prefers human food like eggs and oranges instead of typical goat food like shoes and tin cans.
  7. “How Are You Peeling: Foods with Moods” by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers: This book uses fruits and vegetables carved to look like faces to help children explore their emotions, but it can also help them become more familiar with a wide variety of produce.

Remember, engaging children in food preparation and making the process fun can often help them become more willing to try new foods.

Picky eater recipes toddler

For more ideas than just dinner for your picky toddler, check some of these ideas out.

  1. Healthy Pancakes: Make pancakes using oat flour or whole wheat flour, eggs, banana, and a little bit of vanilla. You can also add in some finely grated carrots or zucchini. Serve with a side of fruit for extra nutrition.
  2. Smoothies: This is an easy way to sneak in fruits and even vegetables. Combine their favorite fruits with Greek yogurt, and for veggies, start with mild ones like spinach or avocado.
  3. Parfaits: A fruit and yogurt parfait is another great snack for kids to add protein and nutrients to their diet.

Remember, it’s important to introduce new foods slowly and be patient. It can take many tries before a child decides they like a certain food, so keep trying!

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