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How many times have I heard a parent or daycare provider say my toddler won’t eat anything? More times than I can count. These toddler meals for picky eaters can help!
How do I get my fussy toddler to eat? What can I feed my picky 2-year-old for dinner? Do kids outgrow picky eating? Are these all questions you’re asking yourself? If so, you’re in the right place. I have been feeding picky toddlers in my home daycare for decades and these are my tried and true tips!
What do you do when your child refuses to eat?
There are many seasons when a child’s appetite will go up or down. During the toddler years, it seems like kids don’t eat anything, but there are a few things to remember here. First, remember that milk and juice are food and if a child is drinking a lot, they may be full from that and not feel hungry.
Second, think about what a child-sized portion actually is. It’s just a tablespoon or two, check out how much your child should be eating here.
The number one thing to NOT do when your child doesn’t want to eat is to make a big deal out of it. Asking, begging, cajoling, feeling emotional, and nagging a child to eat all cause the child to feel anxious about eating. You can offer food, but if a child doesn’t want to eat, let it go. They will eat when they are hungry. Here are some ideas to help your child eat healthier.
Make sure you are not giving junk food snacks between meals. A piece of fruit or cheese could be available but if your child really likes crackers and knows you will give them some later if they don’t eat lunch, they may be waiting for that or chips or candy. So, waiting until mealtime is important.
Toddlers do go through times when they are less hungry. When they begin to hit a growth spurt, they will get a bigger appetite. They will also go through periods where they don’t want certain things such as meat. That’s okay too, just offer other sources of protein such as nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt, beans, etc.
Trying to force a child to eat will definitely backfire. Make sure you are calm and patient with this process. If you’re worried about a child’s nutrition, there are ways to hide small amounts of healthy food in your meals. You can check them out by clicking the highlighted link.
Check out zero to hero nutrition: how to actually get kids to eat healthy food for even more tips on getting picky toddlers to eat real food.
Foods for picky toddlers
Think about the simple tastes of a toddler when planning something they might eat. It doesn’t have to be complicated and kids usually prefer simpler tastes. Think about cheese and crackers, ham sandwiches, cheese sticks, fresh cut-up fruit, fresh vegetables that are soft such as cucumbers or zucchini, plain pasta with just butter and salt and pepper, or something like that. You can also add canned tuna or chicken to pasta to give them some protein.
Young kids don’t like a lot of complicated flavors. They usually don’t prefer strong herbs or lots of complexity. They would rather have plain mac and cheese than a big pasta casserole full of yummy goodness. You can feed them simple meals without just doing corn dogs and frozen fries.
Toddler food recipes
If your kid’s only fries, try making oven fries. Cut the potatoes like fries and then roast them in the oven at 400 with plenty of salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Pizza is a GREAT way to get kids to enjoy some veggies. I love to add green powder under the sauce and hide shredded squash under the cheese. If you use yellow squash, it’s undetectable. These pizza cups are great too, every kid loves them! These Air Fryer Pizza Wontons are super easy and kids love them too. It’s like having pizza rolls but without all the chemicals in the frozen ones. Or whip these up, even the kids can make Air Fryer Pita Pizzas.
It doesn’t change the taste, but if you have a child that eats no veggies ever, this can help soothe your momma heart about them getting a few. Another great place to add veggies is spaghetti sauce and sweet bread like banana bread or this amazing peach bread.
What can I give my picky toddler to eat?
Most vegetables taste better roasted. I love to roast a big sheet pan of veggies for my kids, especially if they are new to veggies. It helps them learn to like them early. We do broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash like butternut, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, and so much more. This broccoli rice casserole full of chicken and cheesy goodness is a great choice!
I’ve even seen people roast beets, radishes, and turnips this way. That’s a big no thanks for me. But you might like it. These are the very few vegetables that I just do not like no matter how hard I try.
Another great way to make veggies taste good is stir-frying. You use super high heat, a little oil, and stir them fast. It gives them a nice crispness that many people prefer.
Don’t forget that kids are more likely to try something they are used to. And it takes 11 times of exposure to become a familiar food. So, don’t give up. Just keep eating and enjoying and modeling good eating habits.
For quick and easy dinners that are healthy, check this post out.
My kids LOVE my cucumber salad and beg for it. They eat it by the quart. It’s sliced cucumbers, thinly sliced onions, dill, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. It’s a fan favorite at little sprouts. I would never think a kid would eat that. But they do.
I love it and made it for myself. They kept begging for it until I had to make 4 large cucumbers at a time so they all got enough.
There is hardly anything that all the kids love, so remember to offer choices. We usually have 4-6 choices of fruits and veggies on our table every lunch. I just say you have to pick at least two and ask what they want.
They don’t have to eat two here, but food program rules dictate that two have to be on their plates, so I say pick two. I usually have one fruit and the rest are freshly sliced cucumbers, carrots, sugar snap peas, cooked frozen corn, cucumber salad, roasted broccoli, roasted cauliflower, cooked frozen mixed vegetables, or peas, or something like that.
If you have very young toddlers who don’t have many teeth or are just starting out eating, just microwave or steam those raw veggies for a few minutes so they are easier to bite and chew for their toddler meals.
You’d be surprised at the volume of fresh fruits and vegetables my kids consume at a meal. These kids are lumberjacks. But they all go through times and phases where they eat less or hardly eat. I know this happens, so I don’t worry about it.
Tips for feeding picky toddlers
Here are a few more tips for feeding picky toddlers on the regular. First, keeping a routine makes mealtimes more predictable thus more comfortable for kids. Don’t make separate toddler meals for kids, cook one meal, and eat peacefully.
Make the mealtime pleasant, not stressful. Have pleasant conversation, smile, and enjoy your food. Mealtime is the best time of the day to connect with your family.
More great ways to help kids want to eat is to let them help prepare the meal. Kids can put food on a serving plate, set the table, choose side dishes, stir, measure, dump, and do all kinds of fun things. Even more than cooking is growing food. If you have a garden, let kids get involved in tending it. You’ll be surprised at how much it affects what kids want to try.
At mealtime turn off the screens. TV, tablets, computers, and phones are huge distractions from eating. Let it be a time to disconnect from those things and connect with each other.
Don’t fear that kids will starve. It’s hard not to worry, but kids feel your fear and they will be less likely to loosen up. They WILL eat when they are hungry. It’s okay. And don’t forget, some kids have sensory disorders or other medical issues that make certain things unappealing.
It’s all a process. If you notice your child hardly eats anything AND they haven’t gained any weight in over 6 months, you might want to ask their doctor. Otherwise, stay the course and it will probably even out.
Lastly, don’t offer sweets as a reward. You’ll get dessert if you eat your broccoli. That doesn’t help build healthy habits in the long run. And don’t potato pay them, Ore-Ida. Blech. That commercial makes me so mad. Way to sell some future eating disorders. America’s most trusted potato, not anymore. It’s a horrible practice, just don’t.
Toddler food ideas
Now let’s get those toddler food ideas to make your life more pleasant and get your kids to finally eat.
Toddler breakfast ideas
Breakfast can be simple things like flavored oatmeal or cream of wheat with some fruit or fruit and nuts. It can also be a fruit and granola yogurt parfait. Anything toddlers can pick up with their hands for toddler meals like bacon, sausage, dry cereal, fruit slices, pancakes, French toast sticks, waffles, or cheese cubes would make a great breakfast. These healthier blueberry muffins for toddlers are a great kid pleaser.
Kids usually love scrambled eggs. Some of them even like boiled eggs, so that’s a great thing to try. I love to make breakfast casseroles, frittatas or quiches. If your kids would go for something like that, go for it. My kid’s favorite way to eat eggs is just scrambled eggs with some shredded cheddar cheese mixed in at the end. We call it cheesy eggs and it’s a winner here.
If the link is highlighted, you can click on the recipe.
Boiled eggs-I just put a dozen eggs in cold water and a generous sprinkling of salt on the burner. I set the timer for 25 minutes and the burner on high and they turn out perfectly every time. If I do less than a dozen, they usually get overdone. You may have to adjust for your stove as well.
- Cheesy eggs
- Scrambled eggs
- Egg casserole
- Egg in a nest
- Sausage biscuits
- French toast sticks
- Breakfast pizza-cook some crumbled sausage and some scrambled eggs. Find a crust, either pizza crust premade, make your own, use a tortilla, a bagel or an English muffin. You can spread it with pizza sauce if you like or make a hollandaise sauce. I go without sauce when I make it. Then sprinkle on cooked sausage and eggs, you could also add some cooked spinach or mushrooms, whatever your kids like to eat. Top with some shredded cheddar cheese and bake in a 350 oven until cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Peanut butter and apples
- Yogurt parfaits
- Sliced fruit
Toddler lunch ideas and dinner ideas
- Homemade chicken nuggets-simply take some boneless skinless chicken breast and cut it into chunks. Beat one egg with a splash of water and salt and pepper. In another bowl, add flour and salt and pepper. Roll the chicken chunks in the egg mixture and then in the flour. You can either bake these in the oven on 350 until done through or put a little olive oil in a skillet and brown them that way. They cook super-fast too.
- Cheese quesadillas
- Chicken quesadillas
- Ham or turkey sandwich
- Grilled cheese
- Soups-Soups are always a favorite with my kids. They make this vegetable beef soup all the time and love it, but I haven’t found much I can’t put in soup and they will love it. They love to slurp the juice.
- Sloppy joes using spaghetti sauce on buns
- Nachos-pile up whatever toppings you like on your chips, cover in shredded cheddar or cheese of your choice, and then bake in the oven until cheese is bubbly.
- Bean burritos-This is a lifelong favorite toddler meal of so many of my daycare kids.
Easy toddler meals
- Cold plate-chunks of meats and cheeses on a plate with some raw fruits and veggies
- Peanut butter and banana tortillas
- Fried rice-cook some rice or use leftover. Heat a skillet up super-hot and toss in some meat. Could be small pieces of chicken, pork chops, steak, whatever you have around (you can even use canned chicken if you like) Right before you add the meat, put in a few tablespoons of oil. Next, toss in some chopped onion and garlic, stir and cook. Next add some cut up veggies, carrots or celery. Cook a few minutes more. Add some chopped up tender veggies such as broccoli, spinach, kale, cauliflower, peas, asparagus, cabbage, whatever you have that your kids like. Toss and stir a few minutes more with plenty of salt and pepper and even add soy sauce if your kids like that. Super quick easy meal.
A favorite meat for picky eaters at Little Sprouts has always been kid-friendly chicken. Check this out for ideas!
- Pulled pork sandwiches-toss a pork roast in the crock pot before bed with some bbq rub or just salt and pepper. Cook all night and in the morning shred with two forks. Put back in the crock pot with some ranch seasoning mix or bbq sauce depending on what flavor you want. Serve on a bun
- Tuna Casserole
- Homemade Mac and Cheese
- Hot pockets
- Pizza bagels, English muffin pizzas, tortilla pizzas or regular pizza-use your crust of choice, you can make homemade pizza dough or buy premade crusts. Check out this pizza recipe for ideas.
- Beef soup for toddlers
- Chicken and rice-Put two cups of white rice in a casserole dish with 4 cups of chicken stock, some salt pepper and thyme or whatever herb you like. You can even use a packet of ranch seasoning mix. Place seasoned chicken thighs or breasts on top and cover with foil. Bake at 375 for an hour and check chicken for doneness. Remove foil and bake until chicken is crispy and rice is done.
- Hamburgers or cheeseburgers
For more picky eating help, check these out:
- Healthy Snacks for Picky Eaters
- Healthy Breakfast Recipes for Picky Eaters
- Healthy Dinner Recipes for Picky Eaters
- Top 10 Healthy Meals for Picky Eaters
- Meatless Meals for Picky Eaters
- Getting Picky Kids to Eat Healthy with Hidden Vegetables
- Quick and easy dinner ideas that are healthy
And if you’re just looking for a quick dinner idea for kids, check this out.
Knowing what to eat to save money is not as complicated as you might think.