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!

40+ Easy Toddler Meal Ideas Picky Eaters Will Love

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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 meal ideas for picky eaters can help!

bright green kid plate filled with a few leftover bites of food from a picky toddler-40+ Toddler Meals for Picky Eaters

As a daycare provider for over twenty years, I’m familiar with all the questions parents have about young children and eating healthy meals.

  • How do I get my picky kids to eat?
  • What can I feed my picky 2-year-old for dinner? 
  • Do kids outgrow picky eating? 

If you’ve found yourself asking these questions, you’re in the right place! Over my years working with toddlers, I’ve learned a few tried and true tricks for nutritious meals that toddlers love and moms approve of. 

Some of the meals my toddlers love include:

  • cheese and crackers
  • ham sandwiches
  • nachos
  • cheese quesadillas
  • taco soup
  • sausage biscuits
  • pasta
  • vegetable beef soup

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. But there are some more successful toddler meals for picky eaters, you just have to find the ones that work!

Second, think about what a child-sized portion is. It’s often just a tablespoon or two. We sometimes overthink the amounts a child should eat. Small portions are enough to fill a toddler-size belly. (Check out how much your child should be eating here.) 

Don’t Sweat It

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. You might offer some fresh fruit or a piece of cheese. 

But if your fussy eater 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. You could make a snack bowl or drawer in the refrigerator with acceptable snacks like apples, oranges, or cheese sticks

toddler eating lunch

Tips for Feeding Picky Toddlers

If you need to feed your entire family without making multiple meals for family dinner, here are a few more tips that work. 

Have a Routine

Keeping a routine makes mealtimes more predictable and thus more comfortable for kids. Don’t make separate toddler meals for kids, cook one meal, and eat peacefully.

Make Mealtime Pleasant

If you want your kids to eat, keep the mealtime pleasant, not stressful. Have pleasant conversation at the dinner table. Smile, and enjoy your food. 

Mealtime is the best time of the day to connect with your family.

Do Meal Prep Together

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.

Make Mealtimes Screen Free

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. Sit down together.

Don’t Stress

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.

Don’t Offer Sugar

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 Meal Ideas for Picky Eaters

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 or beans. That’s okay too, just offer other sources of protein such as nuts, seeds, cheese, or yogurt, etc. 

Any of those make great toddler meals for picky eaters. As a bonus–adults love them too!

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. There are a few picky eater solutions you can try here too.

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.

These ideas are perfect for snack time, or even a simple meal:

  • cheese and crackers
  • banana slices
  • grilled cheese sandwich
  • ham sandwich
  • cheese sticks
  • sweet potato chips
  • vegetables such as cucumbers or zucchini
  • pasta with butter and salt
  • cherry tomatoes (cut them in half so they’re not a choking hazard)

You can also add canned tuna or chicken to pasta to give them some protein. Here are some shredded chicken recipes for picky eaters.

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 hot dogs and frozen fries. And remember there are a lot of reasons for picky eating, so get to the source of the problem to make your plan.

Kid-Friendly Meals 

When it comes to feeding your picky toddler, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. They may not be willing to try new foods. But you can sometimes disguise healthy foods in the middle of their favorite foods!

Fries

If your kids only eat fries, try making oven fries. Cut the potatoes like fries and then roast them in the oven at 400 degrees with plenty of salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Sweet potato fries are also a great option for picky eaters. 

Pizza

Pizza is a GREAT way to get kids to enjoy some veggies. I love to add green powder under the pasta sauce and hide shredded squash under the cheese. 

If you use yellow squash, it’s undetectable. And kids love anything that’s pizza-flavored, am I right? 

Here are a few of my go-to pizza recipes:

Pasta

Who doesn’t love pasta? Pasta is a great way to sneak some veggies into your kids’ food.

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. 

Serve up some whole grain pasta with tomato sauce. Another great place to add veggies is to sneak them right into the spaghetti sauce

What can I give my picky toddler to eat?

There are multiple different ways to get your picky toddler to try a variety of foods. The most important thing is to encourage them to try new foods.

Roasted Vegetables

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.

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.

This broccoli rice casserole full of chicken and cheesy goodness is a great choice too. Kids seem to prefer rice when it’s cheesy.

Stir-Fry Vegetables

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. 

Remember that a lot of picky eating is related to textures and sensory sensations, so trying different textures can pay off. I have sensory issues myself and I can tell you texture makes a huge difference in what I can eat.

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.

Salads

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. 

Add Fruit

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. That will make them easier to bite and chew for their toddler meals. 

We do this with carrot sticks and it works great. Or you can just serve them cooked from frozen or canned.

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.

There are more ideas in this picky eater food list too.

Toddler food ideas

Now let’s get those toddler food ideas to make your life more pleasant and get your kids to finally eat. Remember that every child is different and different things will work. 

So keep it relaxed and try different things until a few of them stick.

As I have said before, after keeping over 100 kids in my career at home daycare, every child learned to like at least a few more things than when they came. There is an art to it, and pressuring them never works. So remember that when you’re trying.

Don’t get upset if it doesn’t work quickly. It does take time. And when you’re upset, they feel upset and it makes the problem worse. You got this!

toddler trying a new food, jicima

Breakfast Ideas for Picky Toddlers

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. 

Finger foods that toddlers can pick up with their hands are always a good idea. Think bacon, sausage, dry cereal, fruit slices, pancakes, French toast sticks, waffles, or cheese cubes.

These healthier blueberry muffins for toddlers are a great kid pleaser.

Eggs

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 scrambled eggs with some shredded cheddar cheese mixed in at the end. We call it cheesy eggs and it’s a winner here.

Boiled eggs are also a good option. 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.

More Breakfast Options to Try

  • Cheesy eggs
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Egg casserole
  • Frittata
  • Quiche
  • Egg in a nest
  • Sausage biscuits
  • Pancakes
  • Waffles
  • 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
  • Toast
  • Berries
  • Sliced fruit

Easy Toddler Lunch 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.
  • This One Pan Cheeseburger Pasta is another favorite easy dinner idea that picky eaters love.
  • Cheese quesadillas
  • Chicken quesadillas
  • Steak quesadillas
  • Black Bean Quesadilla Recipe
  • 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.
  • Spaghetti
  • 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.
  • Tacos
  • Bean burritos-This is a lifelong favorite toddler meal of so many of my daycare kids.
  • These ham and cheese sliders are so easy and everyone loves them.

Easy Toddler Meals

You don’t need to get fancy when it comes to feeding your toddler. A simple recipe is often better, especially if you’re introducing new tastes. 

Here are a few simple, healthy recipes you can whip up in a flash:

Toddler Dinner Ideas the Whole Family Will Love

You need to feed your picky toddler, but your older kids and the adults need to eat too! These easy dinner ideas are sure to please everyone at your table. 

  • Fried rice-My fried rice recipe is so simple to make and easy to customize to your families’ tastes! Super quick easy meal.
  • 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
  • Meatballs
  • Meatloaf
  • Tuna Casserole
  • Homemade Mac and Cheese
  • Hot pockets
  • Empanadas
  • 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.
  • Pasta
  • Beef soup for toddlers
  • Chicken and rice
  • Chili
  • Hamburgers or cheeseburgers

Embrace The Picky Toddler Years

Most children aren’t born adventurous eaters. It takes a little time, patience, and practice. Picky eating is a common phase. 

Embrace these years, continue to offer your kids good options for healthy foods, and eventually, you’ll see them start to enjoy new foods. Over time you’ll see an adventurous eater emerge and try many new foods!

For more picky eating help, check these out:

For more meal ideas, check these out:

And if you’re just looking for a quick dinner idea for kids, check this out. I love simple dinner ideas!

Knowing what to eat to save money is not as complicated as you might think.

a child eating a healthy plate of food including broccoli rice casserole, cucumber slices and apple slices

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2 Comments

  1. Too lengthy and way too common knowledge stuff we parents already tried and don’t work, need way more creative solutions rather than all the common usual stuff mentioned in this long drawn out article.