15 Easy Toddler Meals for Picky Eaters

Toddler girl sitting in her high chair eating toddler meal.

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Simple meals that even your picky toddler will love

Feeding toddlers can be tricky. Preferences and appetites change from day to day, leaving parents worried about what your child will actually eat at mealtime. 

The ultimate goal for feeding toddlers is to prepare a single meal for the whole family and provide balanced nutrition. This can be done by providing new food items, alongside some of your child’s favorite foods. 

What’s even better? These meals are NOT gourmet, fancy meals. And many of them require little to no cooking! 

15 Toddler Meals for Picky Eaters

4 colorful plates with toddler meals for picky eaters: ham and cheese slider, steak tips, grilled ham and cheese, and salmon.
  1. Ham and cheese sliders with carrot sticks and cooked peas
  2. Grilled ham and cheese with broccoli and carrot sticks
  3. Salmon pieces with asparagus or green beans, veggie/potato bites and blueberries
  4. Steak tips pieces with rice, cooked peas and gooseberries
  5. Chicken nuggets (yes for grown ups too!), broccoli, apple slices
  6. Baked chicken, fingerling potatoes, broccoli
  7. Pasta with chicken, green beans, banana slices
  8. Hamburger, cucumber and tomato slices
  9. Rotini with meatballs, green beans, garlic bread strips
  10. Deconstructed tacos- all toppings on the side
  11. Simple chicken or cheese quesadillas, side of shredded cheese, broccoli
  12. Cheesy scrambled eggs with green beans and apple slices
  13. Turkey and cheese roll ups, cherry tomatoes, banana slices
  14. Breakfast for dinner: pancakes, sausage, yogurt, strawberries
  15. Mac n’cheese, chicken strips, broccoli, apple slices

How to create toddler meals for picky eaters?

  1. Avoid mixed ingredient dishes like soups and casseroles until your child accepts a larger variety of foods. Using single ingredient foods helps decrease overwhelm. 
  2. Deconstruct your family meals (think tacos)
  3. Take their preferences into account- you, as the parent provides options, your child can help choose from the options. 
  4. Make mealtime fun- use fun colors, plates, cutlery, cups and placemats
  5. Involve your child in the process
  6. Provide a combination of cooked and raw food items
  7. Give new food with already accepted foods to reduce overwhelm

Nutritious meals for toddlers

Providing balanced nutrition for toddlers is important for proper growth and development. 

Meals should consist of: 

  1. Protein source (preferably, also containing fat)
  2. Carbohydrate- complex is best (whole grains, starchy vegetables with skins)
  3. Colorful fruits and veggies. 

Making sure your child’s plate is colorful is an easy way to provide a variety of nutrients.  

Focus on Easy

4 colorful plates that show toddler meals for picky eaters: chicken nuggets, baked chicken, pasta with chicken, cheeseburger

There’s no need to slave over the hot stove for hours (unless you REALLY love cooking!). Adding raw components to your meals helps to keep meals simple. 

Serving a combination of cooked and raw fruits and veggies saves time, but also packs a nutritional punch! 

Some raw fruits and veggies that can be served with meals include: 

  1. Cucumber slices
  2. Baby carrots
  3. Cherry tomatoes
  4. Apple slices
  5. Blueberries
  6. Sliced strawberries
  7. Mandarin oranges
  8. Grapes
  9. Bananas
  10. Peaches

Tips for Successful Mealtime with Picky Eaters

Create a positive mealtime environment to encourage food acceptance

Sitting down to a joyful, pressure-free meal with colorful foods, fun plates and good family bonding will create positive associations with mealtimes.

On the other hand, if your child comes to expect bribing, forced bites, crying and meltdowns at mealtimes, it can be difficult to even get your child to sit at the table

Set a regular meal schedule

Setting a regular meal time and snack time schedule will help your child develop expectations and allow them to feel hungry at each meal. By avoiding grazing and over-snacking, your child is more likely to try new foods at meal time. 

Role model at family mealtime

Be a role model at the dinner table. Show your little ones that mealtime is a time to enjoy food and family. 

Kids are always watching! When your child sees you digging into your meal, they will be intrigued and often want to be just like you! Keep this a pressure-free moment and allow their curiosity. 

Limit distractions during mealtimes

Remove distractions from the dinner table. If available, your child will focus their attention to things like television, tablets, phones, and toys rather than eating. Kids often choose playtime over mealtime, so make sure there is a clear boundary. 

 Be creative with presentation

3 colorful plates with toddler meals for picky eaters: pasta with meatballs, chicken quesadilla, deconstructed tacos.

When your child arrives at the dinner table, what will they see? Making their plates colorful, the food on the plates colorful and using fun items such as placemats, cutlery or cups all make mealtime seem more interesting and fun! 

If you want more information on managing picky eating, you can read “Tips for Picky Eaters: 17 Effective Strategies [The Ultimate Guide]” to learn about the strategies that, if used consistently, can help resolve picky eating.

Meal Planning and Prep Tips

Strategies for meal planning and grocery shopping

  1. Involve your child in the meal planning process from start to finish to incorporate those pressure-free exposures. 
  1. Allow your child to help brainstorm ideas, search recipes, and help in the decision making process. 

During this step, the parent can provide options. For example: “What vegetable would you like with your chicken? Broccoli, green beans or peas?” Then allow the child to choose from those options. This ensures that the options are nutritious, and also empowers your child and gives them autonomy. 

  1. Next, take your child shopping. Allow them to choose their favorite color of bell pepper, or the biggest cucumbers. Allow them to place items in produce bags and in shopping carts. This is a simple strategy that lets your child touch without pressure to eat. 
  1. Lastly, allow your child to help with preparation of food. Depending on their age, this can look very different. For a 2 year old, allow them to place chopped up carrots onto a baking sheet. For older kids, they may be able to help stir or even chop with child-specific items such as toddler knife set.

Batch Cooking and Freezing

Tired of the food waste that comes along with picky eaters? Are you often left eating the remainders of your child’s plate? 

Try having a food freeze day to help! This fun activity serves as a way to provide food exposures, allows for tasting, but also preserves foods. 

Choose a day to explore a new food, chop up, play, taste, and smell. Then place items into freezer bags. Freeze to use later in smoothies or soups. For example: Explore cucumbers! Allow your child to help chop up, make shapes, taste, play and then freeze! 

What are the benefits of involving toddlers in meal preparation

The largest benefit of involving toddlers in meal prep is that it’s an easy way to provide food exposures without your toddler feeling the pressure to eat. This creates a positive experience and will relieve anxiety around that new food.

How to Introduce New Foods to Your Child

Food Exposure Isn’t Just About Eating

Way before your child sits down to eat a meal, there are several opportunities to explore and learn about new foods. So how do you expose your child to new foods? 

  1. Read books about food. I love “Where Does Broccoli Come From
  2. Talk about foods while meal planning
  3. Go fruit or vegetable picking at a farm to see where food comes from
  4. Go grocery shopping together
  5. Meal Prepping
  6. Food play, like the food freezing activity mentioned previously or games like food bingo 

These pressure-free strategies all encourage learning and using your child’s senses to explore foods. 

Reading books can help them to see what a food looks like and learn where it comes from. Shopping can allow a child to touch the food while placing it into the shopping cart. Preparing foods lets your child see, touch, hear, smell and often even taste a food on their own terms. 

Summing it all up

Importance of easy toddler meals for picky eaters

The goal is to reduce picky eating and time spent cooking. Remember to keep meals simple and easy. 

Simple, single ingredient items make meals appealing to your toddler, but also minimize time spent preparing food and allows the entire family to eat the same meal. This is extremely important for developing meal time expectations and healthy habits. 

Patience and consistency are key for reducing picky eating

There isn’t a quick fix for picky eating, however by choosing easy toddler meals for picky eaters, you can help encourage beneficial eating habits that will last a lifetime. 

For more picky eating support and community, follow me on INSTAGRAM as picky.eating.dietitian or join the FACEBOOK GROUP Nutrition For Kids: Feeding Picky Eaters.

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