Having a toddler is difficult; they’re messy, chaotic, super-active, fussy, and picky. This is especially true at meal time. It’s hard enough making sure that the food winds up in their mouths and not on the floor, in their hair, or fed to the dog. But it’s even harder to make two separate meals; one for them and one for the older members of the family. That’s why in our house, we make sure that we create healthy, toddler approved meals that the entire family can enjoy. No more making one meal for the adults and another menu for the little guy.
When Zachary was a baby, it was easy to nurse him, serve some fruit and mashed veggies, and call it a day. Then we would put him to bed and make whatever we wanted for dinner. Now that he’s older, he needs to eat more and it’s important to us that we eat as a family. His nutritional needs are greater and we try to ensure that he gets fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein with every meal. But it hasn’t always been easy to make that happen. With their picky personalities, toddler approved meals are NOT easy to come by!
He’s 16 months now and has about eight or nine teeth. I’d count, but it’s impossible to get a good look in there without biting (him biting me) and screaming (from both of us). Up until recently, however, he really only had about five or six front ones. While he’s a pro at mashing with his gums, there are some things he just can’t chew with no back teeth. Everything needs to be either soft, or able to soften very well once it’s in his mouth. So we still use a lot of techniques for feeding him from when he was a baby.
He’s choking again?!
Unfortunately, he’s also inherited my ability to choke on air. Literally. There have been several occasions where we almost had to stop the car because he was choking in his car seat on absolutely nothing. The first time we served him a unmushed pea, he spit it out twice and then threw it up. I don’t know if it’s a sensitive gag reflex, a narrow esophagus, or just the inability to ensure that air goes one direction and food goes another. He’s constantly gagging.
Needless to say, this combination makes us ensure that his food is as non-choke inducing as possible. This was easy when he was small and would eat pretty much anything we put in front of him. But he’s a curious, independent toddler now. Any bite that comes his way gets a very critical eyeing before he attempts to eat it. Luckily, we’ve been varying his foods and keeping him on lots of healthy ones since he began eating solids, so he’s very familiar with lots of them already.
Where it gets tricky, is trying to make sure that what he’s eating, we’re happy eating, and what we’re eating, he’s happy eating. Throw in the fact that each meal must be A) healthy, B) inclusive of all of the food groups, and C) able to be made a week in advance and reheated makes it complicated.
Black beans, cheese, milk, repeat…
One can only eat the same meal so many times. We had gotten into such a rut in order to meet the requirements I had for our meals. A typical lunch was black beans, some kind of veggie that was easy and quick to prepare (like carrots) or something canned (like corn, which I’m aware is actually a grain), cut up strawberries or bananas, some cereal puffs (for him) and a glass of milk (thawed breast milk or organic, whole milk). We would eat something else with maybe a few of the same things (like strawberries and corn with our salad or sandwich).
No more separate meals
I knew something had to change. He loves black beans but after a while he would gravitate toward anything different on his plate. He was just getting sick of the same old things and I was getting sick of serving them to him. It was making me feel like a bad mom for not being able to find some more variety for him. I was also getting sick of having to make separate meals all the time, constantly preparing a week’s worth of food for him and then a week’s worth of food for Andy and me. Then at meal times, I would get one meal ready for him and another ready for us.
After a lot of searching, trial and error, creativity, and modifying meals, I finally can say that we no longer eat separate meals. Except, that is, in the rare instances in which we decide to order a pizza or get a burger from somewhere. Zachary doesn’t eat any of that. As he gets older and needs to always eat where we eat, we’ll be eating even less of it too. I don’t want him to grow up with the same bad food habits we have been trying to minimize and eliminate.
Life is so much easier now without having to prepare double the amount of food every week. I can actually shop with one meal plan in mind (we eat the same thing every night for the entire week) and not have to worry about what I need to be getting extra to substitute in for something we’re having that Zach can’t have.
My Top 10 Toddler Approved Meals-Dinner
Zachary absolutely loves these meals and so do we. Below is a list of our top 10 healthy, toddler approved meals that we have on a regular basis. Everything in each meal is relatively choke-resistant, can be spiced to your family’s preferences, all healthy ingredients, inclusive of all food groups, and can be fed to a young child who doesn’t yet have the capacity to chew lots of different textures and consistencies.
(Full disclosure: we don’t each necessarily eat everything with each meal. I can’t get Andy to eat a piece of fruit to save my life. But in most instances, the entire meal is consumed by the entire family. Including the dogs who get everything Zach drops on the floor or feeds directly to them when he’s done.)
- Chicken Teriyaki with Veggies: Quinoa or brown rice, chicken breast diced into small, bite sized pieces, peas, sliced matchstick carrots, broccoli cut into small florets, and your favorite brand of Teriyaki sauce. We saute the veggies separately to make them nice and soft before combining it all in a big pan. As a side, we serve sliced fruits or applesauce.
- Homemade Chili: Black beans, kidney beans, and chili beans with a little lean ground beef, chili powder and other seasonings, onions, and tomato juice. Served with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and Fritos.
- Pasta with sides: Whole grain spaghetti with marinara or alfredo sauce and sometimes meatballs or chicken. Buttered bread, fruit and veggie on the side.
- Cheesy Chicken Quesadillas w/applesauce: Whole grain tortillas, shredded cheese, chopped chicken, and sometimes beans and lettuce. Sour cream on the side for dipping.
- Chicken Nachos: Chips topped with chopped and seasoned chicken, lettuce, salsa, shredded cheddar cheese, black beans, corn, and sour cream. Zach can’t eat the chips, so he gets to eat this with a fork.
- Baked Vegetables w/Cheesy Quinoa
- Sautéed Spaghetti Squash, Garlic Bread, veggie and applesauce
- Lasagna, Garlic Bread, Veggie, fruit
- Loaded Sweet Potatoes: Baked sweet potato seasoned with cumin, taco seasoning, and chili powder. Fill with black beans, corn, salsa, and shredded cheese. Sometimes we add rice or quinoa. Top with sour cream.
- Baked chicken, rice, veggie, and fruit
There you have it. A quick list of delicious, healthy, toddler approved meals that the entire family will enjoy. We make everything in advance on Sundays and eat it all week. The initial prep is longer, but even that doesn’t take too long! If you have any questions on cooking times or methods, substitutions, or brands we use please let me know!
Check out the rest of the posts in this series:
Do you have any particular go-to dinners in your family that cater to your unique family situation? What dinners have you found work well for your toddlers?
-To you Better Life-