Nutrition

4 Toddler Food Ideas (They'll Actually Eat)

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Feeding your kiddo got you fatigued? We hear you—trying to get little ones to consume nutritious foods can be frustrating at times, especially when you’ve got a persnickety eater on your hands.

Alas, no need to spiral. “Toddlers go through a natural picky phase, so if you have a hesitant eater, don’t worry.” That’s a direct quote from Michelle Davenport, PhD, RD—a dietitian, member of Ritual’s Scientific Advisory Board, and parent (to a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old!). “It’s all part of the process.”

Keep reading for Michelle’s go-to toddler recipes, plus helpful tips for navigating this new chapter.

Nutritious Toddler Food Recipes They’ll Love

→ Rainbow Crudités + Dips. A finger-food fan favorite (say that three times fast), crudités are the ultimate nutritious snack hack for kids and adults alike. Michelle’s favorite way to jazz them up? Fun, colorful produce (carrots, green beans, yellow and purple cauliflower, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes), and multiple dip options (hummus, plain yogurt with fresh dill, mashed avocado). This allows them to mix and match as they please.

→ Crustless Mini Quiches. Beat two eggs and mix in chopped spinach and steamed broccoli (sweet potato works, too). Split into greased mini muffin cups and bake at 350℉ for 8-10 minutes until the eggs are set. “Quick, easy, and a good source of protein,” notes Michelle. “Tasty, too.”

→ Spinach and Banana Green Smoothie. When done right, kid-friendly smoothies can be a tasty and convenient way to sneak some extra nutrients into their daily menu, especially when rushing out the door. The best part? You can get creative with the recipes—peanut butter, almond butter, raspberries, blueberries, apple sauce, and even granola are all fun additions. Michelle's easy recipe: “Blend a cup of oat milk with banana, hemp hearts, and spinach. Pour into a cup and serve with a silly straw.” Boom!

→ Mini Meatballs with Tomato Sauce. A nostalgic childhood classic—but without the refined carbs. While tasty, refined carbohydrates like pasta and white bread aren’t the most satisfying options, as they have less dietary fiber than their whole grain counterparts. Instead, Michelle suggests reaching for dinner ideas centered around whole grains (including quinoa and whole wheat bread), protein (vegan-friendly options include black beans and chickpeas), fruits, veggies, nuts, and legumes. (1, 2)

For an easy meal, mix an egg with 3 tablespoons of milk, 3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs, 1 minced garlic clove, and 1 pound of grass-fed beef (ground chicken or turkey work, too). Using your hands, shape the mixture into little balls and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Finally, simmer in a tomato sauce of your choice for 15 minutes until fully cooked through, then serve. “This is one of my go-to weeknight toddler dinners,” says Michelle. “Delicious and nutritious. The best of both worlds!”

Bonus tip: Streamline your shopping! From protein to fats to produce, this master grocery list will have you in and out in record timing.

An RD’s tips for feeding picky toddlers:

✓ Maximize the good. “Take note of what your child likes, then build off of that,” advises Michelle. “Say they like broccoli—try cooking it roasted with spices, chopped into a quiche, blended into soup, diced into a taco, melted with cheese in a tortilla, or whipped up in a smoothie.” And if your toddler's favorite meals are grilled cheeses, chicken nuggets, and cheese quesadillas, use mealtimes as an opportunity to introduce new tastes and textures alongside the less-ideal picks.

✓ Don’t hide veggies. While it may be tempting to camouflage vegetables in order to make them palatable (and to be clear, mixed dishes can be a great way to introduce new flavors), it’s probably not the best long-term strategy. “In order to start liking certain foods, at some point, kids have to know they’re eating them,” she says. So yes, try the zucchini and butternut squash noodles—but don't forget to serve them in their recognizable form, too.

✓ Embrace the mess. Most parents can likely attest: Little ones can definitely get the dining table (and their clothing!) a little dirty. “When they’re first exploring new foods, things can get messy,” says Michelle. “Let it! It’s totally fine—to be expected, actually.”

✓ Get them involved. The best way to get your toddler interested in their food is to let them have a hands-on connection with it. Michelle suggests familiarizing them with different tastes and textures by letting them play sous-chef in the kitchen, then branching out from there. Some ideas: “Go to the farmer’s market together. Let them pick out healthy foods they’d like to pack in their lunch box. Start a garden.”

Dealing with a picky eater? You're (definitely) not alone. Here's 7 helpful tips from our in-house dietitian.

References:

  1. Aller, E. E., Abete, I., Astrup, A., Martinez, J. A., & van Baak, M. A. (2011). Starches, sugars. Nutrients, 3(3), 341–369.
  2. Yu, D., Shu, X. O., Li, H., Xiang, Y. B., Yang, G., Gao, Y. T., Zheng, W., & Zhang, X. (2013). Dietary carbohydrates, refined grains. American journal of epidemiology, 178(10), 1542–1549.

Meet Our Experts

This article features advice from our Science Team.

Ritual - Science Team

Addy Grier-Welch, MS, MPH, RDN, Research Scientist

Addy Grier-Welch is a Research Scientist at Ritual. She earned her MS in Public Health Nutrition and MPH from the University of Tennessee where she researched community-based food policies and environmental interventions. As a registered dietitian, Addy has spearheaded nutrition support for organizations participating in federal food programs geared toward providing healthy meals to children and adults.

Ritual - Science Team

Addy Grier-Welch, MS, MPH, RDN, Research Scientist

Addy Grier-Welch is a Research Scientist at Ritual. She earned her MS in Public Health Nutrition and MPH from the University of Tennessee where she researched community-based food policies and environmental interventions. As a registered dietitian, Addy has spearheaded nutrition support for organizations participating in federal food programs geared toward providing healthy meals to children and adults.

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