Let’s face it. When a toddler is hungry, there is not much time to prepare a meal before the crankiness starts. The meals must also be good or they’ll wind up smashed into the floor, table, or high chair (or even all three). Sometimes this can lead to unhealthy meals, such as fast food or frozen food ridden with preservatives. As a health-conscious mom, I simply wasn’t going to sacrifice my childrens’ health for a quick meal nor was I going to spend hours listening to a toddler scream due to impatience. I had plenty of trial and error as to what things made mealtime go smooth and which did not, as well as which types of things toddlers preferred. I also researched to find out which meals were healthy and which were not. Here are some practical ideas that help mealtime run smoother along with some ideas that are yummy to a toddler’s tummy and can also be tasty for the parents. Keep in mind that it is alright to provide a treat every now and then, just not every day.
Here are some ideas you can use to simplify things.
When it is getting close to any mealtime, a toddler will grow cranky. To avoid that, have a bowl of grapes or some other fruit your toddler enjoys readily available. While you cook, your toddler can snack, but still have room for dinner. Also have a coloring book and crayons at the table or highchair. Your toddler can color while waiting. If your child likes to put crayons into his or her mouth, you may want to opt for an Etch a Sketch or Magna Doodle instead.
Since toddlers are rather impatient, there are a few things you can do ahead of time to make preparing meals go much quicker. Keep tupperware containers of a variety of sliced fruits in your refrigerator at all times. These can make handy snacks and also act as side dishes for a meal. Also do the same with vegetables. Be sure they are all sliced into appropriate bite sizes for toddlers.
If your toddler drinks from a sippy cup, try having a few pre-filled ones in the refrigerator. Keep these stocked. That way when he or she is thirsty, you can get to the drink much faster. It also helps meal prep time go faster. Some should contain water and some should contain milk. Most juice should be avoided, due to tooth decay. Your toddler can get more nutrition from the actual fruit than from the juice. Freshly squeezed orange juice is fine, in moderation.
Also keep storage bags with cubed cheeses (mozzarella and mild cheddar are usually a good bet for kids) in the refrigerator. Cubed lean ham and turkey are a good idea as well.
Also keep pre-cooked wheat pasta noodles (whatever shape your child loves) in the refrigerator and freezer in tupperware containers for quick access and easy cooking. If you like to use meat in your pasta recipes, keep some of that pre-cooked as well. All natural ground beef with only 4% fat is a healthier option than the traditional ground beef or some other meats. Keep some meatballs, as well as crumbled ground beef. That way you can create different types of meals. It’s best to leave it unflavored, so you can easily create any dish with it.
If your toddler uses a booster seat, rather than a high chair, have one seat at your table where that booster chair stays. Attaching and unattaching a booster seat can sometimes take up time and cause your little one to get impatient. Plus, it’s just easier on mom and child if the booster is already in place. That way the child can be placed in the booster with a favorite toy while waiting for the meal. Giving the toy will help distract the child from focusing on waiting. However, if you’d rather not keep the booster attached, keep it in a convenient area where it can be accessed quickly or consider opting for a high chair that can be folded out of the way and be pulled up to the table for meal time.
Below you will see 3 meal suggestions each for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Your child does not have to be restricted to these options, but they will give you a concept of what the ideal meal should include.
1. Toast (one slice cut into fourths), sliced fruit, and a glass of milk
The toast should not have any butter. If your toddler must have something on it, use peanut butter or almond butter
2. Pancakes with fresh sliced strawberries on top and a glass of milk
3. Clifford Crunch Cereal with milk and sliced apples. Use water or fresh-squeezed orange juice (dilute with more water for a better-preferred “toddler” taste) for a beverage. The Clifford Crunch Cereal is designed specifically for kid nutrition. It only contains 6 grams of sugar, which is much less than a traditional cereal. But, don’t let that fool you, being low in sugar does not affect the taste. It also has essential vitamins and nutrients.
1. PB & J using Cascadian Farm Blackberry Fruit Spread and MaraNatha Natural Almond Butter, plus a glass of water, and raw vegetable pieces (whichever ones your toddler will eat – try sugar-snap peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, cucumbers, or zucchini)
Both the Cascadian Farm Fruit Spread and the Almond Butter can usually be found in Kroger’s organic section, natural or organic food stores, or other grocers in the organic section.
2. Fruit Slices, Wheat Thins (wheat crackers), Cheese Cubes, Lean Ham Cubes, glass of milk
3. Easy Spaghetti (Use your pre-cooked pasta, sauce, and ground beef) with garlic toast and a glass of milk
1. The Easy Spaghetti from the lunch meal can be a good dinner, too. Just add some sautéed zucchini and tomatoes for an extra burst of flavor and nutrition. You can make garlic bread instead of toast and add a small side salad made up of green lettuce, romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and pecans. Use a simple vinaigrette made of half vinegar and half water with Italian seasonings.
2.Taco Salad (using your favorite pre-cut vegetables, onions, hot peppers, cheese, ground beef, and tortilla chips)
Many toddlers love ranch dressing, so if this is the case with your toddler, pour some ranch over it.
The chicken salad is made exactly the same as the Taco Salad, minus the tortilla chips and ground beef. Top with vinaigrette or ranch.
1. Cascadian Farm’s Multi-Grain Squares cereal can make a great snack mix.
Just substitute these for the Chex in your favorite Chex Mix recipe. Just be sure to use all natural ingredients and those which are good for you. For example, rather than using honey-covered nuts, you should use unsalted organic nuts.
Provide a plate of sliced fruit (in correct portion) along with a small cup of fat free yogurt. Your child can dip the fruit into the yogurt. Sometimes this can help get your child to eat fruits that would normally be thrown on the floor. Be sure to pick a flavor of yogurt your child enjoys. Also, be sure the fruit in the yogurt is not an artificial flavoring, but actual pieces of fruit.
Preferences vary for trail mix, but the basic ingredients should consist of 2 to 3 types of nuts, sesame sticks, pretzels, raisins or dried cranberries, and organic carob chips (chocolate without too much sugar)
Avoid using items with too much sugar or salt in the trail mix. It’s best to use unflavored items in this mix. Once everything is mixed together, it will create its own flavor. If you have to have seasonings, try any of the Mrs. Dash seasonings. They have all the flavor without any salt and come in a wide variety of flavors.
Water or milk are the best beverages for snack time.
Disclaimer: The author is not a health professional. Please consult a pediatrician or other qualified health professional before changing your child’s diet. All children have unique needs.