Toddlers explore foods in easy-to-chew small bites throughout their day, and their tastes and preferences vary considerably over time. Present healthy choices for young children to increase their palettes and give a diverse food experience.
Toddler Finger Foods
As toddlers use all their senses to explore the world and eat many small meals, finger foods are a staple in their diet. Standard foods fitting this description include soft, diced or sliced fruits, vegetables, meats and whole grains such as:
- Green peas
- Hard cheeses
- Tofu rolled in crushed cracker or cereal crumbs
- Hard-boiled or scrambled eggs
- Chicken, turkey or beef
- Mini whole wheat waffles
- Soft-baked granola bars
New Ways to Prep Favorites
Serve these plain foods at room temperature and steam or bake vegetables and meats to give them a soft texture. Keep finger foods free of too much seasoning and add flavor by prepping standard ingredients in a new way like:
- Combine mashed sweet potatoes with whole wheat flour and egg then fry in patties for easy potato pancakes.
- Mash two eggs and one banana together, fry, and top with fruit spread for sweet banana pancakes.
- Julienne sweet potatoes or zucchini, cover lightly with olive oil, and bake until soft to make fries.
- Drip drops of flavored yogurt on parchment paper and freeze to create your own version of those little yogurt drops.
- Turn your favorite pancakes toddler-friendly by making them small and bite-sized.
- Serve up a protein-packed finger food when you make tiny baked meatballs using ground meat mixed with egg and breadcrumbs.
Multiple Ingredient Snacks
Family therapist, Kristy De Leon, suggests you allow little ones to snack whenever they are hungry because their "nutritional intake is gathered over a week's time."
Miniature meals posed as snacks help toddlers meet their nutritional requirements.
- Bananas get a sweet upgrade when you use a food processor to turn frozen banana slices into an ice-cream like dessert. Add a dash of nut butter for a more filling snack.
- Dessert-like quesadillas require only a thin spread of Nutella on a tortilla. Heat up a tortilla in the microwave for about 8 seconds to soften it, spread a thin layer of Nutella on one half, then fold the other half over. Cut into manageable pieces for your toddler.
- Top a graham cracker with a thin layer of flavored cream cheese for an easy dairy and whole grain snack.
- Enhance a fruit smoothie by adding milk or Greek yogurt.
- Yogurt is a staple dairy for toddler diets, but cottage cheese with diced fruit packs similar nutrition.
- No-salt soft pretzel pieces dipped in hummus make for an easy, portable snack.
- Kids who like to dip will love mini pita bread triangles with a white bean dip.
- Homemade mini granola bites include nut butter and a variety of ground nuts with oats rolled into bite-sized balls.
Healthy menu suggestions for toddlers include a mix of fruits, grains, vegetables, proteins and dairy products. While young children enjoy eating the same meal as the rest of the family, their physical abilities limit options. These meal suggestions include multiple food groups in a single dish. Serve as-is or deconstruct the ingredients.
- Mix a variety of soft, diced fruits like bananas, strawberries and peaches. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese over a piece of whole wheat toast, then top with the mixed fruit.
- Bake scrambled eggs with cheese and steamed broccoli topped with whole grain breadcrumbs in a mini muffin pan for a toddler egg bake.
- Coat banana bread in a scrambled egg batter and fry like standard French toast. Serve with fruit yogurt for dipping.
- Make a bland pasta salad with cold, cooked pasta like macaroni, diced pepperoni, diced peppers, diced olives, diced cheese slices and diced tomatoes.
- Top round crackers with tomato sauce and shredded cheese. Serve warm or cold.
- Make a simple egg salad or tuna salad to stack on crackers for protein-packed sandwich alternatives.
- Make a plain rice bowl with cooked rice, a favorite diced meat and two to three small, soft vegetables like cooked peas and beans. Substitute rice with another grain like couscous or quinoa.
- Form uncooked meatloaf into sticks and bake. Serve with ketchup for an easy self-fed toddler meal.
- Make hand-held meat pockets for a no-utensils dinner. Mix ground beef with diced green peppers and tomatoes as the filling, and use pre-made, whole-wheat pizza dough. Cut the dough into large circles, add the meat mixture to the center and fold over to create an empanada shape. Squish the ends closed with a fork then bake according to package instructions.
The average toddler diet includes a daily intake of 1,000-1,400 calories. Daily amounts of specific food groups range from:
- 3-4.5 ounces whole grains
- 1-1.5 cups vegetables
- 1-1.5 cups fruits
- 2 cups milk/dairy
- 2-4 ounces meats/beans
Toddler foods and meals aim to include a variety of nutrients including vitamins and minerals like iron and calcium. Try to include a wide variety of foods from all food groups throughout the day and week for your little one. Monitor all meal and snack times and serve foods in manageable sizes.
Toddler diets include a variety of foods from all the same food groups adults eat. The difference is, toddlers need these ingredients in soft, bite-sized versions. Help children explore food and develop preferences with creative meal options.