51 Healthy Foods Your Toddler Will Actually Eat
Unless you won the parent lottery, you probably can identify when I say feeding a toddler can be a struggle. I mean, if you don’t eat you die. It’s a pretty simple concept, but one that toddler brains just can’t grasp. And I’m sure many of you, like me, cringe when you think of admitting you have fed your toddler unhealthy foods out of desperation. You know what I’m talking about… french fries, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, *gasp* McDonald’s Happy Meals. For me, getting my son to eat healthy foods was especially important because he was born Small for Gestational Age (SGA) and was underweight for the first 2 years of his life.
Many parents don’t realize how much of each food group their child actually needs to eat at his or her age. It’s probably not as much as you think. Check out this article from KidsHealth to assess how on-target your little one is with his daily nutrition.
The following list is, quite simply, the foods that have been a greatest hit with my son.Think of this as the ultimate guide to food your toddler will actually eat. In fact, he’ll probably actually wantto eat it. You’ll find foods that are extremely simple (i.e. just pull out of the cupboard and toss in a bowl), foods you can take on the go, healthy “desserts” as I like to call them and meals or side dishes that might take a little longer to make. Some foods are heavy on vegetables or fruits, others are heavy in other nutrients, like protein. So feel free to mix and match to create a spectrum of healthy foods to round out your toddler’s diet.
- Frozen Peas – Sounds weird, but it’s a total hit. Especially good for teething toddlers, these icy treats are as healthy as they come.
- Fresh Berries – Babies and toddlers have a sweet tooth, just like we do. Satisfy it the healthy way by serving a mixture of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries!
- Shredded Cheese – Who doesn’t love to eat shredded cheese right out of the bag? Cheese is an excellent source of protein and calcium, and feeding this on the side helps up your toddler’s dairy intake if he’s refusing to drink milk.
- Nuts – As long as your child is accustomed to chewing and is seated, offering him nuts like cashews, pecans and peanuts is a tasty way to make sure he reaches the recommended amounts of protein each day. Try hiding a few nuts inside plastic eggs and have a scavenger hunt!
- Banana Bites – Slice a banana with the peel still on and encourage your child to remove the “wrapper” to eat the banana! Not only will you be encouraging fine motor skills, but playing with food makes eating a much more exciting process for any toddler.
- Gerber Graduates Fruit & Veggie Melts and Yogurt Melts – These come in a handy stand-up pouch with a zipper that can easily be thrown in your diaper bag or purse, and they can be fed to kids around the time they begin crawling. They’re freeze-dried snacks, so they have a fun crunch but also melt on your tongue.
- String Cheese – If you’re on the go, you may want to keep this in an insulated bag (the ones used to keep baby bottles cold are perfect!). String cheese is a fantastic, mess-free snack that lets toddlers feed themselves wherever they are.
- Pirate’s Booty – Even the name makes it sound fun to eat! Pirate’s Booty are baked puffs made from rice and corn that come in flavors like aged white cheddar, veggie and sour cream & onion. A healthier alternative to chips or crackers, Pirate’s Booty has 50 percent less fat and fewer calories than regular potato chips.
- Plum Organics Teensy Fruits – The typical fruit snacks sold in stores are packed with sugar, have zero fruit in them and are actually a choking hazard for kids under 3 (yikes!). Yet, they are like crack for toddlers. Teensy Fruits are flat, chewy disks with a full serving of fruit in each packet. They’re real fruit snacks, and perfectly sized to throw in your bag.
- Plum Organics Mighty4 Essential Nutrition Bars – These tot-sized cereal bars offer ingredients from four different food groups in one on-the-go treat. Each one is packed with 11 vitamins and minerals, 5 grams of whole grains and comes in flavors like Blueberry with Carrot and Strawberry with Spinach. Sounds healthy, and they are, but your toddler can’t tell.
- Smoothies – They’re creamy and sweet and the perfect way to sneak foods your toddler won’t eat into his diet! Use a base of bananas and berries, then add some milk and a handful of spinach. Blend and pour into a cup or reusable food pouch. (We like the Sili Squeeze! Check them out at TheSiliCo.com.)
- Baby Food – What do you do with all those leftover jars of baby food your growing toddler is no longer interested in? Children love to dip their food, and baby food is much healthier than ranch dressing. It’s a great way to sneak in some extra fruits or veggies! Try dipping carrot sticks, cucumber coins, crackers or animal crackers.
- Strawberry Lemonade Slush – Instead of sugary popsicles and drinks when the temperature gets too hot to handle, blend up a your own slush! Simply toss 1 cup frozen strawberries, the juice of 1/2 lemon, 6 ice cubes, 2 tsp. honey (or sweetener of your choice) and 1/2 to 1 cup water into a blender. Blend until smooth, adding more water as needed to get a “slushy” consistency. Serve with a straw!
- Healthy Homemade Fruit Snacks – Is your child slacking on his or her veggies lately? Add some vital nutrients and vitamins with these colorful gummy bites! This recipe from Modern Parents, Messy Kids is easy to make. I’ve added probiotic powder as suggested to increase the digestive benefits! If you enjoy making your own juice, feel free, but if you’re not as adventurous (or just don’t have a juicer), give V8 Fusion juices a try! You can find them in the juice aisle at any grocery store and they include a variety of fruits and vegetables in tasty combinations.
- Creamy Avocado Dip – I’m not sure what it is with kids and dip, but it sure is on my son’s list of favorites! Even if they don’t actually eat whatever they’re dipping, you’ll still be sure your toddler is getting his or her veggies when you serve up a bowl if this dip. Find the recipe at Two Peas and their Pod and serve it with some pita chips, whole grain wheat thins or cut vegetables.
- Edible Play Dough – If your little one is the type to experiment with non-edible things (You know, regular play dough, sand, dirt), this edible dough makes a great snack! This recipe from Coffee Cups and Crayons is just like the real deal, but off protein and the goodness of milk if your toddler decides to taste-test it. The author suggests storing it in the fridge between uses, but if your child is particularly mouthy or messy, I recommend tossing any used dough.
- Banana Split Bites – The idea behind these fruity little coins is so great you might even find yourself reaching for a few of these when that sweet tooth hits! Simply slice a banana into 16 coins, top with a bit of strawberry flavored Greek yogurt and add a sprinkle of chopped peanuts. I also like to add a chocolate chip because what’s a banana split without chocolate? Freeze for an hour, or until the yogurt is firm. Store in an airtight container in the freezer until ready to eat. (Feel free to take out just a few at a time for your toddler!)
- Kale Chips – I was skeptical when I tried making these crispy “chips” everyone had been raving about on Pinterest but was shocked by how good they were! What was even more shocking was how much my 2-year-old liked them. They’re easy enough to make that your toddler will enjoy helping- after ripping the leaves off the stems, have your toddler tear the kale into bite size pieces. This recipe from The Eco Friendly Family calls for parmesan, but you can add pretty much any combination of spices and herbs that you like. Store leftovers in a zip-top bag for 1 or 2 days (if they last that long!) Kale is an excellent source of vitamins A, K and C, as well as folate, which is essential for growing brains! (Source: WebMD)
- Cheese Crackers – Let your toddler give you a hand in the kitchen by helping mix up the dough for these cheesy crackers from Annie Get Your Glue Gun! Then, let your little one cut out fun shapes with cookie cutters. We like to make stars, snowflakes, and animals.
- Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips – When I find something my toddler can use as dip that isn’t full of empty calories, I get really excited. I’ve always enjoyed fruit salsa, but never gave a thought to its nutritional value until I realized it fit into this healthy “dip dip” category! You may have your own recipe, but if you’ve never made this fun snack before, run over to The Girl Who Ate Everything for a recipe. I like to use whole grain tortillas, and it is totally OK to cut back on the sugar in this recipe.
- Greek Yogurt Scrambled Eggs – Does your little one refuse eggs? You may want to give them one more try with this simple recipe that adds the flavor and fluffy texture of an egg soufflé without the extra work. Simply whisk 3 eggs, 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt and 1/2 tsp. salt in a bowl until well combined. Heat a skillet on medium-low heat and add 2 tsp. butter. When butter has melted, pour in eggs mixture and let sit until it begins to solidify (don’t rush it- be patient!). Using a rubber spatula, flip over sections of the egg mixture so the uncooked side is down. Continue until fully cooked. Don’t overcook.
- Whole Wheat Mug Muffins – It is recommended that half your toddler’s daily intake of grains come from whole grain sources. Add a little extra with this quick, tasty muffin that is made in the microwave! This recipe comes from It’s Always Autumn, and following her suggestion, I keep the dry ingredients in a glass Pyrex container with a lid and measure everything out with a 1/3 cup measuring cup. Don’t make an entire batch of muffins when you can have a fresh, warm one every morning this week!
- Frozen Yogurt Bites – Creamy, cold and easy to eat on the go, these little buttons are perfect for busy mornings. Not only are they easy to pull out of the freezer and toss into a bowl, they’re also easy to make and only require 1 ingredient- Greek yogurt! Get the simple recipe from Lady Behind the Curtain!
- Applesauce Dots – The only thing easier than making Frozen Yogurt Bites is making these Applesauce dots using the little pouches you find in the baby aisle! This clever idea from Mama Dot is easily adaptable- you can use any flavor your toddler happens to fancy.
- Breakfast Cookies – What toddler hasn’t asked for a cookie first thing in the morning? Honor their request with this recipe that’s actually good for them. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Mash 3 bananas in a large bowl and stir in 1/4 cup milk (can use a substitute), 1/3 cup applesauce, 2 cups quick oats, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon and 1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips. Drop rounded tablespoons of the dough onto a baking sheet coated with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
- “Baked” Cinnamon Apples – Warm, soft and sweet, these apples make the perfect morning treat. They’re easy for little fingers to pick up and because they’re made in the microwave, they’re the perfect breakfast for during the week. Find the recipe at Our Paleo Life. Finish with a dollop of vanilla yogurt or a sprinkle of granola and your little one’s belly will stay full all morning! Hint: you could also serve this as a super-healthy dessert with a bit of whipped cream!
- Apple “Cookies” – There are so many fun ways to eat apples, but this may be one of the best! Your little one will have a chance to create a work of art, and eat it too! View the original recipe at Rachel Schultz and then let your toddler get hands on by creating his or her own “cookies.” Thinly slice an apple, remove the cores and spread each slice with peanut butter (or nut butter of your choice). Sprinkle with mini chocolate chips, granola, nuts, coconut, cereal, dried cranberries or raisins.
- Homemade Mac & Cheese – This has always been my boy’s favorite food, and perhaps has something to do with the fact that it was almost all I ate while pregnant with him! It’s so easy to pull a box mac & cheese dinner out of the pantry for dinner, but did you know it’s just as easy to make it homemade? If that weren’t good enough already, this recipe from Super Healthy Kids adds “hidden veggies” (aka Summer Squash) for an extra nutritional boost! I’ve heard of other moms using butternut squash or carrot purees, so feel free to experiment. Use whole grain elbow noodles and you’ve got a well-balanced meal that is sure to please any toddler.
- “Lazy” Mac & Cheese – If you don’t have the few extra minutes to add the hidden veggies to the homemade mac & cheese recipe above, try this version of the classic dish, using a boxed dinner. While the pasta is boiling, cook a chicken breast (can be boiled, sauteed, grilled, etc.) During the last few minutes of cooking for the pasta, add 1/2 cup frozen green peas. Drain and follow directions for mixing cheese sauce on the box. Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces and stir in. It’s a full meal in a single dish.
- Grilled Cheese with Avocado and Tomato – Who says grilled cheese has to be nutritionless? While assembling your sandwich (using whole grain bread!), add bits of diced avocado and well-dried chopped tomatoes. Serve with a side of soup and this comfort food will nourish growing bodies too! Cheese is an excellent source of the calcium necessary for strong bones, and avocadoes add a dose of healthy fats.
- Mini Shape Quesadillas – Let your toddler help you in the kitchen by using cookie cutters to cut shapes from whole grain tortillas. Use two matching shapes to create a quesadilla filled with shredded cheese and heat in a skillet with a bit of oil or butter until crisp. For a veggie boost, try sauteing some onions and bell peppers and adding them with the cheese. The fun shapes make mealtime much more enjoyable!
- Sweet Potato Tuna Patties – I’m a huge fan of healthy foods that can be made ahead and frozen. On busy days, they’re easy to just pull out of the freezer and heat up before everyone gets “hangry.” These fishy cakes from My Lovely Little Lunch Box are perfect for just that reason, and can be served on their own or atop a whole grain hamburger bun. To freeze, wrap each patty individually and store in your freezer for up to three months.
- Parmesan Chicken Nuggets – I’ve never been a fan of homemade chicken nuggets because every recipe I tried never turned out very crispy, and the breading always fell off. If you’ve had these problems, give it one more shot with this recipe from Taste of Home, which uses parmesan cheese to flavor the light, crispy coating. Serve alongside some crispy Sweet Potato Fries or Mashed Potato Bites (both listed below) for a tasty, well-balanced meal even the pickiest eater will love.
- Homemade Spaghetti-O’s – These pasta rings sold in a can are a notoriously a kid-pleaser, but their nutritional value is questionable. When you make your own, you know exactly what’s in them… not to mention they taste a million times better! This recipe from Milk Free Mom is 100% vegan, so it gets its cheesy flavor from nutritional yeast flakes, which are an excellent source of the b vitamins, iron and protein!
- Avocado Pinwheels – These popular party appetizers also make an excellent meal for finger-feeding toddlers. Plus, they’re quick and easy to make and can be changed up endlessly depending on what you have in your fridge and what your toddler is willing to eat on any given day. Using this recipe from Eclectic Recipes as a base, I’ve created pinwheels with chopped cucumber and turkey, tomato and leftover shredded chicken and even ham and shredded carrot. Combined with the creamy avocado-cream cheese base, you may even find vegetables become a lot less yucky to your little one!
- Steamed Baby Carrots with Honey Glaze – This sweet side dish is filled with veggie goodness and perfect for self-feeding. Try serving these carrot sticks alongside some chicken nuggets or a hot dog instead of French fries! IMPORTANT: NEVER feed honey to an infant younger than one year old. If making this recipe for a child younger than one year, replace honey with sugar or omit altogether. Place 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. of baby carrots (or carrot coins) in a medium saucepan filled with about 1/2 inch of water. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Allow carrots to simmer for 6-8 minutes, or until tender. Drain any excess water, then add 1 Tbsp. honey,1 Tbsp. butter and salt to taste. Stir until butter and honey melt.
- Banana Slices – How about a side of fine motor skills with that? Following a fantastic idea from Joyful Abode, simply slice a banana with the peel on and encourage your little one to practice his fine motor skills by peeling them before eating! The added play element almost always encourages at least a few more bites from picky eaters.
- Baked Sweet Potato Fries – French fries are a favorite of children, but are often made unhealthy through deep-frying. The sweet potato has gotten a lot of attention lately for being packed with nutrients such as vitamin A, protein and complex carbs (which provide a great boost of energy!). Take this recipe from Cookie + Kate and whip up a batch of homemade sweet potato fries that are as crisp as their unhealthy cousins yet fuel little bodies for good! Kate recommends using one sweet potato per person, but I recommend 1/4 of a small-medium sweet potato for a toddler-sized portion.
- Tomato and Mozzarella Salad – When it comes to finger foods, this salad is perfect! Kids often take up to 10 tries before they accept (and even like!) a new food. Tomatoes aren’t generally on the list of “kid-friendly eats,” but I find the soft mozzarella cheese served alongside encourages at least a few nibbles. And it couldn’t be easier: simply dice 2 large tomatoes and add to a medium bowl. Add 1 package of fresh mozzarella pearls (the kind packed in water) and a couple tablespoons of Italian dressing. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese if you wish.
- Rainbow Pasta – Rainbow pasta is often fun-shapes (spirals or bow-ties) and is usually flavored with vegetables so you don’t have to worry about food dyes! Serve with veggie-packed pasta sauce or create a fun and colorful salad by adding chopped vegetables (think carrots, bell peppers, peas) and a splash of Italian dressing.
- Mashed Potato Bites – Potatoes often get a bad rap, but the fact is they are an incredibly healthy vegetable. Potatoes are an excellent source of iron, dietary fiber, calcium and potassium- and that’s just a few of their health benefits! (Source: www.organicfacts.net) This recipe from One Busy WAHM is a perfect use for leftover mashed potatoes, and they are frozen so making a batch is as easy as pulling a bag of French fries out of the freezer!
- Cauliflower Tots – Maybe you’ve heard about the cauliflower craze. I’ll be honest, I tried making cauliflower pizza crust once and it was too much work to be worth it, even if it was delicious. These cauliflower tots from Gimme Delicious, on the other hand, taste just like real tater tots and are MUCH easier to make! Serve these as a side, and you’re almost guaranteeing that your toddler will eat his or her veggies!
- Chocolate-Banana “Milkshake” – Toddlers go bananas over ice cream. And this creamy, thick shake can be served in a tall glass with a straw or frozen for scoopable treat later! No matter how it’s served, my son calls this nutrient-packed milkshake “ice cream!” Get the recipe atOne Sweet Mess.
- Chocolate Avocado Pudding – Sneaking veggies into your toddler’s favorite treat has never been so… well, sneaky! Combining chocolate and avocado sounds wrong, but I promise you can’t tell it’s there! It gives this dessert its thick, creamy pudding consistency and adds healthy fats your child’s growing brain needs! Check out the recipe at My So-Called Mommy Life.
- Berry Avocado Pudding – If your kid’s not into chocolate (or if you’d like to avoid the stains for messy eaters) try out this take on the avocado pudding, using fresh berries. You can find the recipe at One Sweet Healthy Vegan. Try adding a few sprinkle of nuts, cereal or granola to create a colorful parfait! These “puddings” are healthy enough to be eaten for breakfast!
- Fruit and Yogurt Pops – Popsicles are the perfect sweet treat to keep your toddler cool on a hot day, but most of the ones sold in grocery stores are nothing more than flavored sugar water. Instead, take a few minutes to make your own and fill your little one’s tummy with healthy protein, probiotics and other nutrients! Simply mix equal amounts of fruit juice and yogurt (flavored or plain), pour into popsicle molds and freeze until solid.
- Healthier Jell-O Dessert – As you can probably tell by now, I’m a huge fan of sneaking fruits and veggies into everyday dishes. Jell-O desserts are no exception. Just follow the directions on the package, substituting V8 Fusion fruit/veggie juice for the water. Add a can of fruit cocktail and you’ve got a dessert that’s *almost* good enough to be a side dish!
- Orange Dreamsicle Yogurt Bites – I like to think of these as protein bites for kids. They are the perfect size and texture for even the youngest toddlers to practice self-feeding, yet the whole family will gobble them up. You can find the recipe at CookBoum. I recommend the following changes: skip the added sugar by using plain Greek yogurt with 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract. Instead of cupcake liners, pour the mixture directly into a mini muffin pan. (Just use a knife or rubber spatula to pop them out once they have firmed up). Also, you can absolutely use flavors other than orange for this recipe!
- Strawberry Frozen Yogurt – Make “ice cream” a source of calcium, vitamin C and probiotics with this recipe for a frozen treat that takes just 5 minutes to make. Find the recipe at Just a Taste. The author states that this healthy fro yo can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 month, so if your toddler demands dessert you can simply offer him a scoop of strawberries and yogurt! *Ahem* I mean, “Ice Cream.”
- Peanut Butter Banana Sandwiches – I think of these as a healthy alternative to the Oreo cookie. OK, maybe they’re no substitute, but your toddler will eat these! This easy recipe can be found at Not Enough Cinnamon. These little sandwiches do need to be made ahead of time so they have time to freeze.
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