How The Heck Do You Feed Toddlers?!

Feeding a toddler is full time job. I honestly feel like most of what we’re doing these days is either feeding our child or planning what and when he’ll be eating next. It seriously takes up so much of my cognitive space; especially because we never had any real time-based eating habits prior to him being around, so it’s not like we’re feeding ourselves at regular intervals.

It also doesn’t help that at 18 months now, L has started to have opinions about what he eats. He has decided that he’ll put food in his mouth, but then immediately spit it out if he’s not feeling it in that moment. Not that day, or that meal, but that moment-because he very well might actually eat it a few bites later. He has also started to just walk into the kitchen and say “Yaaasssss!!” when he wants to eat, but then declare everything we offer unfit for his consumption. This of course is all part and parcel with being a toddler.

Right around the time they get better at walking and start to explore more on their own, children also get picky about what they’re eating, which of course is toddlerhood. This is actually something that is an evolved protective trait among us humans. As they’re walking around, if they just ate any and everything they came across, they could die. So, it’s safer to only eat things they’re familiar with until they get better discretion. The people who we’re picky eaters died. Or, my favorite summary, “Eat dung and die.” That said, it’s still important to offer and introduce them to new foods and suggest they try them. Also, you don’t want your kid to train you when it comes to feeding time, so don’t feel the need to reach for their unhealthy favorite just so they’ll eat something. Our pediatrician said to expect 1 good meal out of every 3-4 meals, so check with yours.

Anyhow, on to what we feed him. We’ve always pre-planned his food. It started with his baby food, which I wrote about in my post about making my own, but eventually, he had to be transitioned into more and more solids* until finally all of his meals were solid foods. It was admittedly a bittersweet moment because we had gotten that routine down so good and now we had to move to the next phase. (If you’re interested, I covered the move from 100% bottle to 100% solids in this post on the progression)

Snacks

Ok, so before we get to the meals, you need to know that a big part of he toddler food world are the snacks. All. The. Snacks. This is probably because they refuse to sit down to a real meal half of the time. So, you probably know about Cheerios and puffs, but there were so many more. We ended up using those baby food containers from when we were making his food as snack holders, so they’re an investment that keeps on giving. Snacks have been added to our walking out of the door mantra: phone, keys, wallet, snacks. Even if we’re literally going to go eat, we always take snacks because a) the food isn’t ready as soon as you sit down and b) he might not be interested in the $10 meal we just ordered for him and the snacks will keep him occupied while we eat.

Cubed apples and cheese

Here’s a list of fun, easy snacks:

  • tiny cubed cheese (think the size of peas)
  • tiny cubed fruit (you can cut this yourself or buy frozen and thaw)
  • those fruit/vegetable pouches
  • Bamba (a bag is .99 at Trader Joes)
  • blackberries
  • blueberries
  • Cuties/ mandarin oranges
  • GoGurt or yogurt
  • raisins (he really likes the golden ones)
  • Annies Bunny Crackers
  • applesauce
  • animal crackers
  • goldfish crackers
  • string cheese (once he got older)
  • teddy grahams
  • soft-baked nature bars
This was for a weekend getaway to San Diego

Meals

So, like I said, we continued to prep his food for the week even after he was done with baby food, and still do. Every Sunday, we spend about an hour preparing his meals for week. While there is some risk with this, (e.g. he might decide he doesn’t like chicken nuggets this week), the benefit outweighs this risk for us. Not having to spend time preparing his food while he’s throwing a fit about eating is priceless mental stability. Even though most of his meals happen around the same time of day, so we could theoretically anticipate when he’ll be hungry, we find it easier to provide well-rounded meals if they’re planned ahead of time. While we can still do a pretty good job winging it at breakfast and lunch, this is MOST important for dinners. He has never been willing to wait until we’re ready to eat dinner at 6, so his meals are hardly ever the same as ours. But, it’s hard to cook our dinner and his dinner at the same time, so prepping is crucial.

A week’s worth of food

Essentially, we bought reusable containers with separate compartments and essentially make our own versions of “Kid Cuisines” for him. To save on money and waste, we buy things in bulk and split it across the week. At first, we were only doing this for breakfast (because he was still bottles and eating baby food for dinners). The breakfasts started pretty simple and have pretty much stayed that way: boiled egg, Cheerios, Chobani vanilla yogurt, fruit, peanut butter.

Cheerios, half a boiled egg, frozen mango/pineapple (thawed), vanilla Greek yogurt
Cheerios, peanut butter or vanilla Greek yogurt, eggs
Cheerios, boiled egg, Greek yogurt, raspberries, blueberries
A more recent one: Boiled egg, peaches, strawberry Greek yogurt

Lunches have varied and were admittedly the last thing we started to prep, and even then it is only partly prepped sometimes. When we first started feeding him solids for lunch, as opposed to baby food, he was eating something like a meatless charcuterie board. We would just give him cheese, crackers, fruit, etc. But, that obviously didn’t last long once he wasn’t having an afternoon bottle with it. Now, we’ll sometimes make him buttered noodles for his lunch, which is a fully prepped thing. However, more often than not, we give him two sides (e.g. cheese and fruit) and then make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the morning or at lunch time. That way, he’s not eating a soggy sandwich.

Noodles with butter and garlic (I buy it minced already), diced cheese, and blackberries

Okay dinner. This is the last one we switched from baby food to solids and it was also the hardest. He only had like 2 teeth at 10 months and had (still has!) a ridiculous gag reflex. So while he wouldn’t necessarily choke per se (cut off airway), he absolutely gagged and vomited all the time, even on puffs…that melted anyway. So, initially, I had to come up with dinners that he’d eat, but also wouldn’t result in us catching puke with our hands. Now that he’s older and has more teeth, the bigger struggle is hoping he won’t change his mind about what we made for the week on Tuesday.

Diced sweet potato, biscuit, peas, applesauce
Oven roasted zucchini (olive oil and salt), biscuit, peas, applesauce
Chicken nugget, mandarin orange, roasted butternut squash
Mac-n-cheese, over roasted broccoli (olive oil and salt), applesauce
Chicken nuggets, applesauce, broccoli

If you’re wondering if he actually eats broccoli, yes, and even more so if it’s over roasted. We have also made fish sticks (not the gross kind from the early 90s, they’ve improved them ya’ll!) other types of noodles, mashed potatoes, black beans, etc., but we almost always give him applesauce with dinner. That unsweetened, warm applesauce seems like it’s the highlight of his day to be honest..haha. Also, sometimes it seems like he might be over the same stuff (or he’s just doing normal toddler stuff, who even know), so we’ll switch it up the next week. However, from the very beginning of feeding him, we have always offered him some of what we were eating. (Turns out he LOVES salmon!) This little “contingency plan” comes in handy when he’s being picky.

So that’s all I’ve got. We feed him hella snacks, though not necessarily sweets, and we prep his meals for the week. The rest is really just throwing noodles at the wall. 🤷🏾‍♀️

*I’ve heard and seen the word “solids” used in few different ways. Sometimes people use it to mean food that’s hard, so things that are beyond the pureed foods. Other times it’s used for anything that’s not breastmilk or formula, which is how I use it. I wasn’t even aware of the former of these two uses until people were asking me if my giant 6-month old was eating solids, as I was feeding him. So yeah, solids are anything baby is eating other than breastmilk or forumla.

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