One minute they love it, the next minute they’re feeding it to the dog. What’s with toddlers and their picky eating habits?
As it turns out, it’s a completely normal phase of childhood for a toddler to change their mind. Your daughter might love grapes one week, only to despise them the next.
Our list of toddler lunches for picky eaters will help you think of new foods to try for those days when they just won’t eat.
I’ve compiled our tried and true favorites from my years of parenting and working in early childhood to bring you a list of easy toddler meals to make a complete menu for your little one.
There are all kinds of food on this list because variety is the spice of life.
A meal doesn’t need to be elaborate to be nutritious. If you keep it fun and simple and find ways to make it interesting, mealtime can be a happy time to spend with your toddler.
Healthy Foods for Toddlers
Toddlers need a variety of food just like grownups do for a healthy lifestyle.
Foods like meat, fish, chicken, turkey, and eggs will provide the needed protein for your toddler’s development.
They also need a variety of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, dairy, whole grain cereals, bread, pasta, potatoes, and rice to complete their daily nutrition needs.
At this age, it’s essential to avoid foods that are high in sugar or overly salty.
You want to develop healthy eating habits by offering a wide variety of healthy foods that will help your child grow to their full potential.
By the age of two, your toddler should be eating at least three meals a day plus one or two healthy snacks throughout the day.
To avoid mindless eating, make meals and snack time a special time to enjoy a meal together.
Now that your toddler can feed themselves, it’s an opportunity to teach them greater independence by using their own plate, and utensils and drinking from a cup.
Meal Safety & Choking Hazards
There are certain foods that can be dangerous for toddlers, so it’s important to take caution when serving food items that could be a choking hazard.
Foods that can be a choking hazard include hot dogs, whole grapes, hard candies or crackers, whole raw carrots & celery, marshmallows, and spoonfuls of nut or seed butter.
Be sure to cut pieces of hot dog and grapes into smaller pieces before serving them to your toddler.
Carrot sticks can be okay for older toddlers provided that they are thinly cut and not too hard.
Some baby carrots are extra small and tender and are a great option for serving fresh veggies to your toddler.
21 Ideas for Toddler Lunches for Picky Eaters
These easy toddler lunch ideas are a great option for even the pickiest of eaters.
You’ll find lots of choices on our list that are packed with whole grains, lots of fruits & veggies, and protein from a variety of food groups.
Cereal for lunch? Absolutely!
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches on whole grain bread. If your child can safely eat peanut butter, there’s nothing tastier than a PBJ on whole-grain bread.
There are many fun ways to serve toddlers a small sandwich including using different types of bread, crust on or crust off, or using cookie cutters to make their favorite shapes or characters.
You can even make your own fun Peanut Butter and Jelly Spider Sandwiches, it’s a great way to dress up a regular sandwich in your kids lunch box!
Almond Butter on Toast. Almond butter on toast with a side of banana slices is nutritious and a naturally sweet treat for mealtime.
Cream Cheese with Celery. Cream cheese on celery is a fun finger food for older toddlers and preschoolers. It goes great as a side at mealtime or as a stand-alone at snacktime.
Grilled Cheese with Cheddar Cheese. Lightly buttered and grilled to perfect, toddlers love grilled cheese sandwiches. Cut it into triangles or squares for some fun with shapes. You can try making it with different types of cheeses if your picky toddler isn’t a cheddar fan.
Mini Bagels with Cream Cheese. A mini bagel with cream cheese isn’t just a breakfast food. Mini bagels were made for tiny hands and the portion size is just right. You can also use mini bagels to make ham & cheese sliders, too!
Cookie Cutter Sandwiches. Make an ordinary sandwich extraordinary by making it in the shape of a heart, a star, or in holiday shapes. Cute little sandwiches always worked for the picky kids in my life.
Homemade Egg Sandwich on an English muffin. Skip the golden arches and make your own fresh egg sandwich on an English muffin right at home. Toast it lightly to make it easier to eat and cut it in half to make it easier for little hands to manage.
Stuffed Pita Bread. Pita is great for its versatility. Open the pocket part and add your toddler’s favorites. There are so many healthy options that you could place inside. This is the perfect addition to your healthy lunch ideas.
Pita Bread Mini Pizza. Make a mini pizza together using pita bread, sauce, and cheese. This is a super fun option because your toddler can play a role in helping to prepare their own lunch.
Fresh Fruit Kabobs. Fruit kabobs are a fun way to present your child’s favorite fruit at lunchtime. They’re bright and colorful and it’s easy to change them up depending on what fruit you have on hand. A bit of strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, and melon will certainly catch your picky eater’s attention.
Rice with Black Beans & Cheese. If your toddler doesn’t mind their food touching, a rice bowl with black beans is nutritious and one of my favorite easy lunch ideas. You can purchase steamable brown rice pouches in the store that take only 90 seconds to heat in the microwave. Add some beans, cheese, and maybe even some avocado if they’re feeling like an adventurous eater.
Yogurt with Fruit. Yogurt is often in the favorite foods category for toddlers. Pair it with some fruit and you have a great start to a healthy lunch or snacktime. Toddlers can dip strawberries into their yogurt or mix them in for a new texture.
Hot Dogs. Healthy hot dogs do exist, but you’ll have to look for them in the store. They can be a great option for picky eaters. Since they’re a choking hazard, we recommend cutting them up in pieces so that they resemble a half-circle. Another fun way to eat hot dogs for older toddlers is to cut 8 length-wise slices and boil the hot dog to make an octopus. Just watch that last bite when they’re eating.
White Meat Chicken Nuggets. It’s a kid thing and kids love chicken nuggies. There are a lot of great and healthy options for chicken nuggets for your toddler’s lunch like white meat dino-shaped nuggets.
Sweet Potatoes. Sweet potatoes aren’t just for babies. We often think of sweet potatoes in small jars, but it’s easy to prepare sweet potatoes that are tender and delicious. Peel your sweet potato, dice it, drizzle it with olive oil, and bake until tender.
Macaroni & Cheese. It’s rare to meet a toddler who won’t gobble up a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Just make sure the noodles aren’t too large to prevent choking.
Spaghetti with Meatballs. Spaghetti with a little meatball is a great lunch for toddlers. You can make meatballs ahead of time and freeze them and just pull out what you need for each meal. It can get a little messy, but it’s a hardy meal for your tot.
Mini Ravioli. If you didn’t know that these exist, you’ll want to find the mini ravioli on your next grocery store run. They’re just the right size for toddlers and the cheese inside is packed with protein. You can add sauce, or not. They’re very tasty with a dusting of parmesan cheese.
Sugar Snap Peas. Sugar Snap Peas are delicious, sweet, and very tender for your toddler’s lunch. You can buy them fresh and steam them or find them in the frozen foods section in the steamable bag.
Bell Peppers with Hummus. You can taste the healthy rainbow with red, yellow, and orange pepper slices dipped in hummus. Slice the peppers in thin strips and add the hummus in a small bowl for a dipping sauce for your toddler.
Apple Slices. We like to thin-cut apple slices in our house for a delicious snack or to eat alongside a sandwich. For older toddlers, you could add a side of nut or seed butter for dipping the apple slices into.
Cheese sticks. Cut half-circle pieces of cheese for your toddler’s lunch and serve it with crackers and fruit for a healthy version of a Lunchable.
Mini Food Trays
Create your own mini snack tray with an assortment of fresh fruit, cherry tomatoes, whole grain crackers, and bits of cheese. Think of it as a charcuterie board for toddlers with lots of small finger foods that offer a wide variety of foods for them to try.
We have done this many, many times using a cupcake pan. You can add each snack food into its own well to keep the flavors from mixing together.
You can create any mixture and wrap it up into a tortilla and cut it up into smaller pieces. It’s great for older kids to make whatever kind of salad wrap or sandwich wrap they like and then cutting it up is fun to eat that way. Try these cranberry apple chicken salad pinwheels.
Finger Foods that Toddlers Love:
- Low-Sugar Cereals like Cheerios or Kix
- Cut-up Grapes
- Mandarin orange slices (let them peel them!)
- Oatmeal Cookie
Healthy Toddler Lunch Ideas in Conclusion
Don’t be discouraged by your toddler’s picky eating habits. Like all milestones, this is a stage that likely will not last forever.
The more you fret about it, the more likely your toddler will be to dig in their heels to defy you.
Keep offering a variety of healthy foods like fresh veggies, and your child’s favorite fruit, and look for different ways to make mealtime a fun and enjoyable experience.
Eventually, the pickiness will wear off and your toddler will be eating a balanced diet all on their very own.
Do you have ideas that we can add to this list? Leave a comment and I’ll add it to our list.
Thanks for reading! Happy Toddler Feeding.