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75+ Easy, Wholesome Food Ideas for Toddlers & Preschoolers

75+ Easy, Wholesome Food Ideas for Toddlers & Preschoolers

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Meghan Splawn
Oct 13, 2018
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)
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Toddler parents know this one thing to be true: A hungry toddler is a cranky toddler. And while we're often in a rush to feed our littlest eaters before they melt down, we also want to make sure they are regularly trying new foods and getting balanced nutrition, too.

Need fresh ideas? We got you. Some of my fellow editors (all parents!) and I brainstormed a massive list of our favorite easy and wholesome toddler food ideas — and below, you'll find all of them.

Fruit Your Toddler Will Love

Fruit is probably one of the most beloved toddler foods of all time, but we all occasionally get stuck in a strawberry rut and need some fresh ideas. These are the fruits we buy often and stock our fridge, freezer and pantry with.

Fresh

Apples

Sliced very thin, with or without peanut butter. Dust with cinnamon. For the smallest toddlers, try microwaving a peeled apple until a little soft. Let cool and cut into safe chunks.

Bananas

Safety note: Cut into long strips for young children. We love them frozen and churned into faux ice cream or sliced for sandwiches or toast.

Berries: Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries

These seasonal jewels are nice and tender for little pinchers, but be sure to halve blueberries and dice strawberries. Use as a topping for yogurt. Mash raspberries for toast topping.

Citrus: Clementines, Oranges, and Cara Caras

Peel and dice these sunny vitamin C-packed winter favorites. Freeze whole segments and use them with supervision for soothing teething gums.

Mango

Soft, plump mango cubes sprinkled with sumac. Mango (fresh or frozen) puréed in a simple yogurt smoothie.

Kiwi

Scooped into tiny spheres with a melon baller. Sliced and cut into shapes for topping yogurt bowls.

Pears

Diced and dusted with pumpkin spice. Quickly puréed (especially when over-ripe) for a quick alternative to applesauce.

Dragon Fruit

This soft fruit can be easily scooped with a melon-baller for simple snacking. Add it to smoothies for snacks for a dose of extra fiber.

Grapes

Grapes pose a potential choking hazard, so be sure to cut them up in slices or quarters. Freeze the sliced grapes for a wonderful teething treat.

Canned

Pears

Canned pears are especially tender and can be fork-mashed to top toast or bread for simple sandwiches.

Applesauce

Whether you choose a pouch or big jar, we love applesauce as a jelly alternative, and as a dip for grilled cheese.

Pineapple

Canned pineapple is significantly less expensive than the prepped variety in the produce department, but look for the rings in juice, instead of sugary syrup.

Fruit Cups

One of our favorite on-the-go fruit snacks, because you can quickly drain off the juice almost anywhere and the fruit is already prepped for little fingers.

Mandarin Oranges

Once peeled and skinned, these oranges are soft enough for the youngest toddlers.

Frozen fruit

Frozen fruit isn't strictly for smoothies — although we do love it for that. You can also use them as ice packs for teething gums.

Berries

Cook with a little water and swirl into plain-full fat yogurt and use a dipper for waffles and toast.

Mango

Swirl frozen mango into yogurt for a super-quick one-ingredient smoothie. Add partially frozen to cool down hot rice before serving.

Pineapple

Frozen pineapple is sweet and refreshing. Cut into small pieces to serve straight-up or add to green smoothies to make them more enticing.

We make sure fruit and vegetables are on the kids' plates at every meal. I'm always super surprised that my kids will cobble up plain, partially-thawed frozen peas, corn, and edamame, but we keep them on hand at all times for this reason. — Meghan Splawn, Associate Food Editor

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Vegetables for Everyone

Now is the time to put vegetables on every single plate of toddler food. Yes, they are going to turn their noses up at some things, but your goal is to expose them to as many new vegetables in the toddler years as possible.

Fresh

Avocado

Mashed on toast or crackers. Served straight-up with a squeeze of lime or mashed for an on-the-fly dip for other fresh veggies.

Cucumbers

Cut into sticks for gumming on or cut into "chips" for dipping. Turn into a quick pickle with a little rice wine vinegar, sugar, and salt.

Snap Peas

Cut these into small pieces — especially for serving raw. Steam or sauté with a little butter for a quick dinner side.

Cherry Tomatoes

Try these quartered (like grapes) and sprinkled with dried herbs for snacking. Use as a sauce for a quick, English muffin-style pizzas.

Shredded Carrots

Always have these on hand for quick snacks, sautés, or salads. Add a little maple syrup and cinnamon for a veggie-based treat. Fold into quick muffins or pancakes.

Canned

Tomatoes

Obviously these are great as sauce for pizzas and pastas — but you can also turn the whole can into a quick tomato soup by puréeing them with some shredded carrots. You can also drain diced tomatoes and serve on their own as a vegetable.

Pickles

My daughter fell in love with bread-and-butter pickles as a on- year-old and hasn't stopped. Partner with cheddar cheese for a quick snack. Remember to quarter large slices or supervise the gnawing of larger pickles for early eaters.

Olives

Buy pre-sliced black olives as a gateway olive. Add to pizzas, toasts, or veggie-based salads.

Green Beans

Canned green beans can be served directly from the can. They are cut, cooked, and ready for little pinchers.

Corn

Keep both fresh and frozen on hand for serving as a simple no-cook side. Fold into muffins, cornbread, or vegetable pancakes.

Baked or Roasted

Sweet Potatoes

Whether you bake them whole or cut into cubes, sweet potatoes can be roasted or served in lots of ways: roasted with maple and cinnamon, mashed with butter and fresh herbs, turned into two-ingredient pancakes, folded into oatmeal or mac and cheese.

Carrot Coins

You can buy these frozen or prepped in the produce section and bake them up with warm spices. Just make sure they are tender enough for those with just a few teeth.

Squash

Big, broad category for both hard squashes like butternut and more tender ones, like summer squash. Can either be roasted or baked as a quick side.

Green Beans

Roasting fresh green beans with a little garlic and olive oil is the fastest way to cook this green vegetable.

Broccoli

My daughter could live on roasted broccoli alone. Sprinkle it with Parmesan or nutritional yeast just before serving.

Peppers

Red, yellow, orange, or green — roasting makes them sweeter and easier to eat.

Roast anything and everything: How To Roast Any Vegetable

Frozen

Peas

You can partially thaw peas and serve them as a pre-dinner snack. Steam and gently mash for dip, toast topping, or tortilla filler.

Butternut Squash

Roast straight from the freezer or purée in soups and smoothies — a little butter and cinnamon never hurts here, either.

Broccoli

Turn into a quick cheesy soup, sauté for a side, or add to mac and cheese while the pasta boils.

Spinach

This frozen variety is prepped for you and waiting to be added to soups, turned into pesto, or whirled into smoothies.

Cauliflower

Keep both florets and riced cauliflower in the freezer for quick dinners. Roast the florets or steam them for a quick side. Rice cauliflower can be turned into fried rice but also added to soups, salads, or folded into pasta sauces.

Shelled Edamame

Serve steamed and toasted with a little soy sauce or mash for dipping or as a sandwich spread.

Hash Browns

Shredded or cubed, these can be turned into hash browns or potato pancakes or a quick dinner soup for everyone.

Lunch for my 2-year-old, Gus, is a cheese quesadilla with a side of halved cherry tomatoes and black beans. He's not too keen on the beans yet, but I'm betting one or two will get past his lips as he nibbles on the tomatoes. — Contributor, Patty Catalano

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Bread, Pasta, Rice

Carbohydrates are a pretty easy way to fill up your toddler. And while bread smeared with hummus can fill a lot of gaps, these ideas will help fill up dinner plates and snacks on the go.

Crackers

Oyster, mini club crackers, graham crackers, cheese crackers. Is there really a cracker that toddlers don't love?

Breadsticks

Great for gumming and dipping!

Pita Bread

Filled with your choice of good stuff, topped with veggie spreads or sauces, or served as quick "toasts" or pizzas.

English Muffins

Topped with hummus, nut butter, or shredded vegetables; or filled with scrambled eggs and cheese. Works as a faux pizza crust for quick lunches and dinners, too.

Rice Cakes

These are great for gummy little toddlers, but as they get older, adding toppings like nut butters, hummus, and thick yogurt plus fruit turns these into a meal.

Tortillas

Toasted with butter and cinnamon. Pan-fried for little chips. Filled with cheese and mashed beans for dinner.

Bread

Sandwiches, toasts, roll-ups, and more can come from sliced bread. Croutons and other bread cubes are also excellent toddler food fodder.

Pancakes and Waffles

Buy frozen or stock the freezer with leftover fresh pancakes for quick midday meals. Fold in fruit or vegetables for extra nutrition. Use in place of bread for sandwiches.

Muffins

Minis are our favorite, but don't stress about making them from scratch every week. Find a mix you love and fold in your favorite sweet and savory mix-ins.

Pita Chips

Toast your favorite pita bread with a little olive oil and garlic for quick chips. Swap the garlic with cinnamon for a sweeter take.

Flatbreads

We love these as a flatbread, but you can also roll them into pinwheels filled with spreads, cheese, or lunch salads like chicken or tuna.

Pasta

Yes, this can and should include boxed mac and cheese as needed. Also consider alternatives like chickpea pasta for a little added protein. Keep shells, orzo, and other small pasta on hand because they cook up the fastest and are easy to pincher grasp.

Rice

White, brown, or wild. Serve with milk and a bit of cinnamon instead of oatmeal or breakfast cereal.

Oats

Both rolled and steel-cut make wonderful porridge that can be sweet or savory. Plus, you can turn leftover oatmeal into pancakes or quick bread.

Quinoa

I find white quinoa is most appealing to little palates and can do just about anything rice can do too.

Couscous

This quick-cooking pasta comes in two sizes. The larger pearl are a little easier to clean up.

Barley

Try baking a batch over the weekend to serve throughout the week.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Proteins

Protein is present in just about everything we eat, so try not to stress if your toddler doesn't want to, say, eat chicken all the time. (Meat aversion is a common texture-based phase.) These are some great ideas when your little goes on meat strike or if you want alternatives to chicken or cheese.

Dairy

Shredded or Cubed Cheese

Buying bulk blocks will give you the most bang for your buck here. We love cheddar, mozzarella, and Jack cheese for little eater.

Yogurt

Toddlers should get full-fat and we prefer Greek because it's easier to eat. Buy a big quart and portion it off yourself for everything from maple-sweetened with granola to quick savory sauces.

Cottage Cheese

This cheese can basically do everything yogurt does with just as much protein. Large curds are easier to scoop and pinch for little eaters.

String Cheese

These great snack sticks can travel anywhere for snacking but they are also great for cubing and adding to almost any plate. Look for full-fat and try different cheese varieties. Trader Joe's has a soft mozzarella stick that is awesome for gumming.

Cream Cheese

Spread on toast or tortillas, add veggies for a hearty spread, add to quick soups for extra creaminess. Ditto mac and cheese or other pasta dishes.

Eggs

A whole subcategory in its own right. For children under 5 we recommend cooking the yolk completely, so hard-boiled, scrambled, and egg muffins are best. Don't forget frittatas or quiches!

Meat

Meatballs

Frozen, fresh-packed, or homemade, these little balls have all the appeal of nuggets with added nutrition. Serve in sauce or over rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes.

Shredded or Cubed Chicken

Roasted, poached, grilled, or steamed — serve chicken shredded or cubes with or without sauce.

Cooked Ground Beef or Pork

Cooking up a pound of ground meat for the week is an easy and inexpensive way to get your toddler more protein. Plus, generally speaking, toddlers prefer the texture of ground meat to steaks or chops.

Beans & Tofu

Tofu

Buy silken for smoothies and firm for cooking and snacking.

Canned Beans: Chickpeas, Pinto, Black, Black-Eyed Peas

Serve canned beans straight-up or smash for a quick filling or spread. Avoid crispy roasted beans for tiny toddlers.

Hummus

I honestly served hummus in a bowl regularly to my 4-year-old when he was just learning to eat. One of his other favorite way to eat it? Simply spread on whole-wheat bread.

Guacamole

Sometimes it's actually cheaper to buy pre-made guac than fresh avocados, so find a brand you like to get you through the off seasons. Look for one with minimal sodium and spice it up yourself at home.

Sophie doesn't eat a ton of protein since she doesn't like meat, so for pairings, we did a lot of carrots with hummus, cheese and crackers, and cucumber swiped with cream cheese. — Christine Gallary, Kitchn's Food Editor at Large
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