Toddlers can eat almost anything an adult can eat, with the exception of any allergens or choking hazards. They need plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and dairy.
The simplest way to build healthy toddler meals is to include as many of these food groups as possible, in appropriate portions (more on that later). This will help ensure your toddler is eating the recommended amount of each food group per day.
Here are the specific food group recommendations for toddler nutrition, according to the USDA. Use this table as a guide for planning healthy toddler meals, but don’t stress over the numbers. Reaching these recommendations will be easier some days than others. It’s good to keep in mind that the higher numbers are recommended for older, more active toddlers.
Ideally, fruits are served in their whole form with no added sugar, rather than as juice or in dried form. Vegetables should include all varieties and colors, and not just starchy vegetables like potatoes. When preparing toddler foods, choose whole grains like brown rice and whole-wheat bread and pasta as often as possible, and serve a variety of lean meats and beans.
Portion sizes for toddler meals
Life with a toddler doesn’t leave much free time. Instead of spending a lot of time measuring your toddler’s portion sizes, a good rule of thumb is to serve portions of toddler food that are about ¼ of an adult portion.
The plate method is a great visual tool for serving healthy toddler meals. Basically, the goal is to offer equal portions of fruit, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy with each meal. We also recommend using a smaller, divided kids’ plate. To see more on the plate method for toddler meals, click here.
If your toddler doesn’t eat all of the food you serve, that’s okay. Toddlers have an innate sense of hunger, and will stop eating when they are full. Likewise, if your toddler asks for seconds, it’s okay to give them more of their favorite toddler foods in small amounts.
Healthy toddler meal ideas
Building a healthy breakfast for toddlers is simple and doesn’t require much time. Here are some toddler food ideas that they will gobble right up in the morning:
- Toast with nut butter and blueberries
- Yogurt with strawberries and a spinach muffin (recipe here)
- Egg scrambled with chopped veggies, served with sliced banana
- Oatmeal with fruit
- Pancake or waffle topped with fruit
Toddler foods for lunch
Try some of these healthy toddler food ideas for lunch and dinner:
- Turkey Cheddar Pinwheels with tomato soup, a Protein Popper, and apple slices
- Chicken Nuggets with corn and peas
- Barbecue chicken with green beans, cornbread, and fruit
- Chili (for a faster version of this favorite, try our Bowl of Yays)
- Turkey burger with avocado and roasted asparagus
- Taco with toppings like avocado and chopped tomato, with a side of fruit (our Taco Pocket makes an excellent, hand-held alternative that’s ready to warm and eat)
Don’t be tempted by fast food on extra busy days (we all know the feeling!). Instead, keep some of our toddler meals on hand and you will have a nutritious and pre-portioned lunch or dinner ready in seconds. Need a suggestion for which meal to try? Including some of the favorites mentioned above, toddlers love our Chicken Pops, served with mashed potatoes and freshly steamed green beans.