picky toddler

Healthy Finger Food Ideas for Picky Toddlers

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The number one question that gets posted in my mom groups is, of course, "Are your kids eating, like, AT ALL?" What is it about being between 18 and 24 months that turns toddlers into the weirdest eaters of all time? Kids who used to happily eat just about everything suddenly reject things they used to love and demand buckets of ketchup with everything. 

Forrest definitely has his moments of refusing to eat anything, but thankfully, I know I can usually get him to eat a few tried-and-true things. But some of our former staples (like quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches) are now on his "no" list. You read that right--he refuses to eat cheese now. 

To make mealtimes easier, I started experimenting with finger foods that I could use to either substitute what he was already eating (without resorting to a peanut butter and jelly every single night) and were a little healthier. These are what I came up with. 

1. Tiny Pancakes

I make Forrest banana and egg pancakes (like the kind you see on Pinterest, here is a good recipe, although I add diced up fruit, cinnamon, and two tablespoons of flour as well); for snacks and lunches, I will sometimes make "tiny pancakes." This is just a tiny dot of batter on the griddle. A few dots adds up to a little bowl of cute pancakes, something he can snack on during dinner or after his nap. They're easy and at least it's not a handful of Teddy Grahams, right? 

2. Steamed, Diced Carrots with Ketchup & Ranch

Every mother is now staring at their screen like, "you're joking, right?" I know, this sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but trust me. I could never get Forrest to eat carrots... if I left them whole. I steam him a few baby carrots for lunch nearly every day and was basically throwing them away untouched.

One day, I decided to dice them into pieces, toss them in a little butter and garlic salt, and present them with some ketchup and ranch for dipping. He ate every single one. This may be further proof that toddlers will eat nearly anything with their favorite dips, but I think it made him think those pieces of carrot were something else. This is now a staple for lunch and dinner for him. If you have a microwave steamer, it's especially easy. 

3. Veggie Nuggets

Forrest will eat chicken, fruit, and carbs until the cows come home. But veggies are where we really struggle. I've really discovered that he needs his veggie disguised--either in applesauce pouches or in nugget form. 

We buy our veggie nuggets (this is my favorite brand and variety, you can get them at Whole Foods and most grocery stores). But I have made them before and they're surprisingly easy. I like this recipe for them, because it includes lentils--perfect for if you worry your toddler isn't getting enough iron. 

5 Meal Ideas for Picky Toddlers

picky toddler meal ideas

Before Forrest turned 1, he was an excellent eater. He would regularly eat meals of chicken, broccoli, and potatoes, or pasta, or just about anything. He ate protein and vegetables great. 

But a few weeks after he turned 1, everything changed. Like most toddlers, he became increasingly more picky--and any change in his temperament (say, a molar cutting or a cold) made him unwilling to eat just about anything.

As he's gotten older, I've found ways to sneak in everything he needs: fruits & veggies, vitamins, protein, meat, and more. Here are a few meal ideas that I always return to. They're easy, they produce the least amount of waste, and they make it easy to hide things!

1. Quesadillas, Grilled Cheese, or English Muffin Pizza

Forrest will eat carbs and cheese all day, every day. These three foods all fall into this category: carb + cheese + the capability to hide other foods. When I make quesadillas, I will mash black beans (a great source of protein) with some veggie puree and then mix it with cheese; that's the filling of the quesadilla. All he cares about is the cheese, anyway!

For grilled cheese, I layer a little turkey or chicken, as well as an leftover roasted veggies, between layers of cheese. English muffin pizzas are so easy to make and if you mix the pizza sauce with veggie puree, you can easily hide an extra serving of veggies--but all he knows is there is cheese, as usual. 

2. "Snack Lunches" 

This is an infinitely popular toddler lunch that I think every mom has done before: you let your toddler have a variety of their favorite snacks. A lot of Forrest's favorites are "sneaky" healthy things: he really loves the Ella's Kitchen oat bars (the carrot + mango flavor is his favorite), as well as the Nature's Bakery oat bars which has whole wheat and real fruit. One of these bars, plus a banana and some yogurt mixed with a pack of Similac Mix-In, is as well-rounded of a lunch as I'll get sometimes! 

3. Mac & cheese 

You know that carb + cheese equation I posted above? This is the same principal. I like the Annie's Organic Mac & Cheese bowls because I can make a single serving (although Forrest usually only eats about half). I make him a bowl and then add half a packet of vegetable and meat puree. (Yes, I know that sounds great.) But he eats it, loves it, and gets a serving of veggies and meat in! 

4. Green Juice

Having a day where you simply cannot get your toddler to eat anything that isn't in the form of white bread? Been there! Forrest had croup recently and all he wanted to eat was milk. Seriously. I decided to take a chance and bought a bottle of Naked Green Machine juice; I mixed half juice and half water. He drank it up in barely 10 minutes. Hey, it's a serving of fruit and vegetables if nothing else. Smoothies and homemade juices are a great way to get some nutrition in your kiddo who is refusing everything else. 

5. Pancakes

If it is in pancake form, Forrest will (usually) eat it. I make both fruit pancakes AND oatmeal pancakes. Here are my basic recipes: 

Fruit Pancakes

  • 1 banana, mashed 
  • 1 packet of fruit + veggie puree
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • About 4 tablespoons of flour
  • Vanilla + cinnamon

Mix well and cook like normal pancakes. 

Oatmeal Pancakes

  • 1 serving of oatmeal, cooked
  • 1/2 packet of fruit + veggie puree
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • About 3-4 tablespoons of flour
  • Vanilla + cinnamon 

Mix well and cook like normal pancakes. 

The possibilities for adding to these recipes are endless. I will often use leftover oatmeal, add a bit of yogurt to up the calories, and try new combinations of fruit and vegetables. Forrest will eat them, covered in peanut butter, every day. 

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