I’m working on assembling a list of foods my (somewhat picky) toddler will eat that aren’t loaded down with preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, and animal proteins.
The list follows below, but as far as general advice, little kids like a ton of variety–we are biologically hardwired as human beings to seek out variety of color, taste, and texture in our diets–so offering meals in divided trays or muffin tins is a great strategy. It forces us to think of different foods to fill each compartment. Try to choose foods of different colors. Kids also like being able to pick up lots of little pieces–hence the popularity of toddler snacks like Goldfish and Cheerios. For this reason, I recommend beans and diced soft fruits and veggies. There are so many varieties of beans–garbanzo, black, navy, butter, kidney, cannelini, and pinto, for starters–that there is almost assuredly one your kid will like. Although my daughter can eat nuts now, sunflower seeds are also a “safe” choice for really young kids because there is less of a choking risk.
Don’t get stuck on the idea of what is a “breakfast” food vs a “dinner” food either–my daughter will sometimes ask for avocado for breakfast. Fine by me!
So far, what I have my daughter eating includes:
- Hummus or pizza hummus with multigrain baked chips
- Diced apples
- Almond milk (and soy and coconut milks in moderation)–see this post for what milk to give kids under 18 mths
- Vanilla “bean milk”
- Walnuts and cashews
- Seed and raisin trail mix blend–raw pepitas and sunflower seeds go over well
- Natural peanut butter, sunbutter, or even chocolate-walnut butter and jam on multigrain bread (PB&J sandwich)
- Lima beans or edamame
- Juice-packed mandarin oranges
- Air-popped popcorn
- Carrot sticks
- Carrot cake cupcakes without frosting or zippy carrot muffins
- Everything muffins
- Banana or zucchini bread
- Whole Foods Chocolate-Zucchini Muffins
- Banana nut muffins
- Indian-spiced yam fries
- Plantain chips
- Chickpea blondies
- No-bake energy bites (she loves these)
- Whole grain pasta
- Applesauce and similar fruit purees (my daughter loves the ones in squeezie pouches)
- Diced red, orange and yellow bell peppers (the sweet ones!)
- Broccoli florets
- Wheetabix cereal
- “Naked” brand green smoothies–I love using smoothies to sneak in lots of fruits and veggies
- Diced avocados
- Sliced black olives
- Veggie, bean, and quinoa “meat”balls cut into pieces and served with spaghetti sauce
- Kidney beans (her favorite variety of bean)
- Barley and rice are both popular
- Soups, when I give her something to dip in them, like crackers or sneaky grilled “cheese” sandwiches
- Tofu blends wonderfully into spaghetti sauce, which can then go on top of pasta
- Nutritional yeast gets sprinkled on top of pasta or broccoli florets
My daughter also takes a multivitamin specifically formulated for toddlers.
Certainly there are other obvious choices like grapes and bananas, but I’ve only listed foods my kid will eat, and she’s been rather selective lately.
I think it’s challenging enough finding foods that toddlers will eat when you consider all food viable. It becomes even more difficult when you narrow it down to only healthy foods that won’t increase their risks for illness, future chronic diseases and conditions, and other negative consequences. But our kids are worth it and we need to offer them healthy variety in their meals and packed lunches.