I was at the zoo with a baby strapped to my chest, another in a stroller, and one getting uncomfortably close to Ozzie, the zoo's dominant silverback gorilla when she caught my eye. The zookeeper stood off to the side, patiently chopping fruit, meat, and veggies into bite-sized pieces. Just like I do. Every. Single. Meal. Standing at the zoo, I realized that feeding toddlers really boils down to this: make it easy for them to feed themselves, make it pretty, and keep the risky food to a minimum or you'll end up tossing the whole shebang. Below are cliff notes from my zoo, er, kitchen.

Photo: Diaga Ellaby/Unsplash 

Safe Bets

  • Tacos with finely shredded chicken, cheese, and black beans, and a side of corn on the cob.
  • Whole grain English muffins with marinara and mozzarella (toasted in the oven), with orange slices.
  • Pancakes (add cinnamon to the mix) smeared with peanut butter and topped with thin slices of apple.
  • Boiled eggs, halved and salted, with broccoli, carrots, and snap peas (with ranch for dipping).
  • Broccoli, finely chopped, with shredded carrots, sauteed with ground turkey, soy sauce, and an optional spoonful of brown sugar.
  • Cereal and smoothies (I know, but it's okay every once in a while, and the smoothies are packed with nutrients).
  • Scrambled egg and cheese burritos with cucumbers and tiny tomatoes on the side.
  • Pesto alphabet pasta with peas.
  • Mac & Cheese with sneaky veggies (tiny-sized pieces of broccoli, peas, or kale).
  • Toddler Charcuterie: Turkey Pepperoni, boiled, halved eggs, cubes of cheddar cheese, veggies, and a dipping sauce.
  • Cheese quesadillas (add beans or ground beef or rotisserie chicken for extra protein) with tomatoes and sour cream.
  • Avocado toasts on whole grain with kosher salt and diced shrimp.
  • "Choose your own adventure" burrito bowls with seasoned ground turkey, diced tomatoes, avocados, sour cream, and shredded lettuce options.
  • Alphabet pasta with jar tomato sauce, food processed with a handful of spinach or cooked carrots.
  • Baked chicken tenders and cooked carrot coins (dredge tenders in flour, dip in egg, and roll in Panko, then bake at 350-degrees for about 20 minutes or until done).
  • Baked, diced sweet potatoes with cinnamon and rotisserie chicken with sour cream and honey dipping sauce.
Photo: iStock

If You're Feeling Lucky

  • Couscous with peas, mint, and halved mini tomatoes.
  • Quinoa muffins (use 1 cup of cooked quinoa for every 1 egg, plus mix-ins like ham and cheese cubes or spinach and diced tomato, baked in muffin cups for 20 minutes at 350-degrees).
  • Deconstructed meatloaf (add salt and pepper to ground meat, bake until done, and serve with a side of ketchup, mashed potatoes, and green beans).
  • Curried chicken salad (baked chicken, cream cheese, and a spoonful of mayo, creamed) on cucumber slices and whole-grain toast.
  • Garbanzo beans with garlic, lemon and olive oil.

Don't Forget to Sneak Nutrition into Dessert

  • Berries and sugar-free whipped cream.
  • Chocolate dipped (or chocolate chip studded, if you don't want to wash an extra dish) bananas.
  • Frozen grapes, halved.
  • Canned pumpkin puree with cinnamon and whipped cream.

Sometimes you just need a few ideas so I hope my go-to's after all my trial-and-error will help you find something they'll eat without coaxing!

—Shelley Massey


Shelley Massey can be found taking long walks on the beach, sleeping in, or exfoliating. Just kidding. She's a writer, and a mom of 4. Running is literally her only escape. She is the Atlanta City Editor for Red Tricycle. Read more by Shelley here.