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.
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.
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.
Soft, plump mango cubes sprinkled with sumac. Mango (fresh or frozen) puréed in a simple yogurt smoothie.
Scooped into tiny spheres with a melon baller. Sliced and cut into shapes for topping yogurt bowls.
Diced and dusted with pumpkin spice. Quickly puréed (especially when over-ripe) for a quick alternative to applesauce.
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 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 are especially tender and can be fork-mashed to top toast or bread for simple sandwiches.
Whether you choose a pouch or big jar, we love applesauce as a jelly alternative, and as a dip for grilled cheese.
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.
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.
Once peeled and skinned, these oranges are soft enough for the youngest toddlers.
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.
Cook with a little water and swirl into plain-full fat yogurt and use a dipper for waffles and toast.
Swirl frozen mango into yogurt for a super-quick one-ingredient smoothie. Add partially frozen to cool down hot rice before serving.
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
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.
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.
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.
Cut these into small pieces — especially for serving raw. Steam or sauté with a little butter for a quick dinner side.
Try these quartered (like grapes) and sprinkled with dried herbs for snacking. Use as a sauce for a quick, English muffin-style pizzas.
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.
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.
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.
Buy pre-sliced black olives as a gateway olive. Add to pizzas, toasts, or veggie-based salads.
Canned green beans can be served directly from the can. They are cut, cooked, and ready for little pinchers.
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
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.
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.
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.
Roasting fresh green beans with a little garlic and olive oil is the fastest way to cook this green vegetable.
My daughter could live on roasted broccoli alone. Sprinkle it with Parmesan or nutritional yeast just before serving.
Red, yellow, orange, or green — roasting makes them sweeter and easier to eat.
Roast anything and everything: How To Roast Any Vegetable
You can partially thaw peas and serve them as a pre-dinner snack. Steam and gently mash for dip, toast topping, or tortilla filler.
Roast straight from the freezer or purée in soups and smoothies — a little butter and cinnamon never hurts here, either.
Turn into a quick cheesy soup, sauté for a side, or add to mac and cheese while the pasta boils.
This frozen variety is prepped for you and waiting to be added to soups, turned into pesto, or whirled into smoothies.
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.
Serve steamed and toasted with a little soy sauce or mash for dipping or as a sandwich spread.
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
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.
Oyster, mini club crackers, graham crackers, cheese crackers. Is there really a cracker that toddlers don't love?
Great for gumming and dipping!
Filled with your choice of good stuff, topped with veggie spreads or sauces, or served as quick "toasts" or pizzas.
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.
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.
Toasted with butter and cinnamon. Pan-fried for little chips. Filled with cheese and mashed beans for dinner.
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.
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.
Toast your favorite pita bread with a little olive oil and garlic for quick chips. Swap the garlic with cinnamon for a sweeter take.
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.
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.
White, brown, or wild. Serve with milk and a bit of cinnamon instead of oatmeal or breakfast cereal.
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.
I find white quinoa is most appealing to little palates and can do just about anything rice can do too.
This quick-cooking pasta comes in two sizes. The larger pearl are a little easier to clean up.
Try baking a batch over the weekend to serve throughout the week.
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.
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.
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.
This cheese can basically do everything yogurt does with just as much protein. Large curds are easier to scoop and pinch for little eaters.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.