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Dinner Ideas for Toddlers and Preschoolers

It’s almost 5pm and you don’t have the foggiest idea what to serve your toddler for dinner…

Your child has requested hot dogs for the 15th day in a row…

You’re on a first name basis with the pizza delivery guy…

Sound familiar? Read on my friend. I’ve got some fantastic ideas to get out of the dinner time rut.

If you’ve read these posts the past few weeks, you’ve seen a lot lately about food – veering toward a healthier diet and some yummy recipes – because diet and nutrition play a huge role with sleep!

I can shout the best sleep advice from every rooftop in America, but if a child is downing Mountain Dews in the late afternoon or solely on the “white diet” (pasta, bread, sugar), my advice will be a band-aid (at best).

So if you’re a parent who knows the “kid’s meal” menu served up nightly at your house needs some revamping, take a look at the recipes below for some inspiration!

Some are a healthier twist on an old favorite (mac and cheese, pizza, chicken nuggets, tater tots) and others are a reminder of some fun recipes you may have forgotten about:

No Pasta Mac and Cheese Cups – much healthier version of traditional mac and cheese…and no pasta?!

Photo Credit: Lauren Goslin |

No Pasta Mac and Cheese Cupcakes
Photo Credit: Lauren Goslin |

Lettuce Wraps – Not only are these fun to eat but you’re combining salad and protein. Genius! Lots of possibilities – beef, chicken, pork, shrimp or fish…

Colorful Toddler Pasta – Cute pasta and veggies – looks like Dippin Dots!

Mac and Cheese Soup – If you have a mac and cheese lover in your house, this recipe is a logical next step!

Shrimp Nests – Shrimp on its own might not sound appealing to your child, but stick it in a nest and it’s much more interesting!

Cauliflower crust pizza and calzone – yum. Just yum.

Gluten free chicken fingers – if you’re trying to steer away from boxed nuggets and make a healthier version with fewer ingredients

Homemade Mac and Cheese – from Missy Chase Lapine from the Sneaky Chef…so it has veggies in the recipe!

Zucchini Pizza Casserole – if your child loves pizza, this recipe has all the tomato-y and cheesy goodness too!

Cheesy Cauliflower Tater Tots – if your child loves the potato version, try some of these

Kabobs – The sky’s the limit on these. Deli meat, cheese cubes and olives. Cubed bread, deli meat, cheese and tomatoes. Grilled shrimp, bell peppers and snow peas. Cheese ravioli, meatballs, tomatoes. Grilled chicken, pineapple and bell peppers. And here’s a fun trick to use for the younger kids who aren’t quite ready for the wooden skewer (no wooden or metal skewers required!).

Tic Tac Toe Eggplant – I remember seeing this recipe years ago…Preheat oven to 400°. Peel an eggplant and cut into strips (lengthwise). Prepare two bowls, one with an egg and  1/4 cup of milk together and the other with bread crumbs or parmesan cheese. Dip each eggplant strip in the wet bowl and then coat with the breadcrumbs (or cheese) and bake for 20 minutes. Place 4 strips in a tic tac toe grid with veggies as the games pieces. This is one time it’s ok to play with your food!

Cauliflower Calzones Photo Credit:

Cauliflower Calzones
Photo Credit:

Tempura – green beans, carrots, broccoli, shrimp…so many options!

Pasta Bake – with hidden veggies!

Mini Chicken Pot Pie Muffins – these are in muffin form, so easier for toddlers to pick up and eat

Meatballs – looks like a normal meatball but is packed with spinach!

Salmon Patties – from a mom with triplets who needed everyone to eat the same meal!

Mini meatballs – you can also serve the meatballs separately with a tooth pick (for older kids) which makes these a lot more fun to eat!

Muffin sized pizzas – for the kid who needs a reward for trying all of these new recipes!

And we can’t forget the two favorite kid’s condiments!

Ketchup – Take a look at the bottle in your frig. Does it have high fructose corn syrup? Try this instead…

Ranch Dressing – no hard to pronounce ingredients in this recipe…

Two techniques that work with the uber stubborn eater:

1. A “No More, Thank You Bite” – a family recently shared this with me and while we do something similar at our house, I think the name is great! When you’re trying new foods, your child has to try at least one bite of each food on the plate and if he doesn’t like it, teach him to say “no more, thank you”. Remember that kids need to be exposed to new foods 10-20 times before they start liking it, so keep offering even if you crashed and burned with try #1 :)

2. And if you have a kiddo in your house that isn’t too adventurous when it comes to mealtime, take a look at this article about Breaking the Picky Eating Habit in Kids. I took Rebecca’s advice (her being the expert on this subject as a mom AND chef) and wowsa! My kids were trying – and liking, I might add – foods I never in a million years thought they’d try.

I’ll leave you with a favorite quote…, healthy eating

Know another mom or dad who needs some dinnertime inspiration? Please share!


  1. Yum! Everything looks great Kim! I’ll definitely be keeping this list and trying some of these soon. Thanks for including me! :-)

  2. Happy to do it, Lauren! And keep inventing those yummy recipes :)


  1. […] And remember, without healthy meals, good-for-you snacks can only do so much! If you’re looking for recipes for healthier meals, check out my ideas for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. […]

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