Lunch Recipes For Toddlers

With a little creativity, you are sure to find fun, interesting, and healthy meals that even the most finicky toddler is sure to love.

If you have a toddler, or have tried to feed one recently, you are probably aware that "nutritious" and "well-balanced" do not often describe the food choices made by these children. Putting a healthy meal in front of a toddler in no way means that he or she is actually eating a healthy meal. As parents, it is our responsibility to try to find ways to offer nutritious meal choices that will be interesting enough to grab the attention of the child, without coming in a cardboard box with a toy.

Feeding toddlers often involves a delicate balance between offering foods that are familiar favorites, and keeping them from being bored by seeing the same food items on his plate day after day. Children are often reluctant to try new and unfamiliar foods. However, we have to be careful that they do not get tired of eating the same things over and over and over. Finding this balance often means discovering healthy and fun variations of his favorite foods in order to keep the child's interest in meal time.

No matter how many parents you ask, peanut butter and jelly is at the top of most toddlers' favorite foods list. And, being a quick and simple lunch choice, moms don't mind this fact. Serving a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread with a glass of milk and a piece of fruit actually makes a decent meal for your child. If this is a favorite in your house, try offering similar options to your toddler, such as peanut butter and banana or raisin, peanut butter and honey, or cream cheese and jelly. Add a few slices of bacon to a peanut butter and honey sandwich for a little extra protein and crunch. Stuff a celery stalk with peanut butter, put raisins on top, and call it "ants on a log." A caterer I know serves tea sandwiches made with cream cheese and maraschino cherries blended in the food processor. Or, try cream cheese and cucumber slices. All of these are simple to make, and offer just enough variety on an old favorite to be accepted by many toddlers.

Another favorite is grilled cheese. Because calcium is such an important part of a toddler's diet, this is also a healthy lunch choice for your child. To make these sandwiches a little more interesting, try making them with different kinds of cheese, or try mixing two cheeses on the same sandwich, such as cheddar and swiss. Adding a piece of lunch meat or left over shredded chicken will offer additional protein. Adding a slice of tomato will also offer a little variety. Try cutting the grilled cheese sandwich into strips and serve it with a bowl of jarred spaghetti sauce to dip the sandwich strips into. Toddlers love anything that can be dipped into sauce! And, the spaghetti sauce will add the nutrition of the tomatoes, plus any meat or vegetables it contains.

If sandwiches are getting boring, try using different types of breads, such as swirl bread, hot dog buns, mini-bagels, or mini-breads used for tea sandwiches. Use cookie cutters to cut the sandwiches into fun shapes. Or, serve the sandwich toppings on crackers. Peanut butter or cheese on crackers will offer similar nutrition as these same items served on bread. You can even put the plain crackers on a plate with lunch meat, cheese, peanut butter, or honey, and let your child put the toppings on the crackers himself. This makes lunch a little more fun, allows him to be a little more independent, and may be the difference between him eating or not eating for that particular meal.

Because dipping sauces are such a big hit with toddlers, find ways to use this to your advantage. Offer fresh broccoli or cauliflower florets, celery sticks, or baby carrots with a cup of salad dressing. Serve apple slices with a bowl of peanut butter, cottage cheese, or honey as dip. Use the electric mixer to combine cream cheese with powdered sugar and a dash of vanilla extract, making a great dip for fresh fruit. Or, serve yogurt as a dip for fruit or pretzel sticks. You can make these treats even more interesting by arranging eight of the dippers in a circle around a small scoop or cup of the dip to make an octopus. Use raisins to make eyes for the octopus.

Since most toddlers love pizza, try making pizzas at home for lunch, and let your child help. One simple way to do this is to start with a frozen cheese pizza from the grocery store, and let your child add his favorite toppings, such as more cheese, pepperoni slices, fresh broccoli, olives, diced ham, tomato slices, mushrooms, pineapple or ground hamburger. Any of these healthy additions make the pizza more nutritious for your child, as well as making it more filling. An alternative to using frozen pizzas is to start with a plain sliced English muffin and jarred spaghetti sauce or tomato slices. Let your toddler add cheese and toppings, and broil the mini-pizzas until the cheese melts. You can even use the toppings to make faces or pictures that will draw your child's interest even further.

If hot dogs are a repeated request at home, try slicing the cooked hot dogs, stuffing them with shredded cheese, and melting the cheese in the microwave. Or, use canned crescent rolls instead of a bun. Simply separate the crescent roll dough, lay the uncooked hot dog on the long edge of the triangle, and roll it up inside the dough. Then, bake according to the directions on the can. If you'd like, you can sprinkle shredded cheese on the dough before rolling up the hot dog. Another way to make hot dogs more interesting is to make a "hot dog man" for your child. Slice the hot dog about one-third of the way up to make legs. Make two small slices beginning from the middle of the hot dog and going up about one-inch for arms. When the hot dogs are boiled, the arms and legs will stand out a little bit, making it look like a person. Use bottled mustard to draw a face, and use shredded lettuce, cheese, or carrots for hair.

Add nutrition and excitement to boxed macaroni and cheese by adding your child's favorite frozen or canned vegetable, such as peas or broccoli. You can also add ground beef, cubed ham, or cut up hot dogs. For special occasions, buy the white cheddar variety of macaroni and cheese, and use food coloring to make it match the day. For example, green macaroni and cheese for St. Patrick's Day, or pink for Valentine's Day.

Creativity may be the key in getting your toddler to eat. Do whatever you can to make meal times healthy, interesting and fun! And, whenever possible, enlist the help of your child in preparing the meals.

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