I never would’ve imagined it, but some of the most highly engaged and requested content on my Instagram have been baby and toddler meal ideas! But I get it – starting solid foods was fun but slightly daunting, and now that we’ve entered the opinionated toddler stage, it’s no small task prepping nutritious meals for someone will either love or reject it on a whim! If your baby is just starting solids, please check out my older blog post on Feeding Baby – Starting Solids.
We’ve had fun introducing Nori to all sorts of foods and flavors since a young age, and my biggest advice is to not be discouraged if they reject something (studies show it can take 10 – 15 tries for little ones to like certain foods). Although it can be frustrating, I demonstrate to her I’m eating that food and will offer it again another time, sometimes served differently or mixed with something I know that she’ll eat. Nori used to refuse avocado, salmon, sardines, and various other nutritious foods that she eventually grew to love (although with toddlers, that’s always subject to change!).
Adjusting Foods for Babies / Toddlers
I think it’s great to feed little ones some of the same flavorful foods you cook for yourself, adjusted for less salt and added sugars (I omitted these when possible when she was under age 1). Since Nori is allergic to dairy, egg, and nuts all of which I eat frequently, I end up prepping some of her food separately but still use many ingredients and flavors from our adult meals.
Per requests, I’m rounding up a few mini meals in our recent rotation, and I have a bunch more to share!
Most Used Tools & Meal Prep
Some of my most-used tools for prep & mealtime:
- Baby food scissors which I use multiple times a day, whether it’s to finely mince up food in a bowl during her baby days, or to quickly cut toddler food into bite sized pieces.
- Handheld food masher – wish I got this sooner when she was a baby! Super versatile. I can’t find the exact one I have, but I’ve also used the Nuk brand one and it’s pretty much the same.
- Small storage containers. Back when Nori’s nanny was coming in daily, I’d use these stackable containers to organize her meals for a few days in the fridge (including frozen items so that they can gradually thaw).
- Reusable silicone pouches for freezing food.
- Silicone suction plate with dividers. Check out hack # 4 on getting food odors & stains out of silicone!
Fresh produce is great, but I always keep these in the freezer for meals in a pinch:
- Veggies – we love frozen peas, corn, edamame, butternut squash, and cut up okra. My toddler mama friend recommended this California Blend with broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower which Nori has been enjoying since her baby days.
- Cubes of coconut milk, tomato sauce, broth for various dishes (per tip # 4 here).
- Salmon – When buying a filet of salmon, I cut small portions for Nori, wrap in parchment paper then freeze. I’ll put a piece in the fridge to thaw a day before serving and either steam, poach, or pan sear it for a quick meal.
- Shrimp – I get raw peeled & deveined shrimp for minimal effort needed. Or, even easier – already cooked frozen shrimp that I just warm up in some hot water from my kettle.
Mini Meal Ideas Lately
Including a few go-to items that are freezer friendly for quick meals.
1. Easiest Banana Pancakes
3-Ingredient Banana Pancakes Recipe
- Mix together in a bowl:
- 1 very ripe banana, mashed with a fork
- 1 egg (we have been making these for her egg allergy challenges)
- 2 Tbs flour
- Optional: berries, chocolate chips
- Heat a little oil over low-medium heat and drop small spoonfuls of batter into the pan.
- Cook for about 5 minutes on each side until done.
2. Rolled-up Sandwich Pinwheels
Served with tomatoes & peas flavored with juices from baking the chicken
The filling possibilities for these fun pinwheels are endless! Just make sure the filling is sticky enough to hold the roll together.
- Flatten a piece of bread using a rolling pin – I like to use Dave’s thinly sliced whole grains & seeds bread.
- Spread a layer of filling onto the flattened bread
- Roll it up as tightly as possible. I use my hands to squeeze the rolled up bread log a few times.
- Slice into pinwheels – this will be easiest using a cerated bread knife.
Here I made a chicken salad using leftover chicken chopped up small using food scissors, mixed with avocado (in lieu of mayo, which you could use instead). Other ideas include mashed bananas and peanut butter (or sunflower butter), or good old PB & J.
3. Salmon Veggie Patties
Roasted potatoes with olive oil, dried rosemary (crushed it with my fingers), pepper, garlic powder
I started making these patties as a way to incorporate nutritious veggies and salmon (good source of Omega-3s for early brain development, low in mercury) into one finger food, and started enjoying them myself as well! Just think of it like a crab cake. I’ve loved hearing from many of you who have made it for grownup meals over salad or with some dip!
Salmon veggie patties recipe:
- Add into a bowl:
- 1 can salmon, or salmon that’s been cooked & flaked. I use canned Wild Planet no salt added salmon.
- 1 egg* (see substitution notes)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons mustard. I like Dijon for myself, regular or honey mustard for Nori.
- 1/4 cup panko or breadcrumbs, more at the end if your mixture is too runny
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil or mayonnaise
- Veggie ideas: 1 grated carrot, handfuls chopped spinach, or some cooked sweet potato
- Seasoning ideas: lemon juice, black pepper, paprika, and hot sauce for adults
- Mix everything together and roll into approx. 1 inch balls
- Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat with some oil coating the bottom.
- Place balls into the pan, flattening each one into a patty using a spatula and flipping over when browned (note: canned salmon is already cooked).
* Egg substitute: I’ve been making these with egg as part of Nori’s allergy challenge, but you can try replacing egg with a “flax egg” which is very common in vegan dishes. Simply mix 1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed meal with 3 Tablespoons hot water, and let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes to thicken up a bit before adding it to the mix.
Nori eats her patties with ketchup, and I have mine with the quick tartar style sauce shared in this post. These also freeze well after being cooked! I simply thaw frozen ones in the fridge or microwave, then cook for a few minutes in the air fryer or in a pan to crisp up the outside again.
4. InstantPot Congee or Porridge
Congee is a favorite comfort food of mine, and it was one of the earliest foods I would make baby Nori! It took a few tries but she eventually came to love it along with my friends’ toddlers when they visited. I love that it’s a one-pot way to get in grains, protein, and veggies using whatever ingredients you have on hand.
A super quick version I do for kids is just:
- 1/2 cup uncooked rice, rinsed and drained
- 5 cups liquid (water + low sodium broth). Use less liquid for a thicker porridge.
- A few pieces uncooked chicken drumsticks or thighs
- A few handfuls of baby carrots, frozen butternut squash or whatever veggies I have
- Optional aromatics: 2 to 3 piece peeled ginger, lemongrass stalks
- Throw it all into the instant pot and hit the porridge setting for 25 minutes
- For toddlers who need more flavor, serve with a little fish sauce or soy sauce.
Before serving, I use food scissors within her bowl to cut the meat and veggies up smaller. For a more flavorful recipe that adults will enjoy too, check our arroz caldo recipe which I think is the ultimate porridge!
5. Tender Chicken Spinach Meatballs (with 4 serving ideas!)
Served here with macaroni and veggies in marinara sauce
Mashed potatoes with peas + avocado
These no rolling needed meatballs are quick & easy to make and tender enough for less experienced chewers. They’re freezer-friendly and quite versatile … in this post alone are 4 different ways I’ve served the meatballs in 1 week!
Chicken spinach meatballs recipe:
- Mix together in a bowl:
- 1/2 lb ground chicken or turkey (dark meat will be more moist than white)
- Chopped baby spinach and/or grated carrot
- 1 egg (or substitute with a flax egg – see salmon patty recipe note above)
- Seasoning ideas: Italian style (oregano, garlic, basil) or Asian (a little ginger, fish sauce or soy for toddlers)
- Bring a small pot of water to a low boil
- Using a tablespoon, scoop rounded little balls of the mixture and drop directly into the simmering water. Cook until done, which is about 6 to 10 minutes for me (cut a meatball open to check doneness). Cooking on a low simmer in liquid helps keep these meatballs very tender compared to other cooking methods.
We like Trader Joe’s no salt added marinara sauce and always keep it stocked in the pantry. For mashed potatoes, I cut potatoes into large chunks and either boil or steam in the Beaba machine until tender. Use a fork or handheld masher to mash with milk and butter, or I use chicken broth or oat milk to make it dairy free.
6. Asian “peanut” sauce noodles (made nut-free for allergies)
Served with the same chicken meatballs & steamed veggies, both topped with some coconut milk.
Personally, I love peanut sauce noodles (see my old recipe post here) especially on a warm day. This is a quick & easy allergen-friendly version I made for Nori using noodles that were cooked very soft.
Mix a few tablespoons of hot broth or water with a little peanut butter (I used sunflower butter due to nut allergies) until it’s thinned out into a saucy consistency. For toddlers who want more flavor, add a dab of hoisin sauce and sesame oil to the sauce. Toss with noodles and optional veggies.
7. Ten-minute veggie bean soup
Featuring the same meatballs in the soup + multigrain crackers + avocado
This is basically a “whatever’s in the fridge” soup, but it’s nutritious, Nori likes it, and I’ll usually have a bowl too! Some examples of what I’ve added to this soup in the many batches I’ve made:
- Cut up leftover veggies (i.e. carrots, zucchini, onion, broccoli, baby spinach leaves)
- Frozen veggies (i.e. peas, corn)
- Meatballs, ground meat, 0r rotisserie / baked chicken cut up small
- Drained and rinsed cooked beans (we like Wholefoods no salt added boxed beans)
- Leftover pasta, lentils or rice
- Marinara sauce or tomato paste/sauce – I use a cube or two from my freezer stash
I add what I have at the moment from this list, plus some broth in a small pot and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. If it needs more flavor, I’ll add some oregano, garlic powder, and black pepper OR I’ll do cumin or curry powder for a different flavor profile. I also freeze individual portions of this soup for her later.
8. Mashed beans
Served with the same meatballs yet again in marinara sauce + garlic peas
We introduced beans when Nori was around 10 months old as a good source of protein and fiber. You can think of this as either “refried” style beans with no cooking required, as a bean dip, or as a spread to eat on toast.
I love Wholefoods no salt added boxed cannelini or black beans that are already cooked. Just drain and rinse the beans, then add olive oil, garlic powder, and lemon juice (and a little salt for adults and toddlers) and use a fork or handheld food masher tool. For younger eaters, you can also add some warm broth to thin out the consistency.
Let me know if your little ones enjoy any of these dishes, and if you’d like to see more ideas from our mini meal archives!