Finger Foods: More Ideas for Toddler Meals

macncheesephoto by D Sharon Pruitt

This is part two in a series on Finger Food for little ones.  Yesterday, we shared some ideas on what to serve for breakfast and snacks to toddlers who are new to feeding themselves.  Today, I wanted to extend the idea into lunch and dinnertime ideas.

Several of you mentioned in the comments yesterday that your little ones eat what you eat at mealtime, and I have to agree this is the easiest way to approach meal preparation!  I also have to confess that when my oldest was a new eater, she absolutely would not eat meat in any form.  (She’s still a reluctant omnivore.)  Sometimes patience and a good perspective on the big picture are helpful when approaching how much and what kind of food your new eater is eating.  When our second child reached the finger food age, I was better about serving her what the rest of us are eating and not freaking out if she doesn’t eat much.  She almost always makes up for it later in the day or throughout the week.

Having said that, sometimes what we are eating just isn’t great for the new eater – particularly those who only have a few teeth!  And don’t we all love to hear what other families are eating for lunch?  Lunch is the biggest culprit of food rut blues for me.  How many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can one person eat?

Here are some thoughts on preparing meals for little eaters:

1) Realistic portions
Remember that toddlers don’t need a full serving, nor do they even need a half-sized serving in most cases.  They have little tummies that fill up quickly!  Start small and serve more if they are still hungry.

2) Accept the mess
Mealtimes are meant to be sensory.  Adults appreciate the smell and taste and texture nuances that eating offers.  Toddlers want to experience these sensations, too, but this oftentimes involves a mess!  Prepare yourself for this mentally as well as practically by employing full-length bibs, keeping wet washcloths closeby, and protecting the flooring with a drop cloth, vinyl tablecloth, or even a shower curtain.

3) Make each bite count
Think about ways to combine foods to increase the chance of your toddler getting an (almost) equal amount of protein, starch, and fruits/vegetables in each bite.

We have enjoyed:

quesadillas – These are a fixture in our home for lunches and dinners.  The girls love basic cheese quesadillas, but you can certainly power them up with proteins like chicken and beans.  I often shred carrots on top of the cheese before I cook them to get some veggies in each bite.  Did you know you can make sweet potato and black bean quesadillas?  Yum!  Quesadillas can be cut into thin slivers for younger toddlers.  I have even diced them into bite-sized pieces to serve those who are lacking teeth.

grilled cheese sandwiches – This is another favorite lunch option for us.  Grilled cheese offers another chance to get some veggies in – try adding diced tomatoes on the inside or stacking a few sliced tomatoes on top and securing with a toothpick (obviously not intended for younger toddlers).

peanut noodles – Each of my peanut-butter-loving children love these noodles!  They are fun and messy and you can add as many different vegetables as you have on hand.  When I make these for dinner, I make a double batch so that we’ll have some for lunch the next day.  They are very tasty served cold!

pasta – The combination possibilities for pasta meals are vast!  Whole wheat pasta spirals can be tossed with butter and diced zucchini.  Throw some beans or sauteed tofu into a bowl of ravioli .  Mix peas into your mac ‘n cheese.  Variations on the pasta theme rarely disappoint.

put it on a pita (or a tortilla) – Sometimes a simple departure from the traditional is enough to entice a hesitant eater.  Pita bread and tortillas can be used for roll-ups or pocket-type sandwiches filled with proteins and veggies.  (Once again, just slice down to a manageable size for younger toddlers.)

Some of the resources I have found to be the most helpful for feeding toddlers are

Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron – Not just for making baby food!  She includes many recipes for the toddler palette.

Toddler Cafe – Innovative and fun recipes coupled with gorgeous photography. – Helpful information plus sample toddler menus to help you get out of your rut.

The discussion in the comments section has proven once again that the Simple Kids community is full of wisdom! What thoughts do you have to share on the Finger Foods season of childhood?


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  1. Thanks again! We just fed our 14 month old Nori and he loved it! He also had fun eating it and gave us more time to finish the rest of our dinner prep. I never would have thought of it.

  2. Oops–I forgot to answer your question about finger food ideas. Our picky (for now) little one loves sweet potato fries. We just cut them, toss in olive oil, and bake. Can’t wait to gather up more ideas from all of you smart mamas!

  3. I have never tried sweet potato and black bean quesedillas…we always use the two to make burritos – but the quesedilla would probably be easier for Nate to handle! Great ideas!

  4. You can layer nearly anything in a whole wheat tortilla and slice it up so it becomes finger-sized. The trendy name for those is “wraps.” We make easy wraps with leftover grilled chicken, lettuce (and whatever other salad-type veggies we have on hand), Parmesian cheese, and Ranch dressing.

    And we use leftover grilled chicken in quesadillas – which are a staple in our house – for a little extra oomph!

    Baked sweet potato sticks are an excellent alternative with a nutritional punch that ordinary french fries can’t close anywhere close to. And there’s slightly sweet even without anything on them. Our 3 yr old likes to dip ’em in catchup!

    And that’s my final tip – maybe it empowers them because they’re getting to have more control, but whatever the reason, kids seem to LOVE to dip things in a variety of sauces. A little cup of ‘special dipping sauce’ can elevate even the most mundane food into something downright magical.

    • @Rob O., fantastic ideas! And yes to the dipping sauces – it adds a whole new element of intrigue, even for the most basic foods.

  5. Sweet potatoes are my favorite food, and my kids’ too, so the black bean and sweet potato quesadillas look divine. I struggle almost everyday with what to serve for lunch and sadly we usually end up with pb&j or cheese quesadillas. I like the ideas you gave. We definitely need to mix it up a bit around here!

    Super Baby Food is a great book for feeding babies and big kids. It can be overwhelming though. I’ve always found Wholesome Baby Food. com helpful, and I found wholesome toddler food. com very impressive. I love how they use the rainbow. I’ll definitely be going back there.

    • @Elizabeth, totally agree about Super Baby Food. Lots of good info, but can be a bit overwhelming. I love the “wholesome” sites – a lot more manageable.

  6. I’ve got to try the quesadilla idea with my little one. Peanut noodles are brilliant and are going on our menu! One thing I’d like to add are onigiri — rice balls. My little one loves nori and rice so rice balls were a no-brainer. I have small onigiri presses (available online) and offer them plain or filled. My little one loves them!

    • @Michelle, I will DEFINITELY be looking into a onigiri press. My girls are huge rice eaters, but I can never get my rice sticky enough to make great rice balls. I didn’t know they made presses for that! Thank you!

  7. Quesadillas are the best! No toddlers here anymore (hard to believe), but we still love burritos and quesadillas – on our dinner menu often!


  8. I just re-read my comment from yesterday and realized that I sound somewhat snotty. (I was one of the moms who said my toddler eats what we eat.) I apologize! I was in a hurry and didn’t take time to temper my words with grace.

    Even though she eats what we eat, I often modify it for her. For example, when we have tacos, I don’t season her meat. Or, I add honey to her oatmeal but not mine.

    When she was younger and still needed things more finely chopped/pureed, we relied on a food mill. That was a lifesaver!

    That said, we now eat lots of the things you mentioned:
    Quesadillas are big with us, all of us. Corn tortillas instead of flour are a nice change and less “bready.” She loves to dip them in guacamole!

    I buy nitrate/nitrite-free deli meat and often I will just give her a few slices to eat, then on the side, add some carrots or red bell pepper strips & humuus, cheese, crackers, fruit, etc. She looooves humuus!

    We just started making ham and cheese sandwiches on whole-wheat with mustard and mayo, and she prefers them to pb&j. I cut the crusts off and cut them into triangles and they’re easy to eat. Then we supplement with the other stuff mentioned above.

    We also make “mac-n-cheese” by cooking whole wheat or brown rice pasta, and then tossing it with butter, a little salt, and shredded parmesan and mozzarella. Then you can also add veggies, meat, etc. The peanut noodles look good – I will have to try them!

    Of course, my favorite thing to serve at lunch is leftovers! I often try to make enough dinner that we can eat it for lunch, too.

    • @Katie, you did NOT sound snotty! Not even!

      Great food ideas here. We have been using corn tortillas every now and again and it’s a nice change up. Thanks for sharing these!

  9. Filing this away… Miles is almost ready for finger foods, but is still toothless. We’ll be moving on soon I’m sure!

    Great ideas!

  10. Great series here, Megan. I’ve hesitated to chime in because both my boys are such picky eaters! The youngest is now almost 18 months so he should be downing most everything mentioned here. Oh if that were only the case!
    Right now he can’t get enough corn-on-the-cob, so at least he’s getting a vegetable!

    Oh and we’ve entered that wonderful time where he wants to feed HIMSELF with a spoon. oh joy! Oh mess!

    • @Aimee – mama, I know ALL ABOUT the picky here. Our 4.5 year old takes picky to new levels. If she could, she would live on rice, berries, and the occasional corn dog (eeek!). We’re just trying to stay consistent with encouraging new things.

      And yes – those first weeks (months?) when the spoon is in the hands of the little one – so messy! But lots of good photo ops, right?

  11. Thanks for the tips. I have found over the years that a great variety of different toddler meals helps to develop a kids palette. Also offering new foods in a fun setting where the focus is not in food. For example snow peas in the shower. For picky eaters lots of praise, praise praise throughout the day will help meal times to be less of a battle.
    .-= Ruthie´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  12. Breast feeding for 10 – 15 minutes per breast 8 – 10 times every 24 hours is an ideal target. Crying is a sign of hunger, which means you should actually feed your baby before he starts crying. During the first few days, you may have to wake your baby to begin breast feeding, and he may end up falling asleep during feeding.

  13. My granddaughter loves mac and cheese with sweet potato fries. Strange combination in my mind but it works. The fries are great on those days when she thinks all food is “disgusting”. At least she thinks the fries are fun to eat.
    .-= Tina @ Ride On Toys´s last blog ..Fast Power Wheels? You Betcha! =-.

  14. I think I might have the pickiest toddler this side of the Mississippi. He does enjoy many fruits, but I would be happy at this point if he were to try a corn dog (eeekk for even saying that) or corn on the cob! 🙂
    debbye´s latest post: What Do Babies and Toddlers Sleep In?


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