Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters and parents of children under the age of 5 often become frustrated when trying to come up with dinner ideas. Toddlers will often refuse to eat what the rest of the family is eating, so many parents tailor meals specifically to the toddler's tastes. If you keep it simple and stick to relatively plain food that you know your children will enjoy, you should be able to keep your little ones well-fed and happy.
Classic Comfort Foods
There's a reason why foods like pizza, macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers are so often associated with small children. It's because most kids actually really like these foods. While some of these dinners don't necessarily have the nutritional content that some parents look for, there is nothing wrong with serving toddlers dinners that they like as long as you try to balance their food groups throughout the day. Buy frozen or packaged versions of these kid comfort foods when you're busy or make homemade versions when you have the time. Serve some simply cooked vegetables on the side so your children have the option of trying the veggies if they choose to.
Simpler Versions of Grown-Up Fare
Cooking separate meals for toddlers and grown-ups is not something that most moms enjoy. If you want to make a more sophisticated dinner for yourself, you can make a scaled-down version for younger children at the same time. For example, prepare spaghetti with a plain marinara sauce for the kids, then add some spices and seafood to the grown-ups' plates. You can make similar dinners with pizza by varying the toppings for different age groups or grilled sandwiches by offering more than one filling.
If your toddler refuses to eat a side of vegetable and you're worried about balancing your dinners, sneak some veggies into the main dish. Puree some steamed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots or other mild-tasting vegetable until smooth. Add the puree to a sauce or meal that you know your child is willing to eat. The purees can easily be added to marinara or cheese pasta sauces without being detected by children. You can also sneak veggie purees into toddler favorites like meatloaf or hamburgers.
Tricks to Get Them Eating
Unfortunately, the answer to the question of what a toddler eats for dinner is often "nothing." After a long day of snacking, many toddlers resist the evening meal. This concerns many parents who strive to provide their children with a full day's worth of nutrients. Try to keep your toddler's meals simple without using too many strong flavors. Experiment with different kinds of food: if your child doesn't like meat and potatoes try serving healthy soups or salads. Many toddlers enjoy eating with their hands, so try cutting up their food into strips that they can dip into a creamy dressing or sauce. If your toddler particularly enjoys fruit or cheese or another healthy but non-traditional dinner food, let him eat that. As long as you continue to offer healthy foods and make dinnertime enjoyable, children will get the nutritional balance they need.