Multiple times a week, I stand in front of the fridge and wonder: What can I give T that she hasn't already eaten today? Because there are days when it feels like she's already had everything I have on hand and while she would happily eat fruit and cheese for every meal (and crackers and Cheerios), I try to offer a wider range of foods so that she's exposed to a range of nutrients and flavors. It's tough, this offering-a-range bit, because the things I want her to eat more of—whole grains and veggies—are the foods that typically are more time consuming to prepare.
I have weeks when I rely more heavily on fruits than veggies, to be sure, but I've found a few tips that help me both pack her yummy lunches and pull together quick breakfast and dinners. Here are my top 5 tips for making toddler meal components ahead of time.
- Make double.
Whenever I make oatmeal, I always make at least two servings so that I can serve one the following day. Often, I serve that second serving cold, cut up into pieces since it tends to harden up a tad), or I mix it with yogurt. Either way, it's a filling, hearty whole grain ready and waiting.
- Steal from dinner.
We try to pack my husband's lunches from our dinner leftovers, but before we start the meal, I also set aside some of the veggies for T's lunch the next day. This ensures that she gets served veggies at her midday meal (even if she decides not to eat them!) and that I don't have to cook separate food for her lunch.
- Use the freezer.
Some assortment of peas, corn, broccoli, edamame, and/or beets are almost always on hand in the freezer. This way, I can pull veggies and either steam them slightly or simply let them thaw overnight in a packed lunchbox (I do this with peas and corn), no fancy prep-work required.
- Use leftovers creatively.
If we have leftover roasted sweet potato or butternut squash, I might stir it into oatmeal, pancake batter, or pasta sauce. Lingering roasted potatoes or asparagus might go into an omelet. Roasted cauliflower or Brussels sprouts pair well with quickly boiled pasta and butter. Leftover steamed cauliflower goes into the freezer for smoothies. (I was skeptical, but it's flavorless!) And leftover avocado adds creaminess to smoothies too. If there is something in the fridge already prepared, I find the simplest and yummiest way to give it new life!
- Take shortcuts.
Those precooked lentils, rice, and squash at the store? The precut and shredded veggies? That rotisserie chicken? Yes, these convenience foods sometimes come with a premium price tag, but when you're really busy, they can be a key to making meals come together faster. And with a hungry toddler underfoot, fast and easy is often essential.
Of course, the other big key to managing the seemingly endless toddler feeding demands is to try not to worry too much about the daily diet. Some days my girl does eat more fruit than anything else and often she goes days without a green. But if I look at her diet over the course of a week, it usually all balances out.