To make the days when you’re super busy a little easier, here are 25 make-ahead toddler dinners—that store really well in the fridge or freezer—that everyone at the table will enjoy.
Make-Ahead Toddler Dinners
Getting dinner (or lunch, for that matter) on the table with an active and hungry toddler underfoot often feels impossible. Heck, it often is impossible. And even the best laid dinner intentions can quickly go by the wayside when someone is in need of your attention, wants to be held, or just wants to reconnect with you after a long day.
I love taking advantage of dinners for kids that my whole family likes, but that store really well, to help make it easier to feed my family at the end of the day.
Which means I often double cook these recipes and stash one in the fridge or freezer for a future meal. Or, if I happen to have time to meal prep, these are the first recipes I turn to. Or if I just want recipes that I know hold well to eat as leftovers, this is my list.
These meals either freeze well—so you can make them weeks (or months ahead) and pull them out when you need them—or they store well in the fridge for 3-5 days. Which gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of cooking when you have the time and ensuring that everything you make will be delicious whenever you get to eat it.
You can pair these ideas with simple sides like cut up fruit, applesauce, crackers, cheese, or anything that sounds appealing to you. Add some milk or water and enjoy the recipes right along with your kids.
1. Veggie-Loaded Marinara Sauce
You can freeze this sauce when fully cooled in a quart-size freezer bag. Remove as much air as you can and freeze flat for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or place the bag in a large bowl filled with warm water and let thaw. Serve with pasta, meatballs, or even over couscous.
2. Healthy Toddler Meatballs
Make a double batch the next time you make meatballs and tuck a bag full away in the freezer. Meatballs freeze extremely well! To freeze, let cool fully, then place into a zip top freezer bag, removing as much air as possible. Thaw directly in pasta sauce or in short 10-15 second increments in the microwave for quick toddler dinners.
3. Broccoli Tots
With a quick blitz in the food processor, you can have a batch of these seriously yummy broccoli tots in the oven—then let cool and store in an airtight container until you’re ready to serve them later in the week. They reheat in minutes and have a soft, yet slightly crunchy texture that everyone will enjoy. Parents can have theirs alongside a simple salad or with some fresh fruit.
4. Sheet Pan Black Bean Quesadillas
If I ever have a little extra time in the morning, I love to prep this meal so it’s ready to stick into the oven at the end of the day when we all get home. You can make enough quesadillas for the entire family at the same time, which means no standing by the stove flipping them endlessly.
5. Easy Peanut Sauce
This peanut sauce, which has the option of adding a nice dose of greens, can be made up to 5 days ahead of time and stored in the fridge in an airtight container. It can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Serve over noodles or rice and veggies—which you can also make ahead!
6. Mini Egg Muffins with Cheese and Veggies
You can freeze a batch of these protein-packed muffins to quickly reheat for any meal of the day. Simply let cool and then place in a zip top freezer bag, removing as much air as possible. Freeze for up to 3 months and either thaw overnight in the fridge or heat in the microwave in short 10 second increments until warmed through.
7. Easy Baked Zucchini Fritters
Making a batch of these simple, but so good zucchini fritters the easy way—in a muffin tin!—and storing them to reheat later is a genius dinner option. They’re great on their own, served over a salad for adults, or even served alongside simple buttered pasta.
You can either make the components of this dish—the roasted veggies and the rice—up to 3 days ahead of time and simply assemble it at dinner time, or make the entire dish ahead and store it in the fridge. Add a little milk if needed for moisture before serving. You can freeze roasted veggies as well. Let cool and store in a zip top freezer bag with as much air removed as possible for up to 3 months. (This is great for older babies too!)
9. Quinoa Patties
Stir together a simple batter of quinoa, egg, cheese, breadcrumbs, and either broccoli or cauliflower to make these patties. Then you can freeze them for a quick future meal. Thaw overnight in the fridge or pop into a toaster oven or a 375 degree oven and bake for about 6-8 minutes, or until warmed through.
10. Creamy (Nut-Free) Hummus and Crackers
Blending up hummus up to 5 days ahead and storing in an airtight container in the fridge means that you’ll always have an easy dinner component on hand. We like this version since it’s super creamy from the inclusion of yogurt, has loads of vegetarian protein, and is really yummy when served with crackers and fresh veggies like shredded carrots or cucumber sticks—or simply spread on toast.
11. Broccoli Cheddar Soup
You can store this veggie (and cheese!) packed soup in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. It’s so good and is packed with vegetarian protein!
12. Baked Chicken Meatballs
With vegetables tucked right in the mix and a straight forward ingredient list, these meatballs are a great option for kids. Plus, they freeze well, so you can store some in the freezer if there are leftovers the first go round, or make a double batch. Let cool fully and store in a zip top freezer bag with as much air removed as possible for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge or in short increments in the microwave.
13. Mini Spinach and Cheese Pizza Rolls
Tuck half of the batch into the freezer (or make a double batch!) and pull them out for lunches and easy toddler dinners as needed. These are particularly good with marinara dipping sauce (which counts as a veggie in my book). Honestly, if I made these every single week, my girls would be so happy—and I’d always have a quick dinner ready to go!
14. Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup
This vegetarian soup, which has sweet potato for added nutrition and subtle sweetness, tastes even better the next day. It can safely stay in the fridge for up to 5 day (you may need to add a little more stock if it gets too thick) or frozen in a zip top freezer bag with as much air removed as possible, and frozen flat, for up to 3 months. (See above about making a big batch of rice ahead of time.)
15. Extra-Veggie Pasta
Pasta is a total hit when served for toddler dinners and for good reason: It’s comforting, easy to eat, and satisfies their natural desires for carbs. For this simple recipe, you can make the sauce ahead and store it in a small freezer bag (or freeze ice cube tray) for up to 3 months in the freezer.
P.S. Did you know you can even cook pasta ahead? Here’s how: Cook pasta according to package directions, being sure not to over cook it.. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil. Let cool fully and store in a zip top freezer bag with as much air removed as possible or a food storage container for up to 5 days. Warm in short increments to serve with your kiddo’s favorite sauce.
16. Breakfast Burritos
Make a big batch of these burritos on the weekend and come dinner time during the week, pair them with beans and a side of fruit and you’re good to go. I like to wrap each one in foil or parchment and then stash in a freezer bag. Then warm in 30 second increments in the microwave until warmed through.
17. Easy Baked Chicken Tenders
These chicken tenders are delicious served cold for leftovers the day after—or reheated to crispy in the oven. Which means you can make them on the weekend and serve them for dinner up to 3 nights later. Serve with diced cheese and simple veggies–sliced cucumbers, halved tomatoes, snap peas—for an easy, yet nourishing meal.
18. Soft-Baked Honey Cinnamon Chickpeas
Make a batch (or a double batch) on the weekend and store for up to 5 days in the fridge. Serve warm over rice, alongside crackers and sliced fruit as a simple snacky cheese plate (which parents may like when paired with a glass of wine!), or inside a pita pocket or over brown rice.
19. Easy Mini Meatballs with Kale
These meatballs are tender and delicious—and they feature a whole grain and some kale. They keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer in a zip top freezer bag with as much air removed as possible for up to 3 months. Thaw directly in marinara sauce or in short increments in the microwave. Serve with pasta or on their own with a side of peas.
20. Lentil Soup with Veggies
This easy soup has veggies and protein, making it a complete meal in one. It can stay in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Add stock or water when reheating if it has thickened up more than you like.
21. Cheesy Stuffed Meat Buns
Think of these like cheeseburgers, but in a much easier form for toddlers and kids to eat. The meat inside is also super soft, so it can be more appealing to toddlers who are still learning to like the texture of meat. Store a cooled batch in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or in a zip top freezer bag in the freezer for up to 3 months. They reheat so nicely and are a substantial meal on the busiest nights.
22. Yogurt Pancakes
Breakfast for dinner is always a hit and if you have these pancakes—which feature an unexpected dose of yogurt—in the freezer, it’s easy too. Simply make a big batch on the weekend and store the leftovers (fully cooled) in zip top freezer bags until ready to serve. Reheat in short increments in the microwave.
23. Chicken Nuggets with Sweet Potato
These simple nuggets include just a few ingredients and are super moist and tender from the inclusion of sweet potato. They reheat beautifully in just minutes in the oven, and are a total hit with everyone in my family (especially when dunked in ketchup!).
24. Salmon Cakes
Salmon cakes are a fun way to offer up healthy fats and protein to the little ones. You can store these for up to 3 days in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer. Either warm through in the oven or heat in short increments in the microwave. Serve with simple veggies or fruit, some cubed bread or roll, and a dipping sauce like ketchup or mayo.
25. Whole Grain Banana Muffins
Breakfast for dinner FTW! Who says you can serve muffins for toddler dinners? This wholesome version is delicious plain, topped with nut butter or cream cheese, and they are substantial enough to serve as the base of a filling dinner. Pair with a little yogurt, sliced cheese, sliced fruit, frozen veggies, or smoothie for a winning toddler meal.
Best Tips for Dinners for Kids
- Aim to include 1-2 foods on the table that the kids usually like to eat, even if that means a simple side of fruit.
- Add hot sauce, ketchup, salsa, or any other dips or sauces you or the kids like to add more flavor.
- Serve meals family style to allow kids to serve themselves (giving them some power often helps with meal time dynamics!)
- Start with smaller portions to avoid food waste and allow more as long as everyone is sharing.
- Remember that it’s normal for kids not to eat every single thing you offer them. Model enjoyment, remember that perfection is not the goal, and try to zoom out when you think of their intake as kids often eat balanced when you look at their week—but may not look very balanced at each meal.
- You may also like Master List of Healthy Family Meals, Shortcut Toddler Dinners, and Vegetarian Meals for Kids.
I’d love to hear what your favorite make-ahead dinner is for your family, so please chime in below in the comments!
This post was first published October 2017.