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 in grid of 6

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.

make-ahead-dinners-in-grid-of-6

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.

easy marinara sauce in jar on towel

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.

Easy Marinara Sauce with Extra Veggies
Serve this sauce with 1 pound of your family's favorite pasta for an easy and healthy dinner.
Get the recipe
easy marinara sauce in jar on towel

healthy-meatballs-on-adult-and-kids-plate

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.

Healthy Meatballs (with Hidden Vegetables)
With the texture you expect from a traditional meatball but added nutrition from three types of veggies, your whole family will love these.
Get the recipe
healthy meatballs in large bowl and small kids bowl
homemade broccoli tots

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.

Homemade Broccoli Tots (Better Than the Freezer Aisle!)
Crispy on the outside and tender in the middle, these tots are a seriously fun way to serve broccoli. You can cook the rice up to 5 days ahead of time and store it in the fridge until you're ready to bake the tots.
Get the recipe
homemade broccoli tots
sheet-pan-quesadillas-on-platter

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.

Sheet Pan Black Bean Quesadillas
These easy quesadillas can be made with pumpkin puree, sweet potato puree, or butternut squash puree. You can also skip it and just go with beans and cheese! I make these as half moon shapes since it helps contain the mess a little when feeding these to kids.
Get the recipe
sheet-pan-quesadillas-on-platter

easy peanut sauce in jar with vegetables and rice on tea towel
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!

Easy Peanut Sauce
This makes enough for 12-16 ounces of noodles, or enough for 1-2 meals as a sauce over grains or protein for a family of 4.
Get the recipe
easy peanut sauce in jar with rice and cauliflower

egg-cups-on-plate-with-toast

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.

Make-Ahead Egg and Cheese Mini Muffins
These soft breakfast egg cups are packed with protein and vitamins—and can be made ahead of time! Add any veggie you like, whether carrots, butternut squash, broccoli, or spinach.
Get the recipe
egg-cups-on-plate-with-toast
Baked zucchini fritters

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.

Easy Zucchini Fritters Recipe
We bake these Zucchini Fritters since they are easier to cook and easier to clean up. If you have a lot of zucchini, you can double the recipe to make a full muffin tin's worth!
Get the recipe
healthy zucchini fritters

shortcut butternut squash risotto

8. Shortcut Squash Risotto

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!)

Shortcut Butternut Squash Risotto
You can cook the rice ahead of time and do Step 1 ahead. Or make the whole dish ahead and warm to serve when needed.
Get the recipe
butternut-squash-risotto-in-white-bowls
quinoa patties on purple plate


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.

Easy Quinoa Patties (Favorite Quinoa Cakes)
These quick Quinoa Patties are a delicious way to serve quinoa to kids—and adults! Plan to make the quinoa ahead of time so these come together in minutes.
Get the recipe
quinoa patties on purple plate

hummus-on-snack-plate

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.

Creamy Hummus Without Tahini
You can use regular plain yogurt, though I like the consistency that Greek yogurt yields a bit better.
Get the recipe
homemade hummus without tahini
broccoli cheese soup recipe

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!

Healthy Broccoli Cheddar Soup
With plant-based protein, veggies, and cheese, this soup is a wonderful way to serve up healthy comfort food to the whole family. (Adapted from FamilyFun magazine.)
Get the recipe
broccoli cheese soup recipe
baked-chicken-meatballs

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.

4-Ingredient Baked Chicken Meatballs
Serve with Marinara sauce, Pesto, Cheese Sauce, or with a side of ketchup or any other favorite dip. We like to have these on hand to use an easy lunch component or have them with pasta.
Get the recipe
baked-chicken-meatballs
pizza-rolls-on-kids-plate

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!

Favorite Pizza Rolls (with Spinach and Cheese)
Be sure to grease your pan well and roll the dough up fairly tightly around the fillings for best results. (But it's okay if they don't look perfect when they go into the pan!) 
Get the recipe
pizza-rolls-on-kids-plate

slow-cooker-black-bean-soup-in-pink-bowl

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.)

Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup (with Instant Pot Option)
The addition of grains helps to thicken the soup to a nice consistency for little eaters, so don't be worried if it's pretty thin before you add them in before serving.
(This post was updated and the recipe was streamlined November 2020. You can get the
original recipe here.)
 
Get the recipe
slow-cooker-black-bean-soup
baby-pasta-in-four-white-bowls

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.

breakfast-burritos-on-purple-plate

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.

Easy Breakfast Burritos
These are called “breakfast” burritos since they have eggs, but you can serve them for any meal of the day!
Get the recipe
breakfast-burritos-on-purple-plate
crispy baked chicken tenders on white and blue plate

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.

Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders
These crispy Chicken Tenders are fast and versatile. To make these with panko breadcrumbs, use 1 cup and stir ¼ teaspoon salt into the flour before you dredge the chicken.
Get the recipe
crispy baked chicken tenders on white and blue plate

soft-roasted-chickpeas-on-white-plate

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.

Soft Roasted Chickpeas with Cinnamon
If you start with dried beans in this salty-sweet snack, make sure to cook them until they are very tender. If making these for a kiddo under one, use maple syrup instead of honey or skip the sweetener all together.
Get the recipe
roasted chickpea recipe

mini-meatballs-in-skillet-with-sauce

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.

Best Healthy Mini Meatballs
Classic Italian meatballs with kale tucked inside to help toddlers eat their greens! (You can of course use the more traditional parsley instead of kale if you prefer.)
Get the recipe
mini-meatballs-in-skillet-with-sauce
lentil-soup-in-wooden-bowl

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.

Favorite Lentil Soup with Veggies
I like our lentil soup with the veggies pretty blended in, which is why I chop them finely in a blender or food processor. You can also just chop them with a knife. (Recipe updated August 2020 to saute the veggies before simmering to ensure that there’s no raw onion flavor.)
Get the recipe
lentil soup with veggies
meat buns on a parchment lined baking sheet

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.

Cheesy Stuffed Meat Buns
These meat buns have all of the components of a cheeseburger, but are much easier for little kids to eat! Plus: They store well in the fridge and freezer so can be made ahead of time.
Get the recipe
meat buns
yogurt-pancakes-on-three-plates

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.

Favorite Yogurt Pancakes
With just a few ingredients and the option to make these on the stove top or in the oven as a sheet pan pancakes, these Yogurt Pancakes are versatile and so yummy!
Get the recipe
yogurt-pancakes-on-three-plates

homemade chicken nuggets

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!).

Homemade Chicken Nuggets with Sweet Potato
You can double this recipe to feed a family of 4-6. Or make this smaller batch and serve to your toddler throughout the week. Try serving these with ketchup, ranch, or marinara sauce.
Get the recipe
homemade chicken nuggets
salmon-cakes-on-parent-and-child-plate

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.

Easy Baked Salmon Cakes (Salmon Patties)
These tender fish cakes make a quick and easy pantry meal when you haven’t planned ahead for dinner. Recipe updated slightly to ensure moistness in June 2021.
Get the recipe
salmon-cakes-on-parent-and-child-plate

Whole-Grain-Banana-Chocolate-Chip-Muffins on bear plate

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.

Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
These muffins are best with very ripe bananas (they should have a lot of brown spots, which indicate sweetness). Then, simply stir everything together in one bowl and bake up a batch of delicious Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins to share with the kids.
Get the recipe
banana chocolate chip muffins

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.

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Comments

  1. Could I get the recipe that you used for the easy veggie pasta and what kind of pasta that was pictured?

  2. Thank you for all these recipes!
    You are a lifesaver!!!!!♥️
    You are any go to EVERY DAY! All the time. So thank you!

    Tia

  3. Oh some of these looks so good and packed with nutrients! I swear that’s the only way to get the greens in my little guys tummy. Thanks for some amazing ideas – can’t wait to try them!

  4. Who says meatballs have to be paired with red sauce? Cook up a big batch and freeze them (up to two months!) to use any way you want for a quick and easy addition of protein to any weeknight meal.

  5. Hi! I love all of your recipes 🙂 Can they be found in a particular one of your Cookbooks? I’d love to purchase one.

    1. Yup! Just reheat for about 8-10 minutes or until warmed through in a 375 degree F oven or in the microwave in 15 second increments.

  6. I’m going to try a few of these recipes thus upcoming week. I’m excited to try the quesadillas, but I have a few skeptics because of the pumpkin!

  7. Thanks so much for these ideas! Now i have motivation to make meals that he will actually eat! Thanks again

  8. 5 stars
    Your recipes are genius!!!!! I have such a picky eater. He literally ate toast for three months straight from 12 mo to 15 mo. In one day, he devoured your maple chickpea snack and spinach pizza roll-ups. Thank you so, so, so much!!!!!1

    1. I’m so glad to hear this! (He may still have phases of not wanting to eat much or what you make him but I’m glad you have more options!)