The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Meal Prep for Your Littles

There are no more excuses when it comes to healthy meal prep for your littles. This post covers all your roadblocks and how to overcome them!Title image for the Ultimate Guide to Healthy Meal Prep for Your Littles, featuring a toddler enjoying a healthy, balanced meal.

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time now, you know I’m a huge proponent of baby-led weaning and healthy meal prep. And if you’re new to CaliGirl Cooking, welcome! I look forward to sharing all of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over my past year and a half of motherhood for getting my little one to eat a wide variety of foods today – yes, vegetables included!

Before I get into the amazing resource I’ve created for all my mamas and papas out there, let’s quickly go over the biggest “pain points” I hear when it comes to prepping food for babies and toddlers.

Baby & Toddler Meal Prep Pain Points

  1. I don’t know where to start! What is safe for my little one to eat at a certain age and what isn’t?
  2. I’ve run out of ideas for what to make for my baby/toddler.
  3. My child will only eat the same few foods and never tries anything new or different.
  4. I don’t have time to make special food just for my little one.

The good news?? I’ve got solutions for all of these problems! Let’s break them down one by one.

#1 I don’t know where to start! What is safe for my little one to eat at a certain age and what isn’t?

I first want to start with a quick disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, registered dietitian or doctor. These are simply my opinions and lessons from what I’ve learned over the last year or so of motherhood to help provide guidance. Always seek a professional opinion if you have any serious questions or concerns.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about where to start. I’ve mentioned it before, but my husband and I are HUGE proponents of the method of introducing solids known as baby-led weaning.

A happy toddler gnawing on an entire stalk of celery.

In short, the definition of baby-led weaning (also known as BLW) is as follows: a method of adding complementary foods to a baby’s diet of breastmilk or formula. A method of food progression, BLW facilitates the development of age-appropriate oral motor control while maintaining eating as a positive, interactive experience. Baby-led weaning allows babies to control their solid food consumption by “self-feeding” from the very beginning of their experiences with food. The term weaning should not be taken to imply giving up breastmilk or formula, but simply the introduction of foods other than breastmilk or formula.* (definition taken from this baby-led weaning entry in Wikipedia)

I’ll cover some of the main points of baby-led weaning in just a moment, but if you want to read about it in more detail, I highly recommend the book Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods – and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett [*affiliate link]. This was the only book I read on it and I found it very comprehensive.

But to quickly summarize, here is why we chose (and loved) baby-led weaning:

  • Your children eat the same foods you do, just modified if needed based on their oral motor control and manual dexterity.
  • No purées
  • Your child is in control of their food consumption from the beginning, they self-feed as much as possible, leaving you free hands to enjoy your own meal.
  • Discourages parents from offering alternatives if a child refuses to eat the meal they are served.
  • Encourages use of adventurous herbs and spices from the get-go to introduce your child to a wide range of flavors.

So, if this all sounds great to you and you’re looking for where to start, I highly encourage you purchase the book! [*affiliate link]

#2 I’ve run out of ideas for what to make for my baby/toddler

Have no fear! I have some great resources for you.

First and foremost, did you know I wrote a cookbook on this very topic? Yep, you can purchase my 30 Freezer-Friendly Recipes for Babies and Toddlers e-cookbook right here on my site. Also, stay tuned to the blog, because I’ll be sharing one or two exclusive recipes from it in the coming months.

Secondly, I’ve found both Pinterest and Instagram to be great resources for meal ideas for babies and toddlers. Here are a few of my favorite accounts to follow:

@feedinglittles

@inspiralizedkids

@realbabyfood (run by Jenna Helwig who also wrote this helpful cookbook: Baby-Led Feeding [*affiliate link])

@kidfriendly.meals

And there are so many more! Just search the #babyledweaning hashtag on IG and you’ll find soooo many great ideas.

A toddler self-feeding herself a smoothie bowl in her high chair.

#3 My child will only eat the same few foods and never tries anything new or different

Okay, there are a few solutions to this, or ways to avoid the problem completely.

Baby-led weaning has many tactics that help broaden your little one’s palate and introduce him or her to a wide variety of foods from a very early age. In a nutshell, there are no foods that BLW says NOT to introduce to your little one as soon as they are developed enough in oral and motor skills to safely consume it.

For example, one of the first foods we introduce to our little one was butternut squash dusted with curry powder, and it is still one of her favorite snacks to this day. Yep, that’s right, my 18-month old can’t get enough of curry powder.

Studies have shown that, in a child’s first three years of life, his or her brain will have up to twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood. This means that the first three years of a child’s life are crucial for brain development, learning, and new experiences – which many of us parents already knew – but this also includes being introduced to new tastes and flavors.

Another main facet of baby-led weaning is not offering alternatives to a meal if your child doesn’t eat what is served. It’s important to look at a baby’s week as a whole in regards to food consumption and only worry if the food protest continues on for multiple meals at a time. The idea is that kids will eat if they are hungry, and offering alternatives simply gets them into the habit of thinking they can get whatever they want, which is typically something bland, boring and NOT nutrient dense, like grilled cheese or buttered pasta. Did you that babies are only born being able to taste sweet and bitter flavors? This explains a lot when it comes to innate food preferences!

Full disclosure: This has been THE hardest rule for us to abide by when it comes to BLW. As parents, I think it’s hard for us to watch our child not eat anything, then believe they won’t be going to bed hungry. Our solution? We always try to include ONE food that we call a “home run” food. Something we know the little one loves and will eat plenty of, even if she doesn’t eat anything else. This way we know she’ll eat something and not leave the table starving.

There are so many other small details I’m not covering here, but you get the idea, and I highly encourage you to read up on BLW more on your own.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: I missed the boat on BLW and now my toddler is the pickiest eater! Well, that’s where many of the recipes in my cookbook come in. This is when we turn to hidden nutrients. Your little one won’t know they’re eating vegetables and other healthy things if you sneak them into some of their favorite foods. No shame in that game.

For example, my cookbook includes a Hidden Veggie Mac-and-Cheese and tons of muffin and baked donut recipes that are filled with sneaky things like beets, beans and spinach. They taste delicious and your babe won’t even know they’re good for him or her.

A toddler enjoying a plate full of healthy food thanks to a healthy meal prep plan.

#4 I don’t have time to make special food just for my little one

Okay, my mamas and papas, this doesn’t come easily for ANYONE. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but the great thing about BLW is your babe will mostly eat what you eat.

BUT, as a busy mom trying to run her own business, keep up the house, and be the primary care provider for my little one, I also know that sometimes you just need something healthy on hand that can be served at a moment’s notice.

This is the part where I tell you that if the freezer hasn’t already become your new best friend, it’s about time that it does! Seriously, freezer meals and snacks have been such a godsend for us. They’re a great way to always have something healthy and homemade on hand rather than reaching for a store-bought or convenience snack. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fed my daughter her fair share of store-bought stuff in moments of desperation, but if I have something healthy and homemade waiting in the freezer, I’m reaching for it 95% of the time.

Lucky for you, all of the recipes in my e-cookbook are freezer-friendly. I mean, it is called 30 Freezer-Friendly Recipes for Babies and Toddlers, after all! Breakfasts, snacks, dinner items – I can vouch for every single one of these and tell you that they will change your family’s life.

I still hear some of you, though – I hear you saying you don’t have any time to even MAKE freezer meals. Well, I’m here to tell you that you do. I mean, some of these recipes take 30 seconds to whip up and then you just pop them in the oven and forget about them for 20 minutes. You can find time for that! All of the recipes in my book are clear on how much time they take to prep and cook, so you can use that as a guide for what you may have time to make in any given day.

Having a batch of Beet Banana Muffins on hand in the freezer is a great step in creating the ultimate meal prep system for your littles!

They really are a game-changer, and once you start you won’t be able to turn back. It feels so good to have healthy snacks and meals on hand that you know your baby or toddler will love!

I hope this post has been helpful to you, and given you the inspiration you need to get in the kitchen and make nutritious and delicious food for your little one. If you are looking for a more exact “meal plan” of sorts, I encourage you to check out this post where I talk about the actual schedule and types of food we serve our little one on a daily basis.

Now, I want to hear from you! Did you find this post helpful? Are there any questions you have that I didn’t cover? Anything you want me to cover in the future? Let me know in the comments below!

A messy-faced toddler smiling after enjoying a smoothie bowl. Smoothie bowl are a great part of meal prep!

Happy cooking!

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