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!

How to Implement a Baby or Toddler Meal Plan

I’m outlining my top five tips for implementing a meal plan for your baby or toddler to ensure they’re eating a nutritious, balanced diet – plus, I’m giving you an inside look at my toddler’s daily meal plan and a bonus video featuring the template I use to create all her meals!

Title graphic for How to Implement a Meal Plan for Your Baby or Toddler, with a photo of a baby looking on to a picnic of food.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how I make my little one balanced, nutritious meals on the regular – and, more importantly, how I make sure she eats them! Well, you’re in for a treat today, because I’m giving you a peek at my top tricks to implement a baby or toddler meal plan, along with suggestions, tips and tricks to get your little ones on the healthy meal train.

Tips for Feeding Babies and Toddlers

It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of baby-led weaning, and many of these tips I’m about to give you are thanks to this method of introducing solids to your littles. If you’re getting ready to introduce solids to your little one, be sure to check for all of these signs that you’re baby is ready first, then – if you feel baby-led weaning is the way you want to go – I encourage you to read 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].

Tip #1: Limit snacking

I’ll admit it: In times of desperation, snacking is SUCH a savior (airplane rides and road trips – I’m looking at you!) But in general, I really try to limit snacking with my little. I find that by not offering Raia food at every moment of the day, she is more likely to eat a good meal when it’s time for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Tip #2: Protein + veg + starch + dessert?

This is the basic format I use every time I make a meal for Raia. There’s always a protein and always a vegetable, usually a starch and sometimes fruit for dessert. There are occasions when I’ll add another vegetable or a legume instead of a starch, but this is the general template I use. We’re pretty liberal with giving Raia fruit for breakfast, and usually only give it to her for dessert at the other meals if she eats the majority of everything else.

When I’m thinking of how I’m going to compose a meal for my babe, I think of the colors of the rainbow and try to give her a good balance of each. This is also a great way to be sure you’re introducing your little to a wide variety of foods.

A picnic basket overflowing with fresh produce. Implementing a meal plan for your baby or toddler isn't complete without all types of fresh produce!

And YES, we do give Raia sweet treats every once in a while, but we tend to save them for special occasions. Although not always successful, we aim to give her sweets (if she’s having them) before 5pm or so, just so the sugar has some time to work through her system before bed.

Tip #2: Look at the week as a whole

As worried parents, it’s easy to get caught up in the fact that our babes are not eating very much of whatever they’ve been served. We spend all this time putting together a balanced meal, only to watch them pick at each thing or throw it all on the ground. This is where this tip comes in. Try to look at your little one’s diet as a whole throughout the course of a week, and judge their nutrient intake on that. A child is innately born with a survival instinct, and they will not go hungry!

A happy toddler snacking on roasted sweet potato in the back of a car...Having a toddler or baby meal plan in place makes healthy eating on the go even easier!

For example, Raia is a GREAT breakfast eater, an average lunch eater and a not-so-great dinner eater. So, we focus on getting her as many nutrients as we can for breakfast – when she seems to be hungriest – and we don’t worry so much if she barely touches her dinner.

Tip #3: Don’t offer alternatives

This is a biggie. I see it alllll the time. Your little one refuses to eat the chicken, broccoli, etc. you put in front of them, and in an act of desperation you run to the kitchen and whip up a grilled cheese because, hey, at least they’ll eat it. Well, my friends, I’m sorry to say but you’re just setting your child up for failure. Hold your ground and, as I mentioned in Tip #2, when your child is REALLY hungry, they’ll eat!

If you really can’t bring yourself to watch your child refuse to eat anything you serve them, I offer this additional tip: Always include ONE “slam dunk” food on your child’s plate. This is something you know your child will eat and, when they eat it, you’re welcome to give them more. That way you know they’ll eat something, but you’re not demonstrating that they can just refuse what they’re served and you’ll make them something else.

Tip #4 Get your little involved in the cooking process

I’m telling you now, your little one will be soooo much more likely to eat something if he or she gets involved in making it! For babes and toddlers that are upright and have good balance, a learning tower [*affiliate link] is a great way to get them involved in the kitchen. For smaller babes, just showing them what you’re doing as you’re preparing their food makes them curious and excited to give these foods a try.

Toddler and mommy having fun together. When it comes to meal prepping for your little one, get him or her involved!

Okay, so those are my five big tips that I see as crucial in getting your little one(s) to eat balanced, nutritious meals, so now it’s time to share my incredibly easy to follow Baby or Toddler Meal Plan. I know that every family’s daily schedules look drastically different, and that’s okay! Simply use this as a rough guideline for planning out your baby or toddler’s daily meals.

I’ve also put together a fun video showing how I compose each of Raia’s meals, which you can watch below.

Baby or Toddler Meal Plan

7:30am – 8am BREAKFAST

We tend to sit Raia down for breakfast with her morning milk fairly soon after she wakes. We found this was easier when transitioning her off breastfeeding/the bottle because it still gave her something to eat immediately upon waking. Typical breakfasts for her include:

  • Egg cup + peanut butter toast + banana + milk
  • Baked oatmeal + blueberries + milk
  • Chia pudding with fruit + avocado toast + milk

NOTE: Since breakfast tends to be Raia’s biggest meal, we usually skip a morning snack. However, if your child doesn’t eat such a big breakfast, you may want to offer a small, organized snack around 10:30 (a healthy pumpkin muffin, string cheese, etc.)

A toddler enjoying a breakfast of bananas and milk in her high chair. Breakfast is a very important part of implementing a baby or toddler meal plan!
#bedhead
12:00pm LUNCH

Although we strive for a 12pm lunch, we’ll sometimes make it sooner if Raia seems like she’ll need an early nap (we’re currently on just one nap a day). Typical lunches for her include:

  • Turkey and avocado sandwich on multigrain bread + string cheese
  • Grilled chicken + butternut squash zig zags + brown rice
  • Soup + broccoli + chicken sausage
3:30pm SNACK

This is just rough timing, but we usually give Raia her afternoon snack as soon as she wakes up from her nap. Snack usually consists of:

  • A vegetable/oat/banana-based muffin (see my cookbook for recipes!)
  • A toddler-friendly granola bar
  • A fruit- and veggie-packed popsicle

A happy toddler enjoying a lunch picnic on the grass. Picnics are a great thing to plan into your baby or toddler's meal plan!

6:00pm Dinner

Honestly, dinner usually looks a lot like lunch, I just try to mix and match the combos so she’s not always eating the same thing. We also give her her nighttime milk at this time. Here are some other balanced meal examples:

  • Tri tip + zucchini + ravioli + milk
  • Homemade rotisserie chicken + green beans + sweet potato + milk
  • Black bean burger (recipe in my cookbook!) + avocado + sliced tomato + milk

A toddler enjoying raw veggies sticks for dinner. Toddler meal planning is possible even when eating out!

See?? Soooo easy. And you can prep so much of this stuff ahead of time. I usually cook up two different veggies at once and store them in the fridge to mix and match with whatever protein we’ve cooked and eaten throughout the week. There’s really nothing to it, and once your kid gets used to delicious, balanced meals like this, they’re going to get more adventurous and curious about what you’re putting on their plate.

Question for you: Would you all have any interest in me offering more personal consultations when it comes to getting your baby or toddler to eat a balanced meal? What are some more pain points that I could help you solve? I want to help you, so please let me know! xoxo