Top 5 Favorite Foods for 18-Month-Olds

Here’s a list of the top five nutrient-packed foods we make for our 18-month old that she gobbles up in no time!

A rack of cooling Sweet Potato Zucchini Muffins shows one with a bite out of it. Vegetable-packed muffins are a great food for 18-month-olds.

One of the most common questions I get asked by other moms is what I feed my little one. I like to think that’s because they see me as an expert in the matter and not because my daughter is off the charts in height and weight, but you never know 😉

I thought it might be helpful to build a little library here on the blog outlining what some of Raia’s favorite foods have been at different ages. Since we just hit the 18-month mark, I figured I’d start here, but I’ll continue to add links to other ages as I get them published.

Newly added: Here are my recommendations for 12-month-old foods!

A quick note before we get started: As you may know by now, we decided to follow the method of baby-led weaning for introducing solids to our little one. I figure that by this age, most toddlers are all eating the same thing (whether they started with purées or not), but if you’re curious and want to learn more about baby-led weaning, I encourage you to read my post about knowing when to start your baby on solids, and also 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].

Without further ado, here is a list of my current Top 5 Favorite Foods for 18-Month Olds:


These have pretty much been a favorite food of Raia’s since we started baby-led weaning, but you just can’t ignore how great they are (both in taste and nutritionally). Some great resources for nutrient dense muffins are Inspiralized Kids, this post of mine on healthy baby snack ideas, and my e-cookbook, 30 Freezer-Friendly Recipes for Babies and Toddlers. I love making a batch of these on a Sunday or Monday and freezing them up to have them on hand for the rest of the week!


This is an easy meal to serve to kids of all ages that adults love as well. Also, if you go the quesadilla route, it’s easier to sneak in some veggies. For example, you can blend in some puréed pumpkin or butternut squash with cheddar cheese or dice up some mushrooms with taco meat and hide it under a pile of melt-y cheese.

A toddler enjoying a quesadilla. Quesadillas are another great food for 18-month-olds, especially when they have hidden veggies!


Now that Raia is a little better with using utensils, she loves getting into a bowl of soup. It’s fun for her, and an easy way for me to get her lots of nutrient-rich foods. Some of her favorites are this Warming Minestrone Soup (made with minimal salt) and this Super Easy Caramelized Onion and Potato Soup (again, made with minimal salt).


Let’s be real: 18-month olds love making a mess of their food and deconstructing it. I choose to just accept it, especially when serving one of our favorite weeknight meals, fried rice! This is another great dish that allows you to get protein, veggies and carbs all in one dish, and it comes together in a snap. Use brown rice for even more nutritional benefits, and use little (if any) soy sauce, as you need to watch the sodium with the little ones. Try cooking the fried rice in coconut oil for some extra flavor and healthy fats!


When you find a good recipe, you’ll always want to have these on hand so you don’t have to rely on all of the pre-packaged granola bars at the grocery store – because who knows what goes into those! I created a granola bar recipe that’s soft and crunchy at the same time, and doesn’t have any heavily processed ingredients. You can find this recipe in my e-cookbook as well!

A stack of soft and crunchy granola bars. A favorite food of 18-month-olds!

I hope this list gets you started on some ideas for delicious, nutritious foods you can make for your 18-month old.

Now, it’s your turn! Tell me some of your favorite foods for your 18-month old in the comments below!

Creative Baby and Toddler Lunch Ideas

If you have your baby or toddler in daycare – or even have to prepare food for a babysitter or nanny to serve your little one at home – this list of Creative Baby and Toddler Lunch Ideas is for you!

A toddler having a lunch picnic on the beach. Creative lunch ideas are important for exposing your child to a wide variety of foods!

For many of us, between 6- and 24-months is often the age we begin sending our child to daycare, or having some sort of regular childcare schedule implemented in our own home. This is also THE most important time for our little ones to be introduced to a wide variety of foods, so it’s crucial that we parents are on top of our game when it comes to sending our babes off with a healthy, well-balanced and flavor-diverse lunch.

That being said, I know all too well how easy it is to get stuck in the rut of serving the same thing over and over again. So let’s first talk about some of the roadblocks I know we ALL face…


Well, you’re in luck! I’m taking the guesswork out of it for you today by providing some interesting, non-repetitive options. It’s not that hard if you’ll just open your mind to it!

Also, meal prep is a godsend for busy parents like you and me. One hour of planning and prepping can set you up for HUGE success the rest of the week. I urge you to take 20 minutes on a Saturday or Sunday and roughly plan out your meals for the week. Be sure to leave some flexibility for eating out once in a while and making good use of leftovers. Then, make a shopping list and head to the store!

I’ve found that since I’ve implemented meal planning into my life over the last six months or so, I’ve saved so much time by knowing exactly what I’ll make each night, taking just one trip to the grocery store each week, and also always having healthy, interesting leftovers on hand.

A basket of fresh produce. Meal planning and prepping is a huge help in making creative lunches your little one will love.


C’mon, mom and dad. Don’t give up that easily! Your child probably only likes certain things because (a) they’ve not been introduced to enough variety early on in life, or (b) you give in to them refusing certain things and offer to make them an alternative. I understand this may be controversial for some of you, but take a look at my healthy meal prep for your baby or toddler post to get a better idea of where I’m coming from.

Also, keep in mind that babies’ and toddlers’ palates are constantly changing and evolving. If they don’t like something the first time you give it to them, try again in a week or two with the food prepared in a different way. You might be surprised!


Question for you: Do you get excited about the food you pack them? Does your child ever see you eating the same foods that you’re putting in their lunchbox? We often underestimate how much children learn by osmosis. If they see you getting excited about the different things you’re giving them, they’re more likely to get excited about it themselves.

Take, for example, the time I made posole but decided my little one probably wouldn’t like it, so I made her a quesadilla instead. NOPE! She saw mom and dad eating the yummy posole and wanted some of her own! Kids always surprise us – especially if you just give them a chance!

So, how’d I do? Did I squash all your fears or concerns? If there’s something else that’s holding you back, I want to know! Give me a chance to prove you wrong 😉

Now, let’s get to the good stuff!

Here are some ideas of creative lunches you can pack your baby or toddler (also note, many of these include snacks):

  • Lunch: Ground turkey, butternut squash zigzags, avocado; Dessert: Kiwi; Snack: Pumpkin-Carrot Muffin

A packed toddler lunch consisting of ground turkey, butternut squash zig zags, avocado, and sliced kiwi, with a healthy pumpkin muffin for snack.

  • Lunch: String cheese, sautéed mushrooms and cauliflower, Power Protein Bite; Dessert: Sliced pear; Snack: Pumpkin-Carrot Muffin
  • Lunch: Half a bagel with cream cheese and shredded zucchini, butternut squash zigzags, Power Protein Bite; Dessert/Snack: Orange

A packed toddler lunch consisting of half a bagel with cream cheese and shredded zucchini, butternut squash zig zags and a power protein bite, with an orange for dessert.

  • Lunch: Grilled chicken breast, butternut squash zigzags, Power Protein Bite; Dessert/Snack: Raspberries
  • Lunch: Sliced steak, avocado, roasted veggies (carrots, zucchini and broccoli), Power Protein Bite; Dessert: Freeze-dried strawberries; Snack: Happy Tot Fiber & Protein Granola Bar [*affiliate link]

A packed toddler lunch consisting of sliced steak and avocado, roasted vegetables, a power protein bite and dehydrated strawberries for dessert. There's also a fiber and protein bar for snack!

You get the gist…

In short, I try to offer a main protein, a vegetable, and either another protein or vegetable or whole grain as the main lunch, plus a fruit for dessert and a well-balanced snack. I love making healthy muffins for snack (as you can see) or sometimes I just end up throwing in a granola bar.

If you still need some more ideas, here are some other ideas in each category for you:

  • Turkey sandwich with avocado on multigrain bread
  • Cheese quesadilla with hidden vegetables
  • Meatballs
  • Slider on a whole grain bun
  • Hard-boiled egg
  • Shredded chicken with hummus
  • Zucchini noodles
  • Steamed green beans
  • Roasted sweet potato
  • Sauteed carrot dimes or sticks
  • Sliced roasted beets
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Quinoa
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Peanut butter crackers (make your own, the store-bought ones have so much junk in them!)
  • Veggie straws
  • Rice cakes
  • Hidden Veggie Mac-and-Cheese Bites

Two toddlers enjoying an outdoor lunch at a kids' table.

Have I inspired you yet? I sure hope so! I’d also love to hear some of your ideas. What are your favorite lunches to pack your little ones?

The Best Vegetable Preparations for Baby-Led Weaning

Struggling to get your baby or toddler to eat enough vegetables? Here are some of the best, easy vegetable preparations for baby-led weaning!

A baby with broccoli all over her face to help showcase the best vegetable preparations for baby-led weaning.

Whether they’re following baby-led weaning or not, one of the pain points I hear about most often from mamas (and dadas!) of little ones is that they can’t get their babes to eat vegetables. Now, there are some behavioral techniques I recommend for keeping your baby or toddler open to trying a variety of different foods, but there is also a lot of technique you can use in preparing vegetables in ways that are exciting (and intriguing!) for less sophisticated palates. That’s what I’m sharing with you today.

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try Again

I’ll get into some specific ideas in a second, but before I do I want to go over one of my most favorite aspects of baby-led weaning, and that is continuous introduction with varied preparation techniques.

Say what???

In a nutshell, what this means is just what my subtitle said: If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Now, if your child refuses to eat steamed broccoli one night at dinner, I am NOT telling you to just continue forcing them to eat steamed broccoli every day for eternity.

Instead, wait a couple of days, then re-introduce the broccoli, but prepared in a completely different way. Your little one didn’t like the steamed broccoli? How about roasting it with some different herbs and spices? Or sautéing it in a little butter?

Getting slightly off topic here, but I think this is why most of us grew up hating Brussels sprouts. I would not touch those things for YEARS because I grew up eating those bland bulbs simply steamed and MAYBE seasoned with some salt and pepper if I was lucky. I’m not blaming my parents – I think it was a fad of their generation to serve vegetables this way – but, man, gimme crispy roasted Brussels with bacon and shallots today? I’ll eat the whole batch. Not even kidding.

A baby in a highchair eating food with a quizzical look on her face...figure out how to avoid this with the Best Vegetable Preparations for Baby-Led Weaning!

So your kid’s not digging the mashed sweet potatoes? Try roasting sweet potato spears and calling them “fries” (a winner in any child’s book). Even better, serve them with hummus, tzatziki or some other fun “dip.” Your little one will not be able to stop.

It’s important to keep introducing our kids to a variety of flavors and to not fall into a trap of serving them whatever we “know” they’ll eat on any given day (grilled cheese and chicken fingers – I’m looking at you). If you’re concerned they won’t be getting enough to eat, take a look at my Ultimate Guide to Healthy Meal Prep for Your Littles and also my post on How to Implement a Baby or Toddler Meal Plan for more encouragement and guidance.

If you’re looking for inspiration when it comes to different ways to season or “spice up” your veggies, I highly recommend you get your hands on this book ASAP [*affiliate link]. It has so many great ideas for herbs, spices and other ingredients that will liven up any food you’re trying to get your little one to eat!

Let’s Talk Vegetables!

Okay, now that we got the logistics out of the way, I want to give you all of the inspiration you need to work some veggies into your little one’s diet today.

A basket of fresh produce filled with some of the best vegetables to use in baby-led weaning.

To start, here is a list of all of the vegetables my little one has tried and/or eats on a regular basis:

  • Squash
  • Zucchini (I know, it’s a squash, but she loves it so much it deserves a mention of its own)
  • Beets
  • Green beans
  • Asparagus
  • Carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Bell peppers

We don’t eat all of these every week, but she’s at least been introduced to them and, although she doesn’t always eat her entire serving whenever we include it in a meal, she’s eaten a healthy serving of all of these at some point or another.

Ideas for Preparing Vegetables

So, I think you can probably tell from my musings earlier in this post that I’m not a huge fan of steamed vegetables. I just personally think sautéing or roasting vegetables give them so much more character and flavor.

BUT, that’s not to say I haven’t steamed vegetables for my little one before, especially since she didn’t get her first tooth until after she was one. When she was younger, she loved broccoli steamed with a little bit of lemon juice and garlic, or green beans prepared the same way.

One zucchini partially sliced on a cutting board with a chef's knife in the background. Zucchini is a great vegetable for baby-led weaning!


Place a steamer basket [*affiliate link] in an appropriately-sized saucepan, then fill the saucepan with a small layer of water, just enough so that you can see it swish up the holes in the bottom of the steamer when you slosh the pan around.

Place your washed and trimmed vegetables in a single layer over the bottom of the steamer basket, then season as desired. Put the pan on the stove over medium heat and cover with an appropriately sized lid, leaving it slightly askew with a small opening off to the side so you can see the steam escaping.

Start by setting the timer for 10 minutes, then check on your veggies and continue to steam until they reach the desired doneness.


Place a medium skillet over medium heat and melt some sort of oil or butter on it (high-quality butter, olive oil or coconut oil are all great ideas). Once the pan is heated, add whatever vegetables you’re cooking (you’ll want them already cut in whatever manner you’re going to be serving them).

Add desired seasoning and saute until vegetables reach their desired doneness.

A bunch of kale on a cutting board. Kale is another great vegetable for baby-led weaning!


Although temperatures and timing may vary based on whatever vegetable you’re roasting, I typically roast my veggies at an oven temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit and starting at somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

To prepare your vegetables, spread them out on a jelly roll pan lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper  [*affiliate links]. Drizzle on olive oil and season with desired herbs and spices.

For softer vegetables like zucchini, mushrooms or asparagus, you’ll need closer to the 10-15 minute mark for roasting.

For harder vegetables like butternut squash, beets or carrots, you’ll need closer to 20-25 minutes.

A bowl of beets on a cutting board with a knife in the background. Beets are easy to sneak into other dishes in baby-led weaning!

Other Ways to Work in Vegetables for Baby-Led Weaning

The ideas above are fantastic for prepping a big batch of vegetables in their true form at once. However, I am completely aware of the fact that sometimes you just need to work veggies into the diet elsewhere so that they’re not quite as obvious.

Here are some of my favorite ways to sneak vegetables into other food preparations:

  • Blend them into a smoothie – you can also then freeze these smoothies into popsicles [*affiliate link]
  • Puree them into a muffin, pancake, waffle or baked donut batter
  • Bake them into a healthy version of macaroni and cheese
  • Hide them on pizza (you can even work some veggies into the crust!)
  • Dice them up and mix them with ground meat for sliders (mushrooms work especially well for this)
  • Scatter them into baked oatmeal, along with similarly colored fruits (i.e. diced beets and raspberries)

A tray full of vegetable-filled popsicles, a perfect way to sneak vegetables in with baby-led weaning.

As you can see, as long as you’re willing to get a little bit creative, you’re bound to find a way to sneak some vegetables into your baby or toddler’s diet.

My best advice? Don’t fall into a rut, be willing to get creative, and share your joy of healthy foods with your little ones!

What ways have you successfully been able to prepare vegetables for your baby or toddler? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

A toddler sitting in the back of a car eating some sweet potatoes.

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:



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


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!