Our ideas for easy weeknight dinners that babies, toddlers and adults like highlights.
- Embrace kitchen and meal preparation shortcuts like frozen veggies and bulk cooked staples.
- Make one meal for the entire family with small changes for toddlers if needed.
- Avoid categorizing foods as good or bad and serving dessert with dinner is okay.
- Make extra and keep your freezer stocked with toddler meals for days when your family cannot eat together.
- Keep a grocery list in a handy place.
Ahhhhhhhh, dinner prep. It's necessary, and you know you'll feel better once you've done it, but meal prep fatigue is real, especially in the last 18 months. We don't know about you, but we feel like we've been making about 4,347 meals a week while personally subsisting on food eaten out of our toddler's bibs. :)
That's why it's so important to have a go-to list of easy and nutritious meals that can be prepped and cooked fast. And, by fast, we mean meals you can make in 15 minutes or during nap time when you also have 25 other things to accomplish.
This week we're serving up some tips we hope will make those hectic weeknight dinners easier. We're also excited to share some recipes that the babies, toddlers, and adults in our families love! We hope they provide you some ease and inspiration on those busy nights when you're scrambling to serve up something healthy.
Dinner prep shortcuts are a great idea!
Our most important tip is to give yourself permission to use kitchen shortcuts whenever you can.
Picture-perfect meals displayed beautifully on Instagram are intimidating and unrealistic. Most busy parents don't have the time or energy to create Instagram-worthy meals for an entire week!
Feeding a family, especially one with toddlers, is hard work, and it's 100% okay to do whatever you can to make it easier on yourself. And, it's also okay to serve the same thing every week. We suggest making a few recipes your family likes in bulk and then adding variation by switching up the veggies or sides.
Precut or frozen fruits and veggies are also good. Frozen fruits and veggies are often more nutritious than fresh produce because the nutrients don't leech out while sitting on the shelf.
You can also make basics like rice, beans, baked chicken thighs, or baked potatoes in bulk and use them for several meals throughout the week.
Finally, adding in some convenience foods like pre-cut veggies or grated cheese is also okay. Just check packages for sugar, salt, and other processed additives.
It can take between ten and thirty times for a child to learn to like new food, so repetition is good.
Serve the same meal to your entire family.
We simplify dinner time by making one meal for our entire family. You may have to modify it a little bit for babies and toddlers, like setting aside a portion without spicy chilies. You may also have to provide another simple option on a toddler's plate when they're learning to like a particular food.
Still, for the most part, our kids eat what we eat. Modeling enjoying various healthy and nutritious foods is the best way to help your little ones develop good lifelong eating habits.
Don't categorize foods as good and bad for you, and it's okay to serve dessert for dinner.
We avoid labeling food as good or bad. We simply expose our kids to a variety of fresh, simply prepared, and tasty dishes. We don't put any food on a 'this is good for you' pedestal or tell our little ones they must eat some foods to get other foods.
Sometimes we even serve dessert with dinner. Your child can eat dessert first or save it for later without distinguishing between 'yucky but healthy' dinner food and 'bad for you' dessert food.
Keep your freezer stocked for nights when the whole family can't eat together.
Keep a stash of toddler-approved meals in the freezer. Leftovers make ideal just in case frozen meals. Meatballs, cooked pasta with sauce, pizza, and burritos all freeze well. They can be heated quickly for a toddler dinner on a hectic night.
You can also make a double batch of your little one's favorite recipes. Hence, you have a backup plan when life gets crazy or your toddler gets demanding. :)
Make a list of quick meals and their ingredients and keep it handy.
A list will help you stay sane and ensure that you have the ingredients you need on hand to execute quick family dinners. We love Google Keep because it enables multiple family members to add grocery items to the list.
Here are our favorite quicky, healthy weeknight dinner recipes.
Pasta & Veggies
If you have time, this is a great meal to have your toddler help prepare. They can use a toddler knife to chop softer vegetables (like mushrooms), or they can help put the chopped vegetables in a bowl for you.
- 2 cups pasta of choice
- 6 cups water
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 2 cup sliced mushrooms (about 15)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (or cooking oil of choice)
- Pasta sauce of choice
- Cook the pasta for 10 - 12 minutes, or until soft, in the boiling water.
- While pasta is cooking, saute veggies in oil until the crunch is gone.
- Drain the pasta and add to the veggies, then add pasta sauce of choice.
- You can add salt to the pasta water if you wish.
- Cooking veggies a little softer is better for babies and toddlers.
- Frozen mixed veggies are perfect.
- Add extra or different cooked veggies like peas, frozen cubed butternut squash, or cubed zucchini.
- We love a classic jar of marinara or pesto. We try to choose low sodium options.
- Garnish with parmesan or any kind of grated cheese.
One-Pot Veggie Chili
This chili is one of our favorite meals. Joana's toddler even chooses it over pizza most of the time!
- 2 bell peppers
- 1 can of corn
- 1 can of kidney beans
- 1 can of black beans
- 2 cans of diced tomatoes
- ½ cup minced sundried tomatoes
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Chop the veggies.
- Drain and rinse the beans (note this helps reduce the salt even further).
- Add a little bit of oil to the stockpot, and then add the chopped veggies.
- Saute on medium-high heat until veggies start to soften.
- Then add the rinsed beans, sun dried tomatoes, corn, and spices (withhold the adult spices and add only to your portion at the end).
- Saute and stir on medium-high heat until the ingredients start to stick to the bottom of the pot just a little.
- Then add the water and the canned tomatoes.
- Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula, and the acid in the tomatoes will loosen anything stuck to the bottom of the pot. This is called “deglazing” in chef lingo and is a simple method of adding a bit of extra flavor to your dishes.
- Then turn down the heat to low and let it simmer for about 15 minutes (or longer).
- Choose low sodium canned food options.
- Cook some rice in advance and serve it on the side.
- Cook enough rice for the week and keep it in the fridge.
- Or serve chili with warm corn tortillas or tortilla chips.
- Cut the veggies in a slightly smaller size to easily fit into a toddler's mouth and cook them until they are a bit softer than usual.
- Add extra flavor as you wish with smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, and dried oregano.
- If you have fresh oregano or parsley, these are also delicious and add extra nutrients.
- Add some extra veggies like zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, or cubed and frozen butternut squash.
- Add crumbled store-bought veggie burgers for extra texture and protein.
- Substitute other canned beans like chickpeas or white beans.
- Serve with garnishes like shredded cheese, avocado, sour cream, or any other topping you enjoy.
- Make lots and freeze the leftovers for nights when you don't have time to cook.
Fish, Sweet Potatoes & Frozen Veggies
Fish is one of the most common allergens, so we serve fish every week. Integrating it into your weekly meal schedule ensures the repeated exposure needed to help reduce the risk of allergy. Also, introducing fish early and often will help your kids learn to love it over time (even if they don't initially).
- Fish of your choice (we plan for one filet per adult & 1 filet split per two kids)
- Sweet potatoes, peeled & diced into cubes that are small enough for a toddler’s mouth.
- Olive oil
- Your choice of frozen vegetables (we love peas with fish)
- Seasoning of choice
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into baby-mouth-sized pieces.
- Toss sweet potatoes in a little bit of olive oil and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet (note: using parchment saves a lot of time during clean up).
- Place sweet potatoes in the oven and cook for 10 minutes or until they start to soften.
- Remove the baking sheet and flip the sweet potatoes.
- Turn up the oven to 400 degrees.
- Season the fish, add it to the baking tray alongside the sweet potatoes, and put it back in the oven.
- Cook for another 10 minutes until the fish starts to brown and flake.
- Cook frozen veggies as per instructions on the package while fish and potatoes cook.
- Rub the fish with a bit of olive oil to get the spices to stick.
- Flavors that work well with most fish are parsley, dill, tarragon, oregano, or basil.
- Ginger, cumin, turmeric, or a mild curry powder also taste yummy with fish.
- Make your favorite spice blends in advance and store them in the pantry for quick use.
- Or just use a little pepper and lemon juice, or just slice lemons and place them on top of the fish before baking.
- Serve with a side of tartar sauce. You can make a quick homemade tartar sauce by mixing ½ a cup of mayo with one tablespoon of hamburger relish.
Mustard Chicken Thighs
These chick thighs are a total crowd-pleaser equally loved by toddlers and parents! And it's SUPER easy.
- 1 - 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of dijon or stone ground mustard (we like to use one of each)
- 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar
- 1 clove crushed garlic
- Salt + pepper to taste
- Pinch of dried herbs (tarragon, rosemary & thyme are our faves with chicken)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Pat chicken thighs dry and spread out evenly in a glass or ceramic oven-safe dish.
- Line the dish with tin foil or parchment paper for super easy cleanup.
- Wisk the marinade ingredients together until ingredients emulsify.
- Pour over the chicken thighs and toss until the chicken is evenly coated on all sides.
- Refrigerate and let stand for 20 mins (or leave in the fridge overnight).
- Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the tops of the thighs are golden brown (if you use a thermometer, take the chicken out of the oven at 160 degrees)
- Serve with your favorite veggies and starch (yippee, for having cooked rice in your fridge all the time).
One-Pot Pasta, Sausage & Broccoli
This pasta dish is Lauren's family's favorite 'almost' one-pot dish. Her daughter Nora usually eats an adult-sized portion or two. A brand makes our favorite gluten-free pasta we love called Jovial Foods.
- 2 cups of pasta
- 2 broccoli crowns (trimmed and rinsed)
- 1 pound of your favorite sausage
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- Olive oil
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Remove sausage from casings and cook in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, breaking up the meat into bite-sized chunks as it cooks.
- When the sausage is done, remove the pan from heat, drain off the fat, then remove the sausage and set it aside.
- While the sausage is cooking, fill a medium-sized pot with water and bring it to a boil, then cook the broccoli for a minute or two until it just starts to soften.
- Remove the broccoli from the water with a slotted spoon, and place it in an ice bath to stop it from cooking more.
- Then dump your pasta into the boiling water and cook until it's al dente.
- Drain the pasta and give it a quick rinse.
- While the pasta is cooking, drizzle some olive oil in the pan you used for the sausage and cook the garlic until it's fragrant (about 1 minute).
- Add the broccoli and a bit more olive oil and saute for 5-7 minutes.
- Then add the sausage and the pasta.
- Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and about a ¼ cup parmesan cheese (or more to taste).
- Mix it and let it cook for about three more minutes.
We hope these simple recipes make dinner time more manageable and joyful. And remember, no matter how many times they say they'd rather have chicken nuggets, you're doing a great job!
From our families to yours,
Joana + Lauren