Balanced Meals Made Simple

1-3 Years

By feeding your toddler balanced meals, you’re giving him the nutrition and structure he needs to develop healthy eating habits (we call that proper food parenting). But different family members like different foods, and everyone’s busy (especially you!), so it’s easy to let your good intentions slide.

Fortunately, serving balanced meals isn’t as difficult as it sounds. These practical tips help make it simple.   

Plan ahead

  • Take time on the weekend or during the evening to decide what you’ll serve in the days ahead.
  • Make a list before heading to the grocery store.
  • Cut down on dinnertime prep time by doing some of the work the night before or that morning. Think chopping veggies, washing fruit or setting out all your pantry ingredients (like olive oil, spices, brown rice, etc.). 

Serve from each food group

Serve one or more foods from each food group, at least at dinner.

Low-prep ideas for the whole family:

  • Fruits: blueberries, bananas or canned fruit packed in 100 percent juice or water (not syrup)
  • Veggies: frozen steamed veggies (microwaveable steam-in-bag or on stove top), no-salt-added canned veggies
  • Whole grains: whole-wheat noodles, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, rolls or tortillas
  • Proteins: boneless, skinless chicken, lean ground beef or turkey, no-salt-added canned beans, eggs
  • Dairy: milk is great at meals, but limit it to 2 to 3 cups a day. Cheese and plain yogurt are great options, too.

Make meals appealing

Variety goes a long way to making your food look as tempting as it tastes. Veggies and fruits are a great way to add color and texture to meals—and more color means more nutrients!

Most young kids prefer small portions of several different, colorful foods on their plate. Variety also gives them plenty of choices—all of them good!

Plate it up

Our top serving suggestions:

  • Slice food into small pieces to help your toddler learn to feed himself.
  • Put just a spoonful of each food on your toddler’s plate so he’s not overwhelmed.
  • Let him choose whether to ask for more of any food on the table.

Remember: Don’t put anything on the table you don’t want him to eat. 

Your work is done

The goal is to serve your entire family the same meal. If your toddler refuses to eat, resist the urge to be his short-order cook. You are too busy for that! Plus, it can encourage picky eating, it teaches him that he’s not really expected to eat what you prepare, and he learns that complaining will give him what he wants.

Remember, your child’s body is naturally programmed to eat right. When you consistently plan and serve balanced meals, you’re giving your child the structure he needs to decide how much to eat—and to enjoy the same healthy foods his parents eat.