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Toddler Meal Prep Shortcuts to Save You Time and Energy

Cut down on prep and cook time with these simple hacks that will help you get nutritious meals on the table faster—and get your toddler excited to eat them.

9 min read

Parenting is filled with so many wonderful moments and transitions: the first smile, the first day of preschool, the first time your child says “I love you.” It’s also filled with tons of repetitive tasks, such as laundry, drop-offs and meals. By the time a child turns 18, parents will have made up to 20,000 meals—that’s a lot of prep, not to mention more than a few headaches, for busy parents who are short on time.

Whether your child is starting solids or ready to level up to full meals, and whether you make separate meals or your family eats together, here are useful tips to help make cooking dinner go by faster—and make your family’s evenings more enjoyable.

oxo suction plate toddler silverware and rollup bib

Stock Up on Tableware That Toddlers Will Enjoy

Start by choosing utensils, plates and bibs that will make the eating experience more fun for your toddler—because creating a delicious and healthy meal is only half the battle. The other is getting your child to actually eat it. Stainless steel toddler-size utensils like this Fork & Spoon Set can help cut down on frustration by helping your child scoop and stab food properly, and a suction cup plate like the Stick & Stay Suction Divided Plate will make food look appealing and keep the plate from ending up on the floor. A Roll-Up Bib can help give new eaters a second chance at grabbing their food as well as help prevent mess. Make it easy on yourself all the way to the finish line by choosing dishwasher-safe serving ware too.

Look for Easy Recipes and Simple Techniques

Seek out recipes that don’t require much prep (or too many pots, pans and utensils). Think stir fry recipes, overnight oats, frozen yogurt bites, one-pot wonders, slow-cooker dump meals, or pancakes (pro tip: store the batter in a squeeze bottle for the week). You can always rely on a trusty sheet pan dinner to get food on the table quickly, too, and you can prepare meals ahead of time to be reheated later. If you want a novelty dinner that will thrill your small children without taking too much effort, you can try a game-day theme with dips and spreads or even a simple breakfast for dinner.

Think outside the box, too: muffin tins for cooking things other than desserts, such as mini-sized pizzas, individual portions of casseroles and even hard-boiled eggs. Don’t overthink it; even if your child has a refined palate, they don’t know the difference between a meal that took 20 minutes and one that took two hours. So long as it tastes good and looks appealing, they’re happy. 

oxo toddler feeding implements

Feel Free to Use Shortcuts

When getting ready to take on toddler meal prep, use your grocery store to your advantage. Take shortcuts where needed:

  • Look for pre-chopped fruits and veggies. Alternatively, frozen fruits and veggies are captured at peak freshness and offer just as much nutrition as fresh produce, but require half the cooking time. Canned fruits and vegetables can come in handy for some recipes. 
  • Find shortcut grains like microwavable quinoa, rice and lentils, or you can batch-cook grains for the week and store them in the fridge in glass containers.
  • Rotisserie chicken is an excellent protein shortcut on a busy weeknight.
  • Don’t be scared to substitute. If you find a recipe you love that includes steps to make guacamole, you can substitute homemade guac with a container of store-bought to save precious minutes. 
  • Convenience foods like microwavable rice, pre-sauced frozen veggies and refrigerated pasta can make your life easier, but always make sure to check the labels to avoid overly processed products. Young children should also limit sugar and salt(Opens in a new window) in their diets.

Food shopping can be a big time suck, whether you’re taking your kids with you to the grocery store or not. Plan ahead, either by doing curbside or delivery pickups (which also can help with impulse buying) or by utilizing store apps to shop efficiently.

Get Organized

If you choose to do your own prep at home, try to do it all at once, so you can reach for those pre-cut peppers and freshly washed berries when it’s time to cook. Tools like a Vegetable Chopper take the hard work out of prepping and can also conveniently store your chopped produce, too. Every piece of produce has a certain way it should be kept to preserve optimal freshness for as long as possible, so make sure you’re storing your fruits and veggies properly so that no food goes to waste. Choose storage containers specifically designed for fruits and vegetables to help keep them fresher longer.

Keeping your fridge organized will also cut down on prep time. The same goes for your dry goods; an organized pantry that uses proper storage containers is one you can navigate quickly.

organized fridge with toddler-friendly foods

Make the Most of Your Appliances 

A delayed preheat can set dinner back by as much as 20 minutes. Use your appliances smartly, for example by putting the toaster oven on the “oven” setting, which heats up much faster than a regular oven. The microwave is a great shortcut for cutting a sweet potato’s cooking time down to minutes, and the air fryer cooks things quickly while making them nice and crisp. Forgot to defrost your chicken? No problem—a pressure cooker can cook a frozen chicken breast in 12 minutes. Slow cookers are a standby for a reason, letting you set it and truly forget it until dinner time.

Freeze, Freeze, Freeze

Veteran parents will tell you that a freezer can be the straightest line between hungry mouths and dinner on the table. Besides frozen convenience foods like individually portioned meals and shortcuts like frozen veggies, fruits and grains, you can try:

  • Freezing your veggie scraps for future soups, omelets and stir frys
  • Freezing small leftover quantities of fruit for smoothies, oatmeal and breakfast bakes
  • Freezing leftover pasta sauce in ice cube trays for individual, toddler-size portions
  • Chopping leftover herbs and freezing them in oil to use in sauces, soups and casseroles
  • Freezing large quantities of raw ground meat flat in freezer bags so that it defrosts quickly in perfect portions

If you find a recipe that you love, make a double batch and freeze it, especially if you know it’s something that reheats well, like a casserole or soup.

table set with toddler feeding implements

By preparing ahead of time, you can significantly cut down on the stress of preparing a meal for your toddler or entire family, giving you back more of what you want most: time to enjoy each other’s company instead of scrambling to get food on the table.

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