Feed thy toddler. Feed thyself.

When I was a little girl, I used to go and visit my Dad on the weekends. He wasn't much of a chef, so the three meals we had together consisted of, 1) Burger King, 2) TJ Big Boy (if you're from the East Coast and over 30, you know what this is, and 3) hot dogs. But that last meal was more than just hot dogs. It was hot dogs, sliced apples, tomatoes, pickles, baby carrots, cheese...anything that was in the refrigerator and easy to cut up and put on a plate. And it was awesome. And it's how I eat and feed my own children 80% of the time.

Everyone eats differently in our house. I'm sure it's the same in yours, too. We have 5 people in our family, including three kids (11, 4, and almost 2) and getting everyone to consume the same meal at the same time would be an exercise in futility. And mama is NOT going to cook a different meal for all of the people at the table. So what's a girl to do? Hot dogs. Not actual hot dogs. My Dad's version of the dish he made from pulling together seemingly random ingredients that made something really tasty and pretty darn healthy.

How does it work? Follow along.

I take the main nutrients we need to get in a day, and I make sure that all of those bases are covered in my fridge:

  • Lean proteins like chicken, pork, and fish, and lunch meats minus all the additives and preservatives. This can be from dinner the night before, or prepped just to have it on hand.
  • Healthy fat sources like avocados, nuts, and seeds.
  • Vegetables of all kinds and colors in kid-ready sizes (baby carrots, cherry tomatoes), chopped (red peppers, celery, jicama) or from dinner the night before (brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus).
  • Fruits follow the same plan, with berries, cantaloupe, and apples always in rotation. (PS: I do take the season into account, and tend to buy what's freshest. Oh, and what's on sale, duh.)
  • We also eat dairy, so there's greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese slices in there.
  • Pickles! And other fermented stuff. (Only 1/3 of the kids are really keen on pickles, but I plan on working the others up to it.)
  • Whole grains. There's always something in the form of leftovers in that category, from quinoa to sweet potatoes to rice pilaf. We also have whole grain bread, tortillas, crackers, and granola.

And there you have it. A bazillion different options for lunches, snacks, and even dinners or breakfasts depending on the kind of day you've had. You can take your kids' tastes in to account, and construct them a meal you feel good about without all the prep, stress, or mess. And you can make either a whole meal or a tasty snack for yourself, just by assembling things and tossing them onto a plate. It doesn't have to be pretty. Or, it can be gorgeous. You can even eat with those adorable little lunch picks. Whatever you're into.

And take a look at the Parent Toolkit website to determine your child's caloric needs to stay within a healthy range for them, and make sure that you're calculating for yourself, too. Your weight management goals and health concerns will dictate which categories you emphasize, and which you may eliminate completely. (Don't know how many calories you need? There's math. Or, a google search.)

Here are some menu ideas for your kid. And for you:

Turkey, provolone, and avocado pinwheels on whole grain tortilla | fresh berries | carrot sticks

Roast beef & cheddar slices| 9-grain crackers | sliced melon | snap peas | slivered almonds

Cubed chicken | ranch dip | Sweet orange pepper | Sliced apples | cashew butter

Kiddie Charcuterie with assorted meats and cheeses |roasted pecans | pickles | sunburst tomatoes

To break it down...

Think about the categories, rather than the foods themselves.

Make sure your fridge and pantry are always stocked with things that fit into those categories.

Assemble and serve.

Get high fives.