5 Nights of Budget-Friendly, Toddler-Approved Dinner Ideasby Elizabeth MacDonald
If you are anything like the moms over here, you easily get into a cooking rut. We all struggle with maintaining a balance of work and life - add in picky toddlers and we may lose our minds soon. We’ve all been working together to inspire healthier (and easier) dinners, and our favorite recipes needed to be shared. We know that money is always tight, that food should not be wasted, and that time seems to pass too fast between 4:30 and 7:30 pm each night.
Our biggest concern was time, followed by budget - and of course, making sure all those at the table would eat the food served.
5 Cheap and Healthy Dinner Recipes
Skip the frozen chicken nuggets or instant mac-n-cheese. It’s time for your whole family to enjoy good food together. We love to maximize our cooking time by creating enough of the main dish to make at least two dinners. We also love to utilize a crockpot or instant pot whenever possible, so go ahead and adapt these to whichever kitchen tool you love the most.
Night One: Whole Chicken in the Crockpot
(We make two at a time, and then use the bones to make broth)
Strip the chicken and eat it with rice and any veggie from below.
Night Two: BBQ Chicken Sliders
Use the leftover chicken meat and add your favorite BBQ sauce. Use some slider buns for a quick dinner and toss some sweet potato fries in the oven. Serve with fresh fruit - done!
Night Three: Baked Salmon
Believe it or not, our children devoured this dinner so fast that we couldn’t believe our eyes.
Frozen salmon - pull it out to thaw the night before. It only takes about 12 minutes in the oven from start to finish, so this dinner meal wins all around. Add a little butter and lemon pepper seasoning to each filet and scatter some vegetables around the baking sheet, too. Toss it all in at 425 degrees. Check it until the fish is fork-tender. Reheat the leftover rice from night one to serve the fish and veggies over.
Night Four: Meatballs
Don’t spend time making them from scratch, just grab a big bag of frozen meatballs from your grocery store.
Toss them in the oven and serve them with a marinara dipping sauce and a veggie on the side.
Night Five: Vegetable Pasta
Use those leftover meatballs and make an easy pasta dish. Pick up a vegetable-based noodle instead of wheat and top with a vegetable-filled sauce.
The most deliciously easy, toddler-approved vegetables
Roasted Carrots: Buy the sliced carrots and toss them with olive oil and salt/pepper. Cook at 425 degrees for about 10-15 minutes while keeping an eye on them.
Crispy Green Beans: The key is to parboil them first. Yea, it’s an added step, but it keeps them crispy and amazing. Boil them for just 2-3 minutes then strain them and toss them in a sauté pan with a bit of oil and seasonings for about 4 minutes. That’s it.
Perfect Broccoli or Cauliflower: This works with either veggie, but the cauliflower takes less time because it’s much better still a bit crunchy. No one likes mushy cauliflower.
Peas: English peas are the overwhelming favorite, but can be harder to find. (Trader Joe’s never disappoints!) You can grab a bag of frozen peas, too. While boiling them is pretty darn easy, we’ve found that tossing them in a sauce pan with a splash of olive, coconut oil, or bacon fat is the best way to make them. Sprinkle on a tad bit of salt, pepper, and maybe some garlic if you’d like!
Tricks to get the goods in without trying *too* hard
Keep bone broth on hand and use it to make your rice. It is absorbed as the rice cooks and gives the rice a rich flavor that leaves everyone licking their bowls.
Don’t separate foods and make your toddler choose what to eat first. Just fill that plate up! Even if she picks through some of it, she’s still likely to get in more than if it is all separated.
Set a dinner rule of three bites with every food. The first is to say you don’t like it. The second is to pretend you liked you. The third is to actually taste it. It may seem ridiculous or impossible to implement, but if you make it a habit, it will become one - even for your toddler.