One question I used to get fairly often in my former clinical job is "What should I feed my kids?"
This question would always kind of throw me a bit- in my mind, kids should eat pretty much whatever you're making for yourself!
I realize that can be easier said than done. There are a handful of meals in our rotation that I have to make a bit separate due to spiciness, but for the most part I try to cook large enough dinners that we all have leftovers for next day lunches. When that fails to happen, I do rely on a select quick, easy, and healthful plan B's for the kids.
Here are some of my go-to lunches and snack ideas for toddlers and kids.
Macaroni and cheese
Boil Banza pasta (or whole grain pasta) to package directions. Add a handful of shredded cheddar cheese plus a spash of milk. Stir until creamy. Bonus points if you add a blob of cottage cheese too. This meal is full of protein, fiber, and calcium. What kid doesn't like mac and cheese? Hint- it's not a sin to bust out the Kraft stuff from time to time either! Try to add some nutrients- maybe some chopped broccoli, a can of chicken, or again with the cottage cheese.
Birds Eye Veggie Pasta
My babies especially go wild over this. One bag feeds the two of them. If I have some fresh tomatoes on hand I'll chop those up and stir them in.
PB + Banana
Nothing wrong with PB&J, but I like to mix it up and use sprouted grain or whole grain bread (you could also swap a whole grain waffle or whole grain bagel half), plus my beloved Smuckers, and a sliced banana.
I ALWAYS have veggie burgers in my freezer. I love them, the kids love them, and they cannot be any easier. Aldi has an excellent variety. I avoid spicy flavors for the kids (but I personally love the Thai flavor). I heat these up in the microwave, add a slice of cheese, maybe a sliced tomato if I have one, and serve on a whole grain sandwich thin.
We don't do processed meats very often (think sausages, salami, deli meats, etc), but I do like to have frozen turkey sausage patties on hand. Heat one up, add some cheese, and serve up on a waffle or whole grain sandwich thin. If I have the time, I'll scramble up an egg and add that as well.
Tuna Pasta Salad
Again with pasta- I like to buy Barilla Protein Plus rotini. The babies usually ditch their forks and finger-feed themselves with rotini. Some cooked rotini + olive oil mayo + tuna + frozen peas is always a hit.
I usually have whole grain tortillas on hand and I'll either grab a can of chicken or frozen shredded chicken (which I keep in individual containers in the freezer- so handy!), and a bit of shredded cheese to just make a microwaveable quesadilla. Bonus if you have some plain Greek yogurt to dip them in!
I have just never been a fan of squeezable yogurt tubes. They're full of sugar, low in protein, and if we're being environmentally conscious, are single use plastics. I make a weekly batch of my own yogurt in the Instant Pot, but do not feel guilty if that's not your jam. An easier alternative is to keep large containers of plain Greek yogurt in your fridge and frozen berries in the freezer. Just microwave berries to thaw and stir into the yogurt. Add a bit of sweetener if you'd like. For the babies I've added either a squirt of liquid stevia or a teaspoon of table sugar. They also love microwaved diced apples and cinnamon stirred into their yogurt. I go through so much plain yogurt that I hate to also have to buy pre-fruited kinds.
Before working with patients I never realized how polarizing cottage cheese is- people either LOVE it or HATE it! I personally like the curd-y texture, and it's an awesome source of protein and calcium. Sprinkle with some paprika to be fancy, or you can also serve with fruit- cantaloupe especially goes well.
Peanut butter pita
Whole grain pitas are easily kept fresh in the freezer, and prove a less messy way to eat peanut butter. Just microwave the pita pocket half until warm, then spread some peanut butter inside. If your kid is asking for some sweet, add some thinly sliced apple and honey as well.
My kids' favorites include sugar snap peas (which admittedly are a strictly summertime thing for us), whole carrots, and bell pepper strips. If your kids prefer a dip, just mix up some plain Greek yogurt with dry ranch dressing. Easy high protein ranch!
I'm not creative on this one at ALL, but I'll make a cereal blend and give it to the kids to munch on. My go-to blend is Cheerios + Lucky Charms. Of COURSE the marshmallows are always first to be eaten, but they'll eat the rest as well. Going halfsies with the more sugary cereal allows them to feel like they're getting a treat, but the Cheerios also sneak in some whole grains too. I've also done Cheerios + Cracklin Oat Bran + raisins as a "trail mix" alternative. My fave plain cereal is Quaker Crunchy Corn Squares- Annika also approves.