21 Make-Ahead Recipes That Are Toddler-Friendly

Do your future self a favor

make ahead recipes for toddlers: triptych image of quinoa chicken nuggets, veggie sushi and deli pinwheels
Photos: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

Parents of toddlers, you really have your work cut out for you, right? In between making sure your kid doesn’t stick a dime in the electrical outlet and wiping mystery goo from their sticky fingers, you also have to think up (and then cook) three meals for them every single day. So in an effort to make life a little easier, I’ve rounded up 21 make-ahead recipes that are toddler-friendly—think easy winners like macaroni and cheese bites, baked quinoa chicken nuggets and sheet tray pancakes. You can thank me later (like when your kid’s graduated to kindergarten).

25 Toddler Meals That Are Easy and Lazy Parent–Friendly (and Mostly 30 Minutes or Less)

1. Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad Stuffed Peppers

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: high protein, make ahead

The store-bought rotisserie chicken is the shortcut you’ll be most grateful for, but this chicken salad will keep in the fridge for up to five days, too. Just wait to fill the peppers when you serve it, so nothing gets too soggy. Got a kid who’s convinced all alliums are “spicy?” Omit the scallions.

2. Sweet Potato, Bacon and Broccoli Egg Muffins

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, <10 ingredients

There’s protein, veggies and bacon—what more could a parent ask for? You can swap the fillings for whatever your toddler likes best. (Sausage? Peas? Cheddar?) Freeze the leftovers for a future breakfast or lunch.

3. Vegetarian Sushi Cups

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, vegetarian

Fill these bites with ripe avocado for something creamy, cucumber for crunch and carrots for a touch of sweetness, or you can freestyle, too. Made ahead, they’ll keep for about a day—after that, the rice will start to get hard.

4. Avocado and Black Bean Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, make ahead

Pasta salad can be made ahead, served cold and eaten with forks orfingers. Is it the ultimate toddler-friendly recipe? I’ll let your kid be the judge. Skip the jalapeño to eliminate the spiciness.

5. Sheet Pan Tomato Basil Gnocchi

  • Time Commitment: 35 minutes
  • Why I Love It: sheet pan recipe, make ahead

Let’s hear it for gnocchi. It combines my two favorite food groups (pasta and potatoes) and, if you use the store-bought kind, it makes an easy weeknight toddler meal that also happens to be adult friendly. Use store-bought pesto to save yourself some effort and know that the dish can be made a few days ahead and reheated.

6. Caprese Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, <10 ingredients

If won’t eat a sad, gloppy, mayo-based pasta salad, why would I make my kid? This toddler-friendly dish is bright and fresh, but still has all the necessities (ahem, balls of creamy, salty cheese—just make sure they’re chopped small). Make a big batch and serve it all week.

7. Meal Prep Creamy Pasta Salad with Broccoli and Raisins

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, beginner-friendly, <30 minutes

Eating on the go? Prep these boxes to serve at a picnic (or if you’re really brave, in the car). The pasta salad is dressed in a sweet, tangy, kid-friendly mix of sour cream, honey and mustard.

8. Hawaiian Roll French Toast

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients

This spin on French toast sticks, which uses Hawaiian rolls, is sweet and easy for little hands to grasp. Not only is it easy to make on a busy morning or weeknight, but you can also stash a batch in the fridge and toast up the slices for a make-ahead meal.

9. Italian Deli Pinwheel Sandwiches

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, crowd-pleaser, make ahead, no cook

Salami, pepperoni, prosciutto and provolone await in these meal prep-able spirals. But you can also swap in turkey or ham (or use nothing but cheese) as needed to satisfy a persnickety eater, and trade the kale for a milder green, like spinach.

10. BLT Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, crowd-pleaser, beginner-friendly

Not only will your toddler gobble it up (hi, bacon), but so will you. Use mafaldine pasta (pictured here), elbows or lasagna noodles cut into squares to make this dish finger-food-friendly for tiny hands.

11. Baked Mac-and-Cheese Bites

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, vegetarian, make ahead

Macaroni and cheese is always a good idea, but when it comes in a portable, pre-portioned package, it’s even better (for daycare, nights when you can’t even, etc.). If you're lucky enough to enjoy some too, I recommend adding hot sauce.

12. Baked Quinoa Chicken Nuggets

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <10 ingredients, <30 minutes, crowd-pleaser

They might not be shaped like dinosaurs, but they’re about as easy to make as the frozen ones and taste a lot better, too (I would know, I’m kind of a dino devotee). The quinoa breading is crispy, the chicken is moist and they’re begging to be dipped in barbecue sauce. Refrigerate or freeze the leftovers for another meal, or simply make the whole batch ahead.

13. Baking Sheet Quesadillas

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, make ahead, <10 ingredients

Can you make quesadillas ahead? Yep, absolutely. In my experience, they’re just as good as fresh ones when you reheat them in a toaster oven.

14. Classic Macaroni Salad

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes + chilling time
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, <30 minutes, vegetarian

Mac salad is one of those magical meals that actually tastes better if you make it at least a day in advance. This recipe is pretty simple, so if you want to dress it up with different vegetables or add a protein, be my guest.

15. White Turkey Chili with Avocado

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why I Love It: crowd-pleaser, make ahead, one pot

Another “better the next day” recipe, this chili can be made spice-free if you leave out the cayenne. Stored in an airtight container, it’s good in the fridge for five days (or in the freezer for about a month).

16. Grilled Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, <30 minutes

Eliminate or reduce the sriracha and the sticky-sweet filling for this recipe is suddenly very kid-friendly. You can swap the chicken thighs for any quick-cooking protein you have on hand (like chicken breasts, ground pork or tofu), just adjust the cooking time to suit.

17. Overnight Oats with Peanut Butter and Banana

  • Time Commitment: 8 hours, 5 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, no cook

Post-bedtime is relaxation time—this, all parents know. But I promise you can take five minutes to throw together these overnight oats for breakfast all week. Your future self will thank you.

18. Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why I Love It: vegetarian, beginner-friendly

Make a big batch and either freeze it for later or keep in the fridge to eat all week. If you want a shortcut, you can totally use canned or refrigerated lentils (like the ones from Trader Joe’s) to save time.

19. Roasted Broccoli and Bacon Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, beginner-friendly, crowd-pleaser

Now this is a salad toddlers can get behind (you know, because there’s bacon and absolutely no lettuce). Make a batch on Sunday and nosh on it all week long.

20. Sheet Tray Pancakes with Peaches and Strawberries

  • Time Commitment: 55 minutes
  • Why I Love It: make ahead, crowd-pleaser, beginner-friendly

It’s hard to beat a tall stack of flapjacks, but I’m pretty sure no toddler parent has time to stand by the stove for flipping duty. Instead, I suggest making an entire batch on one baking sheet—you can reheat leftovers in the toaster or oven, too.

21. Salami, Artichoke and Ricotta Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why I Love It: <30 minutes, make ahead, <10 ingredients, crowd-pleaser

Fun fact: When I was a kid, salami was one of the few meats I would touch. Tossed into pasta salad, you have the kind of lunch that can be made ahead but won’t leave behind leftovers.


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...