Want some new lunch ideas for 1-year-olds? I’ve got 25 balanced meals you can mix and match to get you started!
Now that your baby is a fully weaned 1-year-old you might be looking for the best first foods to use for quick and easy lunches.
Babies can eat almost everything that you eat with a few exceptions (more on that below). As a mom and pediatric dietitian, I understand how easy it is for parents to get stuck in a food rut with the same old familiar kid-friendly meals like chicken tenders and pizza.
While many kid-friendly foods are healthier than parents may realize, diversity is the key to providing a variety of vitamins, minerals, flavors and textures. When you prime your baby’s palate with different foods early on, your little one is more likely to accept a wider range of new foods throughout childhood.
Keep reading for 25 lunch ideas for 1-year-olds and tips on what to feed babies and how to safely prepare food.
What Should 1-Year-Olds Eat?
Babies can eat just about everything adults eat except for sushi, raw foods, choking hazards like nuts, and honey.
Although I always recommend offering highly nutritious foods to growing children, complementary feeding between 6 and 12 months old is more about exploration and trying new foods since babies get most of their nutrients from formula and breastmilk.
Balanced meals are crucial to healthy development especially after 12 months old, when all of your little one’s energy and nutrient needs come from food.
One-year-olds eat about 3 meals and 1 to 2 snacks a day. Aim to include protein, fruit or vegetable, and whole grain at meals.
Don’t worry about fitting in all five food groups at each meal. Babies have tiny tummies and only eat a few bites at a time. Instead of large meals, think tiny portions of a few foods from different food groups.
What About Food Allergies?
The AAP now recommends introducing food allergens to babies as early as 4-6 months during complementary feeding. You might remember the old recommendations when parents were told to wait for the first few years before introducing peanuts. Recent studies find that introducing food allergens early may reduce the chance of developing a food allergy.
The top nine food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, wheat, fish, shellfish, sesame, soy and eggs. Use caution when offering these foods to your baby for the first time. If your baby experiences a food allergic reaction, it may range from a mild rash to anaphylaxis, a more serious reaction.
What About Spices and Flavorings?
Go ahead and add some flavor! Herbs and spices are fine for little ones and new flavors help them become adventurous eaters.
Salt, spices in the hot pepper family (cayenne, crushed red pepper flakes, and chili powder) and sauces may be challenging for your little one.
Sodium has a cap for little ones. The recommended limit on sodium for 1-year-olds is 800 mg. A balanced diet provides enough salt for babies to meet their daily requirements so you don’t need to add additional salt.
Follow the same one new food at a time recommendation with flavorings as you would when introducing new foods. Sauces have multiple ingredients and if your little one has a reaction, you won’t know which ingredient they are reacting to.
Here are the basics to include at meals and tips on how to prep them to make self-feeding easier for your baby:
One-year-olds need about 11g of protein daily. Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth and provides essential amino acids the body needs that only come from food.
Beef, chicken, fish, dairy, legumes, beans and nuts all contain protein. Even bread and cereals contain a small amount of protein. Did you know Cheerios has 5 g of protein in 1 ¾ cups?
Instead of relying on one type of protein source such as meat and chicken, offer both animal and plant-based protein for variety. That way your little one gets the added benefits that each food contributes. For example, animal proteins are an excellent source of iron and zinc, while legumes and beans provide fiber. And dairy is an excellent source of calcium.
How to serve: Cook raw meat, poultry or fish. Serve without skin and dice into tiny pieces. Rinse canned beans. Nut butters are safer than raw nuts at this age.
Fruit and Vegetables
According to USDA’s MyPlate, 12-month-olds need about ½ to 1 cup of fruit and ⅔ to 1 cup of vegetables daily.
Fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. I encourage introducing a large variety of fruits and vegetables as soon as your baby starts eating solids. Since one-year-olds don’t have all their teeth yet and are still developing chewing and swallowing skills, soft fruits and veggies are easier and safer for them to self-feed.
How to serve: Vegetables should be cooked until soft and mashable, or soft and diced into tiny pieces. Stick to soft fruits without seeds and peel the skin before serving. You can serve soft fruits and vegetables in 1-2” wedges for your baby to hold and self-feed.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that half of the grains you eat come from whole grains. Babies 12 to 23 months should have about 1 ¾ to 3 oz of whole grains daily.
1 serving = 1 oz
For example, 1 oz of whole grains is equivalent to:
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 cup of breakfast cereal
- ½ cup of rice, pasta or cooked cereal
Whole grains are not processed and still contain all three elements of the grain: bran, endosperm and the germ. Examples of whole grain foods include 100% whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, and whole grain cereals.
They are higher in fiber than refined grains made from white flour such as white bread and many breakfast cereals. Fortified foods made with wheat flour are one of the best sources of iron in a baby’s diet. In the U.S., wheat flour is enriched with B vitamins and iron.
According to a recent study, offering fortified and whole grain foods to infants is associated with a better nutrient intake and a higher quality diet.
While whole grains are healthy, parents should introduce these high-fiber foods slowly. You might notice some gas and bloating.
How to serve: Cook pasta and grains according to the directions on the package. Some grains including rice and very soft breads can be a choking hazard because your baby can take in a lot at once and have difficulty moving it around their mouth to swallow.
Cut up large pieces of pasta and serve bread in bite-size pieces or 1-2” strips.
Easy Lunch Ideas
I’ve come up with 25 baby-friendly lunch ideas for 1-year-olds that are all relatively quick to prepare and are made with familiar ingredients.
Use this list as a template to build your own meals. Each meal has a protein, vegetable or fruit, and a carbohydrate.
Keep in mind that some foods do double duty and are an excellent source of two macronutrients. For example, potatoes are a vegetable and a starch (carbohydrate). And quinoa is a whole grain, but it’s also high in protein
1. Sweet potato pancakes topped with whole milk Greek yogurt for dipping
2. Baked cheese and vegetable nuggets
3. Oats porridge made with milk and applesauce
4. Avocado strips rolled in cereal with tofu cubes
5. Baked zucchini sticks (rolled in eggs and breadcrumbs)
6. Cubed baked sweet potatoes, diced chicken and cantaloupe
5. Whole wheat toast strips spread with avocado and mashed white beans
6. Cheesy polenta with pureed cauliflower
7. Salmon, puffed Kamut, and broccoli
8. Whole wheat mac and cheese with mango strips
9. Grilled cheese (whole wheat bread) with strawberries
10. Whole wheat pasta, chicken and green peas
11. Broccoli patties (mashed broccoli, egg, cheese and breadcrumb)
12. Peanut butter or sun butter and banana with whole grain crackers
13. Pumpkin muffins (eliminate the chocolate chunks) with scrambled eggs
14. Buckwheat pancakes with plain whole milk yogurt and peaches
15. Mushroom omelet with baked potato wedges
16. Baby bean bites
17. Yogurt with chia seeds and raspberries
18. Bell peppers and cucumbers with hummus and whole grain crackers
19. Cod, acorn squash and barley
20. Kashi, soy milk, banana
21. Ground chicken or turkey with asparagus and quinoa
22. Ground beef meatballs, whole wheat pasta and carrots
23. Lentil “meatballs” made with chopped or shredded cooked vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, cauliflower, or shredded carrots) with peaches
24. Turkey meatloaf, baked butternut squash sticks and applesauce
25. Breaded and baked boneless chicken breast strips, zucchini and polenta
Are your baby’s nutrition milestones on track? Get my free guide to feeding goals and milestones for the first year.