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Toddler Doesn’t Like Meat? Here Are Some Options


When my son was a toddler he didn’t want to eat meat. (Ice cream and cake – no issue!) Protein is essential for healthy child development, which makes meals that include meat an easy go-to option, but what if your little one doesn’t like meat? Here’s what to do.

If your toddler doesn’t like meat, try hiding it in a creative meal that makes it fun to eat or introduce protein into their diet in other ways. Many foods, including nuts, eggs, beans, yogurt, and cheese, are rich in protein and can be an excellent replacement for meat in a toddler’s diet. 

The rest of this article will explain why your toddler might not like meat and share ideas for incorporating meat in imaginative ways to pique your child’s interest. I will also offer meat replacement options to ensure your child’s diet is rich in protein- with or without meat. 

What to do if your toddler won't eat meat.
My son didn’t want to eat meat but he had no issues with ice cream and cake!

Why Doesn’t My Toddler Like Meat?

Toddlers are just beginners when it comes to food. They are tasting and testing new things all of the time, which helps develop their own personal preferences for particular flavors, smells, and textures (source).

Toddlers often appear to dislike meat because of the texture, the smell, or because it is difficult for them to chew. Because toddlers are sensitive to all these things and still broadening their horizons, any of these factors can cause a complete aversion to meat. 

Creative Ways To Incorporate Meat

If your child is having a problem eating meat because of the taste, smell, or texture, there are ways that you can “hide” it in their diet or change up the way to cook it to make it more appealing. 

Make It Tender, Juicy, and Flavorful

Just like adults, toddlers can be coaxed into appreciating new foods when they are cooked and flavored just right. If your toddler is turning up their nose at plain, dry beef, add some seasoning and cook it until it’s juicy and tender. 

If your child struggles to chew the meat, that may be enough to cause them to refuse it in the future. Eating meat shouldn’t be frustrating or difficult. Show your toddler how to enjoy their food by offering them tender, juicy, easy-to-chew cuts of meat. 

You should also always ensure it is cut up into manageable, safe, bite-size pieces so your toddler can consume it easily and with a lower risk of choking. 

Offer Lots of Dips and Sauces!

Toddlers love dipping their food! Offer your child sauces like tomato ketchup, barbecue sauce, steak sauce, ranch dressing, or anything else you think might pique their interest. 

Adding a dipping sauce changes the flavor and creates a new experience for your child as they eat their meal. Turning mealtime into a fun activity can help make it easier for your toddler to embrace new foods!

Puree the Meat for Soups, Chilis, and Sauces

If you need to really “hide” the meat in your child’s food, try throwing it in the food processor or blender with a little bit of broth. Once the meat is pureed, you can add it to soups, chilis, or sauces, and your toddler will never even know it’s there.

Adding meat into your toddler’s diet in this creative way may be able to change their palette to appreciate the taste of meat, opening the door for them to broaden their food preferences later in life.

Just because your toddler doesn’t like meat now doesn’t mean they won’t like it when they’re older or even next week! 

Creating a Protein-Rich Diet Without Meat

Protein is a critical nutrient for the healthy development of a toddler- in fact, children ages one to three require about 13 grams (0.45 ounces) of protein each day (source).

So, when a child refuses a rich source of protein like meat, it might cause concern for the parents. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to incorporate protein into a child’s diet without eating meat at all! 

There are a number of alternative foods that are excellent sources of protein. You can eliminate meat altogether and meet your toddler’s protein needs by incorporating some of these alternatives. Just be mindful of allergies and check with your pediatrician first.

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Tofu

These foods are easy to find in your typical grocery store, and because of the growing popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets, recipes for meat-free meals are readily available. 

You can dress up even the simplest toddler meals to create a delicious, appealing, high-protein option. 

Here are a few toddler-approved favorites that your little one is sure to love: 

  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich: A classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich for toddler-age children is an everyday favorite. This sandwich is entirely meat-free, but when prepared on multiseed bread with all-natural nut butter, it can actually be a great, high-protein option.
  • Grilled Cheese Sandwich: cheeses are surprisingly high in protein and make a delicious grilled cheese sandwich! You can even try adding a fried egg in the middle to take that protein level up a notch! 
  • Macaroni and Cheese: This toddler favorite can provide plenty of protein! Mix in some crumbled-up tofu for an excellent protein source. The tofu will soak up the flavors of the pasta and cheese, and your kiddo likely won’t even know it’s there! 
  • French Toast: French toast is a delicious treat for breakfast, but it can be a fantastic meal or snack for any time of day! Because the bread is fried in egg, it contains protein- BUT you can add even more by cutting the bread into strips and dunking them in yogurt instead of syrup.

Here’s a very good (and reassuring) video on dealing with toddlers who don’t want to eat meat:

Final Thoughts

Ensuring your toddler gets all their essential nutrients can be a tall task- and when your child doesn’t like meat, that makes it even more challenging. Fortunately, plenty of ways exist to create a healthy diet by “hiding” or incorporating meat alternatives into their meals. 

Cooking meat creatively or providing healthy substitutes will help you provide enough protein to promote healthy, happy toddler development. 

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Author Notes:
Teresa is a Registered Nurse in the State of Texas and the mother of two. Opinions and insights on childcare are based on professional knowledge, academic research, and personal experience.

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