Feeding a toddler can be, umm... tricky. And finding healthy foods to satisfy a carbohydrate/fruit/cookie/snack food-loving little one can be a daily challenge.
But it wasn't always a battle of wills to get something green through his clenched lips. Some of Maddox's first foods were pureed and then chopped soft vegetables. Broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, green beans, mushrooms-- he loved them all. These days however he will hardly touch any kind of veggie other than peas, corn, and raw carrots. And even these don't come with a guarantee not to end up as missiles hailing through the kitchen.
I've had to adapt and become something of a sneaky cook these days, hiding vegetables where he won't find them and slathering things with enough ketchup to disguise what lies beneath. It's not always easy, but all in a day's work when your daily duty involves preparing 3 meals to fuel the body and brain of a growing little one.
To help others battling through toddler food prep, here are some of the tried and true foods at our house that go down where they should and not launched through the air!
Home baked muffins such as carrot/raisin, zuchinni, and pumpkin provide a veggie-infused punch to start the day. (I always add more zuchinni or carrot to muffins than it calls for.) You can even add flax seeds or a bit of nutritional yeast for added nutrients.
Pancakes are an easy start to a nutritious meal. Homemade pancakes start with flour (try substituting all or part of the white flour for another grain flour such as aramouth, soy, rice, etc.), baking powder, a pinch of sugar, salt, and milk. You can also start with a low-calorie box mix. Add 1/4 cup bran, cinnamon, and vanilla. We make homemade syrup by boiling 1/4 cup brown sugar in a small amount of water while the pancakes are baking. Slightly oil the pan and make pancakes. Our favorite toppings are berries, homemade syrup, and peanut butter.
Scrambled eggs are a great protein. We like to add a little onion, whatever veggies we have on hand (chopped finely), and shredded cheese. At first Maddox balked at the idea of eating eggs. A little vanilla yogurt on top of veggie eggs made him change his mind. It may not look appetizing, but to a toddler it was a sweet treat.
Yogurt parfaits are toddler favorites. If you've never made homemade granola, it's worth the little prep it takes. A basic recipe can be found HERE. I buy organic whole yogurt and sweeten slightly with honey or defrosted frozen fruit (during the thawing process the juice sauce will sweeten the yogurt). Add granola, strawberries, banannas, or berries.
Chicken nuggets made with all white chicken meat are a simple go-to meal starter. I normally pair this with homemade mashed potatoes (you can hide things like spinach or blended broccoli in mashed potatoes, even baby food veggies will work), sweet potato oven fries, string cheese, and apple slices. Our local Aldi's sells a large bag of all white chicken nuggets for only $3!
For a lighter meal, Maddox loves eating a fruit and cheese plate. It reminds me of a quaint French meal that consists of cut fruit, slices of cheese, and a piece of crusty bread. A glass of unsweetened, plain almond milk (higher in calcium than cow's milk and lower in calories) washes it all down.
Pasta is a wonderfully versatile toddler favorite. There are so many shapes and sizes of noodles that just holding and looking at the noodles can be a toddler delight.
Try making your own easy sauce. Lean ground turkey or beef can be seasoned with garlic, onion, oregano, and basil. Then add plain tomato sauce for a great starter sauce that's lighter in calories than a cream sauce and is a great way for a picky toddler to eat tomatoes. You can also add diced tomatoes, shredded carrots, and shredded spinach that will go virtually undetected. (The sauce can also be served over veggies and eaten with a spoon.)
For a healthy lasagna, prepare the noodles as directed. Alternately layer sauc, noodles, cottage cheese (healthier than ricotta), noodles, and then sauce. You can also use the sauce for spaghetti.
Make extra sauce and freeze.
Crunchy fish fillets are a new favorite around here. I was surprised when Maddox ate fish for the first time, but I buy less "fishy" tasting varieties like tilapia. Roll fillets in bread crumbs/herbs/pepper/garlic, then dip in milk, then back in bread crumbs. Fry over medium heat until brown on each side or place on tin foil and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. If it's not a "fish" day for Maddox, a little ketchup is all it takes to make dinner go down the hatch.
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Peanut butter is very popular in our pantry. Fotunately our son doesn't have nut allergies so we use it to flavor lots of healthy foods and add a little extra protein. Almond butter is also a great option for less fat and more protein per serving. We put the nutty spread on whole wheat bread or flax flat bread, apple slices, raw carrots, banannas, and even to flavor oatmeal.
Have you ever tried goat's milk? I'm not the typical mother and actually steer clear of cow's milk. I find it difficult to digest, over processed, allergy-causing, and not at all natural for our own bodies to break down. You can read more about why others have chosen not to drink cow's milk HERE.
I didn't start my son on nut milk for the fear of exposing him to nuts too early. Instead, he enjoyed the benefits of goat's milk. We don't buy it very often anymore, but he does enjoy it once in a while.
Organic, whole yogurt is an easy part of a meal or snack. I choose not to feed my son soy yogurt (there is debate on the effects soy has on hormones, especially in males), but regular and goat's milk is always on hand.
Did you know orange cheeses are really dyed for color? Many children with ADD or ADHD have hyperactive reactions to the dyes in foods like cheese. We prefer goat cheese or mozerella and only use orange cheeses in moderation, typically for Mexican food dishes.
What kinds of foods does your toddler enjoy? Do you have tricks for encouraging healthy eating? Share your thoughts below.