Ok, your kid has moved on to solid food and only the occasional handful of dirt. We all fall off the healthy food option wagon sometimes, but if the bulk of your child’s diet is becoming French fries and ice cream, it’s time for an overhaul. Poor eating can contribute not only to poor sleep, but to future learning problems. It’s never too late to tighten the reigns and get your kids back on cucumbers.
The best thing you can do to encourage your toddler to eat well is to sit down and enjoy a meal with him. Make eye contact. Have a conversation. Don’t just plug him in a high chair and walk away. Demonstrate that food is part of your family ritual—something to be shared. Whenever possible, get your kid in on the action of preparing his or her meal.
When it comes to getting your kids to eat healthily, presentation counts. Tiny fingers love tiny compartments and bite-size bits. Try filling up an ice cube tray with a rainbow of fresh fruits and veg. Use a cookie cutter to cut cucumbers into hearts and stars. Sneak garbanzo beans into their bellies with mini falafel balls. Make yogurt fondue for dipping fruit on sticks. Be creative. Prep healthy snacks at the beginning of the week, so you can just dish it out when you’re in a time crunch. For more healthy snack ideas, look into this course.
Make It a Game
Whoever said ‘don’t play with your food’ was totally wrong. Show your wee ones that food can be fun with blindfold taste tests or even the fruit version of spin the bottle. If you need to speed up your child’s intake, play to your toddlers’ possessive nature and consider drawing a couple of eyes on your hand. Watch how well they eat when your hand becomes a pretend crocodile encroaching on their Cheerios.
At my house, we have a rule: no screens until 5:00pm. That’s when it’s happy hour. It’s also when my kids are starving. I toss together a plate of carrots, cucumbers, pitted olives and peppers with some hummus for dip, and let them veg out (nyuk nyuk). That holds them off until our family dinner at 6:00 where if they don’t eat much, I don’t mind because they’re stuffed with goodness.
Around the World
Friend, and world-class Supermom, Tali Rubenstein does double duty with her dinners. Each week, she lets her daughter pick a new country off the map to research. They discuss the music, traditional costumes and cultural icons. For dinner she makes food from that country. The positive experiences of reading together pay dividends at the dinner table by getting her finicky daughter to taste new things. So the next time you dish up some spaghetti bolognaise, wave the Italian flag, chant buongiorno, and sing like a gondolier. This idea is also a great help when you’re feeling stuck in a cooking rut. Consider what your ancestors would have made: quesadillas, paneer, pierogies, crepes, corn fritters…haggis anyone?
If there’s one thing the unifies all moms, it’s there’s never enough time. Try these time saving recipes to change up your usual routine.
- Peanut butter and banana burrito—Peanut butter is packed with protein and good fats. Spread it onto a whole wheat tortilla then place a banana in the middle and roll up.
- Egg salad—If it’s not Easter where you are, it’s easy to forget about this classic, tasty sandwich filler with a texture that toddlers love. Take two hard boiled eggs, add a spoonful of mayo and a small splash of mustard. Serve on bread or just straight out of the bowl.
- Pita pockets—Pita bread is a great way to hide added veggies in a sandwich. Think cream cheese, black olives, alfalfa sprouts and carrots for a vegetarian crowd pleaser. For more on cooking for vegetarian kids, check this out.
- Smoothies: Even though it’s not the 1980’s anymore, you can drink your lunch. Making a proper smoothie with ground almonds, bananas, coconut milk, fresh or frozen berries and a splash of honey, packs in more protein and nutrient content of a normal toddler lunch. The variety of fruit and veg you can pack into a blender is vast, so don’t be afraid to toss in some carrots or beets to the mix. Serve it with a swirly straw, and a smoothie might end up being the healthiest thing your tot eats all day.
- Mini Pizzas—Let them customize the toppings on an English muffin then bake it (or nuke it if you’re desperate.) If you’re feeling really posh, find the fresh pizza dough in the deli aisle or make your own.
- Breakfast for dinner—If you can only get your kid to eat decent stuff at 6:00 am, consider serving up his favorite French toast at dinnertime. Kids love to see a grown-up breaking ‘the rules.’
- Sushi is an all around fantastic food that fits into any diet no matter how restrictive. The iodine content in the seaweed is essential for your child’s growth and development. Skip the milkshakes and make sushi your after school treat.
- Swedish Meatballs—You may as well make the most of Scandinavia while you’re busy singing ABBA. This is a great alternative to heavy cream sauces like Alfredo. Make your usual meatball—ground beef, diced onion, egg, breadcrumbs—and add a generous teaspoon of nutmeg and allspice. Fry them off in a pan. Traditionally, the pan sauce is a combo of beef broth and sour cream or cream thickened with flour. You can sub in coconut milk for the cream as long as you season it adequately with salt, minced garlic, ground pepper and a dash of nutmeg. You don’t want tons of sauce—just enough to lightly coat the meatballs.
- Thai Chicken Satay–This one is a crowd pleaser for grown-ups and kids alike. The key to making it toddler friendly is a peanut sauce without the heat for dipping. You can make a decent approximation with peanut butter, coconut milk, honey and fish sauce. Melt ½ cup of peanut butter on the stove top on medium-low heat. Add a small clove of pressed garlic and ¼ cup coconut milk. Stir constantly, and add two tablespoons of honey (more if using unsweetened peanut butter.) Use fish sauce if it needs a savory hit. Allow your peanut sauce to cool to room temperature, and serve with chicken skewers grilled in the oven with a dusting of turmeric and salt.
- Homemade dumplings–There’s something magical about a well-made ravioli or dumpling, and it’s not too hard to make your own. Buy some ready-made dumpling wrappers from the deli aisle, and fill them up with a mixture of minced savory mushrooms fried with shallots. Stuff the wraps and cook according to the directions on the package. Serve with honeyed soy sauce or sesame oil. You can change up the filling with pork and cabbage or whatever you choose, just make sure the stuffing is fully cooked before you put it in the wrappers.
- Supercharged Pastries: Frozen or refrigerated pre-fab pastry dough makes it simple to make healthy lunch pouches for your toddlers. You can use ham and cheese, vegetables with mild curry, mashed sweet potato and bacon, or a mini-version of chicken pot pie with peas and carrots. Bake according to the pastry pack instructions and watch your kids gobble down a veggie-packed snack.
- Power Pasta–Turn your noodle-eating tot into a regular health fiend by serving a traditional pasta fagioli. Boil your noodles in chicken stock with bacon and a tin of bins. Toss in some carrots, minced garlic and celery to maximize the veggie content. Top with parmesan cheese and olive oil for a seriously substantial alternative to buttered noodles.
- Toast Skagen—When you get back to Sweden on your geography studies, pull out this fantastically simple recipe that’s good enough to serve at a dinner party:
- 500 grams frozen bay shrimp or cooked and peeled prawns
- Half a small red onion—finely chopped
- Two tablespoons finely chopped dill
- Two tablespoons full fat sour-cream or full fat plain yogurt
- Two tablespoons mayo
- Zest of one lemon
- Two tablespoons of olive oil (not needed if you’re using mayo)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- You can use any bread for the toast part of this dish, but the Swedes use a classic, flavorful dark rye.
- Serve open faced with an avocado to up the veggie content, if you have one lying around.
If you’re still feeling stuck, it might be a good idea to get some tips from the pros. Effortless Gourmet gives you helpful strategies for mid-week meal prep. Alternatively, just get back to the healthy food basics with Healthy Cooking Fundamentals.
When it comes to kids, it’s important to keep on your toes. What they eat one day they may spurn the next. The best strategy is to slip in the veggies wherever you can. If you’re making red velvet cake for the birthday party, blitz three beetroots into the batter. Opt for carrot cake with raisins and walnuts instead of traditional vanilla cakes.
Terrible Two’s, Three’s, Four’s and Five’s
If you’ve tried everything and mealtime is still tantrum time, consider this course on raising cooperative toddlers. Better yet, take preventative action and try this course: How to Avoid Screwing Up Your Kids. (If only my mom had taken that class…) In this crazy, hectic, “Lean in” era of child rearing, parenting is a marathon. Hopefully these tips will pull you across the finish line for today, so you can do it all again tomorrow.