One of the compliments (I guess we can call it that) that I hear most about my son is, “Wow, he’s a good eater!” I know he eats the way he does, solely because of me. I cook all of the meals for my family, and take pride in that being one of the biggest gifts I can give to both my son and fiance — healthy meals using a variety of ingredients. But honestly, getting a grown man to eat is easy peasy. It’s the toddler that is difficult — or that’s what people think. I don’t have any kind of magic answer to getting a toddler to eat well. I’m only in the early stages of this new found independence and flavor discovery with my now 2 year old. But, I can surely pass along some meal inspiration to help you get through a rut you might be having — plus a couple of tips along the way. So here are 4 eating tips for a healthy toddler.
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TIP #1: You are what you eat. Breastfeeding mamas, every flavor you eat add to the unique flavor and makeup of your milk. I’m sure many of us have experienced our babes breaking out because of too much dairy or sugar. Well, our milk also holds onto spicy and other strong flavors as well. So whether you indulge on hot wings or kimchi, baby is getting all of that flavor (albeit, subtly) through your milk.
So nursing mamas, especially those of you just starting out, use this to your advantage. Widen your palette and you can help expose your child to different tastes early on.
I am an avid eater. I love food, and I love trying all sorts of new foods. As long as it wasn’t on the “no-fly” list of foods for nursing moms, I ate it. RJ is 2 and he has an affinity for Korean dishes, loves a little spiciness, and will eat nearly anything I put on his plate.
TIP #2: Don’t Stress. Mamas, we have enough on our plates to stress about what our children do with what’s on theirs. Your child will get the nutrients they need over the course of about a week. You don’t have to worry if your LO doesn’t eat everything on their plate at every meal. As long as you provide a healthy variety each day, you’re doing it right.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are days when lunch or dinner is chicken nuggets and baked fries or tots. Those meals also come with a side of an easy to prep veggie like roasted edamame (bake with the nuggets/fries), chopped up avocado, or a handful of fresh cut up tomatoes (or a meal made of all three with a waffle on the side–no shame, it’s a healthy meal!)
Then, there are the days where I’m feeling a little more gourmet. I love to cook! If you’ve followed along on my blog or Instagram, you’ve seen some of my easy (and dare I say, delicious) recipes. As a toddler mom, dinner can’t be complicated, though. I’m all about simple recipes with a lot of flavor. I work with my go-to ingredients and give them new life week to week. I’ll always add in new fruits or veggies for excitement, and I’m never afraid to try out a new recipe that requires me to buy a few more out of the box items (I’ll always figure out a way to use it again!)
So how does that translate into getting my toddler to eat?
I’ll start off by saying, I know my kid. He’s not a fan of bland foods. He loves new flavors and bold tastes because that’s what I’ve always made for The Man and myself. Zucchini isn’t a big hit over here, but sauteed kale with garlic and sesame oil is. I think it’s easy to assume a child won’t like the exact things you are eating because we’ve been brainwashed to think that young children need subtle tastes. If we never let them try things, we’ll never know.
TIP #3: Don’t feed your child food you think is disgusting. I don’t have any research to back this one up, other than my own. One of my tried and true techniques when perhaps I want to see a few more veggies off the plate, is showing my son that I love to eat that particular dish. So I gobble it up and encourage him to give it a try, at the very least. But you know who’s even better at this technique than me? The Man. Our son will do anything he does, so when mama needs backup, I call in the big guns. Children admire us. If we’re strong and healthy, they want to be, too. And dammit, if daddy likes Thai green curry with tofu, eggplant and bell pepper, baby does too.
Oh, and once I discovered he liked eggplant, I chopped that baby up and added it to pasta sauce and served roasted slices the next day for lunch.
Back to making those quick and easy recipes. Have you ever watched Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee ? Well, I like her style.
Plus, she always includes a cocktail with her meals.
There are days when it’s easier to save having to make a curry paste from scratch or you simply can’t find all the ingredients you need for a recipe. That’s where canned beans, frozen veggies, sauce mixes, and other jarred concoctions come in handy. I know I’ve been throwing round this green curry like I have some sort of special secret recipe–nope, it’s just this simple delicious sauce made with real and pronounceable ingredients from HEB.
And when a regional specialty ingredient is on sale, I always get it. Last week, it was a hatch chile stew. I added that to a chicken and dumpling recipe to take that meal to new heights. Pasta sauce from scratch sounds like a lot of work. I buy a chunky garden style and add in my own additional veggies (mushrooms, bell pepper, onion, and/or spinach, or eggplant–see above.)
TIP #4: Take control of snacking. Yeah, yeah, this sounds like the start of some sage (& asanine) advice for us moms. No, hell no, it’s not! You, yes you, mama, keep on snacking. Eat whatever the fuck you want, you deserve it.
Most often, we’re doing the grocery shopping, so we can take charge of what our children snack on. Try not to fall for packaging over substance.
*CHEAT SHEET* : STAY AWAY FROM THOSE PROCESSED SNACKS!!
We get baked cheese crackers shaped like underwater friends, but most everything else comes from the bulk aisle or produce sections of our grocery store, and I really try to keep sugar content of any one snack under 7g per serving. In many cases, he’s eating about 1/2 of the recommended serving.
Toddlers are always looking for snacks. Here are some snack ideas for toddlers that will help encourage healthy snacking and eating habits:
- Dried Fruits. Try softer ones like cherries, apple slices, apricots. Dried mango is always a huge hit for us, but some of the slices can dry to a pretty tough texture.
- Fresh Fruits. like mini gala apples and clementines. Quartered grapes, strawberries, blueberries, canned pineapple, frozen mango, frozen peaches, bananas, quartered tomatoes, cucumber slices
- Finger Foods. Veggie chips, raw nuts (cashews, walnuts, pepitas/pumpkin seeds), string cheese, hummus, crackers, tortillas, toast and simple multi-grain cereal.
- Unsweetened Apple Sauce. Remember, you can add your own spices and ingredients in there — cinnamon, ginger, sliced strawberries.
If my son isn’t asleep, he’s asking me for something to eat in one form or another. Knowing that I only have healthier options to offer (no chips, no candy, no sugary drinks, and no things with high sodium), makes me okay letting him munch when he needs a bite. Not to mention, the dogs wind up getting like half of everything he has in his hand.
What are some of your healthy toddler eating tips, mamas? I’d love to hear what you do to encourage expanding your toddler’s palette, too!
Tai Hanson is a 20-something mama, now living in Texas. She writes, runs a small business, and juggles a toddler and 3 dogs. Her blog, The Black Mama, is an outlet for stories about her weird quirks and parenting experiences and a place to celebrate what it means to be a black mama forging her own way.
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