Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. It is frustrating to sit down to a beautiful, healthy family meal only to have your eighteen-month-old refuse every morsel on his plate. Worse yet, once that frustration subsides, the mommy-doubt kicks in: Is he getting enough to eat? What if he doesn’t get enough vitamin C, or calcium? Why is he only happy with junk food? What am I doing wrong?
First of all, relax. Your toddler’s eating habits are more than likely quite normal, because picky eating is normal for a toddler. Toddlers need between 1,000 and 1,300 calories daily, but their daily eating habits can swing fairly dramatically from day to day. One day carrots may be the thing, and the next day he may settle for nothing but crackers. This is normal. Dr. Sears suggests aiming for a nutritionally balanced week rather than worrying whether your child has had the appropriate servings of vegetables, grains and proteins on any given day.
Second, here are a few healthy and tasty recipes. There are no guarantees in the world of toddlerhood, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few secret weapons in your toddler food arsenal.
The Green Monster Smoothie: The Green Monster has become the go-to smoothie in the health world because it is filling, versatile, very healthy, and it is certainly appropriate for children.
In a blender, blend: one banana, a handful of frozen strawberries, a splash of coconut milk (almond milk, breast milk, your choice), a dollup or two of organic yogurt (Stonyfield Farm’s Banilla is our family favorite), and a nice handful of fresh spinach. As you may guess by the approximated proportions, the whole recipe is very flexible and you can substitute nearly any fruits into the mix. And don’t be afraid to play around! Try adding a spoonful of peanut butter, for example. Experimenting is half the fun! The spinach will turn the whole concoction green, but it does not alter the fruity flavor. It is hard to overstate the health benefits of spinach, so any opportunity to include it in a meal should be welcome. The protein will keep your toddler’s hunger satisfied, and the whole concoction takes just a few minutes to prepare.
Watermelon Soup: Adapted from this wonderful recipe, watermelon soup is basically a cold fruit puree that can be eaten like soup. Perfect for a hot day, and the novelty of “watermelon soup” is fun. The basic recipe consists of two cups of cubed, seedless watermelon, 1/4 cup of crème fraîche, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, blended in a blender. To give it a little more zing, you can add some mint, a little ginger, and you can top with other pureed fruit. This is another fun one to experiment with, so don’t be afraid to try other fruits with it – it is a forgiving recipe.
Healthy Dippers: One universal truth of toddlers is that most of them really like to dip their food. Even some of the pickier toddlers can be convinced to try new things if they can explore the tastes and textures with their hands. While many commercial sauces are tasty, they often contain artificial flavors and colors. Fortunately there are plenty of simple, natural ways to provide your toddler with some dipping fun. Yogurt is a fun dip for fruits. Hummus is a surprising favorite among toddlers, and applesauce is another easy food for dunking. Need a little inspiration? Wholesome Toddler Food has some good dipper recipes too.
Finally, the Internet is full of sites with toddler-friendly recipes. As always, when searching for healthy meal and snack ideas, do consider the source of the information: Some recipes sites are little more than an advertisement for a particular brand of highly processed product. (For example, a Google search for “healthy kids recipes” brings up the Kraft website as the second result, which has a few relatively good recipes next to a big advertisement for Jet-Puffed Marshmallows).
Here are a few smart links to get you started:
Healthy Takes on Kids Classics shows how, with a few substitutions, popular “junk food” items can become healthy meals. Pepperoni pizza, mac and cheese, and even french fries can be back on the menu for the health-conscious family.
Organic Baby Resource has some neat ideas including apple “fries” and frozen banana pops.
What to Expect has a list of very simple snack ideas.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Sears has some nice toddler-friendly recipes and a healthy dose of toddler wisdom.
Happy, healthy eating!