Providing toddlers with healthy sustenance can be quite a challenge for many parents. One day, they love something, the next day, they toss it to the dog. They want to snack all the time, but they won't sit down for a meal. They put everything their mouths… except actual food. And if you’ve got a picky little person on your hands, what on Earth do you feed them? We spoke with pro meal planner Julie Sharron (of Busy & Broke) about feeding picky toddlers — and she gave us some tried-and-true recipes to keep all your progeny fed and happy.
Sharron has plenty of snacks in her arsenal; after all, she has a toddler of her own. String cheese, sugar snap peas, seaweed sheets, lentil puffs, berries (so many berries, all the berries), tangerines and peanut butter crackers are her go-to options for easy everyday snacks. But if she's having an ambitious week, she has a couple of easy and healthful go-to recipes she knows her kids love.
Sharron likes this recipe because she likes knowing her toddler will eat their vegetables and get lots of iron and fiber to boot. The zucchini can be shredded on a cheese grater, but she recommends a food processor for the carrot and spinach.
A recent favorite of Sharron's daughter's is something she calls fancy Hamburger Helper, but her daughter calls, "Mo' pasta!" She says you can use any kinds of spices you like (and as much or little as you like), so it's great for using up spices that are about to be past their optimum freshness date. Just make sure you stick to a theme and that the spices taste good together and with the other ingredients.
Serves 6 – 8
If you’re getting frustrated with your child’s “eccentric” tastes, keep in mind: This too shall pass.
“I've known toddlers who will only eat freeze-dried peas and hummus and others who will only eat waffles and chicken nuggets,” says Sharron. “Kids are so weird. You've just got to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks (literally, in some cases).”
That said, meal planning with a picky toddler at home can be challenging. Sharron recommends keeping what she calls “toddler tapas” (aka anything you can just toss onto their plate that you know they'll eat) on hand while planning more normal meals for the rest of the family.
“Offer them the family meal, but if they reject it, at least you'll have a backup plan without resorting to cooking an entire new meal for the toddler,” she says. “The more your kid is exposed to your food, the more likely they'll get curious enough to try. However, I know from being a working parent that sometimes you just cannot fight that fight. Lean on those snacks! I usually do a combo of veggie/protein/fruit, like a string cheese with frozen peas (weirdly, a toddler fave — try if you haven't) and berries.”
As for toddler-friendly meals, Sharron has a few great ideas. “Shoutout to Dr. Praeger's spinach tots! Those things are a lifesaver,” she says.
Other recommendations include:
For parents interested in exploring the topic further, Sharron recommends reading the book First Bite by Bee Wilson. “It totally changed the way I think about food, especially about introducing new foods to my kid,” she says.
But the bottom line? Don't stress. "With toddlers, everything is a phase," Sharron explains. "There aren't really any adults that will only eat white bread with the crusts cut off and Plum Organics pouches. If your kid is happy, healthy and has a handful of healthy food that they enjoy, you're doing great. Keep cooking and trying new things yourself. At the very worst, at least you'll be eating well."
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