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.
Veggie muffins recipe
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.
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup honey and/or maple syrup
- 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
- 2 eggs
- 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 teaspoon citrus zest (optional, but recommended)
- 2 cups (about 1 medium) finely shredded zucchini
- 1 cup (about 1 big or 2 medium) finely shredded carrot
- 1/2 cup finely shredded spinach (optional, for extra iron)
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger
- 1/2 cup blueberries (optional)
- finely chopped almonds/peanuts/walnuts for topping (optional, but adds protein)
‘Mo’ pasta recipe
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
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 white or yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef
- Oregano (to taste)
- Garlic powder (to taste)
- Red pepper flakes (to taste)
- Salt (to taste)
- Black pepper (to taste)
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with basil
- 2 cups minced carrots
- 2 zucchini, diced
- 1 pound (16 ounces) elbow macaroni, cooked
- Grated Parmesan (for garnish)
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:
- Beans and cheese with avocado (“My kid loves [it with] sour cream, aka ‘ice cream,’ and Cholula.”)
- Scrambled eggs with spinach
- Mac and cheese (“I like to add frozen riced cauliflower and frozen peas to boxed mac and cheese.”)
- Veggie chili with rice (this is a simple mix-and-dump that makes so much food but is insanely cheap)
- 3-ingredient banana pancakes (“Though I add vanilla and cinnamon since I can’t leave well enough alone.”)
- “Toddler pizza” (heat up a tortilla with sauce, veggies and cheese on a skillet or pan)
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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