Cooking For a Toddler: Key Essentials

By Chef Kathy Fang

When I was pregnant with my first child, I fantasized about all the amazing meals I would make her. I would go on pinterest and pin all those beautiful meals people would cook for their kids. I would stock up on cookbooks for babies and toddler. I planned out every meal like menu when my baby started solids.

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I even started a baby food company to help make feeding babies delicious solids easy for busy parents. Then came baby #2…With a 2.5 year old at home and now a 7 month old, I’ve found myself struggling to find the time to prepare delicious meals of variety. It doesn’t help that the preschool my daughter goes to, doesn’t provide lunch so that means, breakfast, lunch and dinner has to be homemade, on top of all the purees that my 7 month old is eating now.

So how do I make it all work? Below are a few of my time saving tricks

Tricks To Follow While Cooking for a Toddler

1. Make single ingredient purees for the baby, preferably with vegetables.

Kale puree, Swiss Chard Puree, Brocolli Puree, Spinach Puree. These purees can be added to other meals to create an entirely new meal. I can add spinach puree to a fruit puree or savory oats for my 7 month old. I can add kale puree or spinach puree to the mac and cheese I prepare for my toddler. The vegetable purees add fiber and nutrients to a meal and saves time on washing and cooking vegetables separately when pressed for time. Be sure to make extra so you can freeze them into small servings.

2. Variety is key to getting your toddler to try new things, as well as encourages healthy eating habits.

Oftentimes, parents worry about their kids not eating enough. And so when they find something the kid likes to eat, it goes on repeat over and over and over. And then you hear parents complain that their kids won’t eat anything else except mac and cheese, pizza and carrot sticks.

So how do we cook with variety for kids? What helps me get out of our rut is to think of every week day as a new “theme” based on regions and cuisine. So make one night Japanese, the next night Italian, and the night after Greek. It doesn’t have to be anything super fancy or elaborate. It can be as simple as introducing miso soup as the “Japanese” element to the dinner, served with some rice and grilled chicken, veggies in teriyaki sauce.

A Greek theme could be the introduction of Greek yogurt mixed with cucumbers and dill served with pita and grilled meats/veggies. Chinese could be dumplings with soy dipping sauce and some noodles sautéed with vegetables and shrimp. The biggest struggle here is how do we find the time to do this???? Make it “semi-homemade”!  Frozen dumplings are life savers, so are miso soup packets and bottled sauces and dressings.

Grilling chicken, steak or seafood the same way but serving it with a different sauce or side can completely change the type of cuisine you are serving without changing the way you cook. Don’t be afraid to take shortcuts! Can’t make tzatziki? Buy it! I have an arsenal of sauces and dressings in my fridge to help change up my meals for my toddler.

3. Use Fun Shapes and Cutters

Fun Shape Cutters are super affordable off amazon and make eating your raw veggies a lot more enjoyable. From heart shape, flower shape to bear shape, you can serve veggies slices in a variety of kid friendly shapes. If it looks cute, they will be far more interested in eating it than if it looked plain. What I love about cutters is it get your kids to nosh on raw veggies, while saving you time on cooking them. It also encourages healthy veggie eating habits. A win win in my book!

4. Cover All Essential Foods and Create Regularity in Meals

Now that we’ve covered how to change things up and entice your toddlers to eat, let’s talk about the basic foods we need to prepare for them and get them to eat regularly.

And how to make this sustainable. No matter what kind of variety I introduce to my toddler, I always keep one meal very consistent because it lays the foundation for their day. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for not only adults but kids too. I make sure my toddler gets either eggs, yogurt, bread, oatmeal or fortified cereal with milk every morning. Eggs should be in the picture at least 3-4 days a week and so does yogurt/cheese or milk.

toddler meal

Healthy carbs such as whole grain breads, oatmeals can fill in the blanks. Healthy carbs such a oatmeal or whole grain toast can get tasty toppings to make them appetizing. Try various jams, fruits, nut butters, honey, cream cheese, etc.

5. Stews and Soups: great time saver when cooking for kids

I love making soups loaded with goodies such as chicken noodle soup, lentil kale sausage soup. Soups are a great way to load up on vegetables, healthy grains and proteins. Everything gets cooked down into one comfort meal served in a bowl. It’s full of flavor and stores well in the fridge or freezer when you make extra.

6. Healthy baked muffins or frittatas

These are what I call backup meals. If you have a busy week ahead of you, prepare a batch of these to have on hand. For those days when you don’t have time to make breakfast or sit down and eat it, baking nutrient dense muffins and frittatas allow for your toddlers to take a nutritious meal on the go. It can be enjoyed cold or room temp in the car or packed up for a meal even.

Get Smart to make your toddler eat Healthy.

Disclaimer

The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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