Feeding toddlers. A territory that stumps so many (including myself) because every child’s appetite is so different, and there is no ONE way that works for everyone. We go from full-time moms to full-time chefs and coming up with kid-friendly food can feel daunting. It all still feels fairly new to me, but something I’ve really taken time to understand and grow to love! So yes, I now love making food for my toddler. (I know. I can’t believe those words came out of my mouth, either.)
I have a two year-old boy, Augie, who asks for snacks every 5 minutes, so keeping my pantry and fridge stocked with the goods feels like a necessity if I want to avoid a hangry tantrum and the McDonalds drive-thru (you toddler moms know what I’m talking about).
Over the last year or so, I’ve made it my mission to come up with snacks and meals that are filled with the necessary nutrients for his diet, and that fill him up and keep him regular. I’ve noticed when I have my pantry stocked with chips, crackers, cookies, and other high-carb snacks, he only wants those things and none of the “healthy stuff” — same, Sweetie, same. But, as a result, all the carbs would cause him to be backed-up for days which then effected his sleep schedule and attitude and just put a damper on our day.
So what have I done to change that? It’s simple. I stopped buying so many classic, easy snacks to put the pressure on myself to have alternatives prepped and ready for him to eat each day. As parents, when we take something away (whether it be snacks, screen time, a problematic toy, etc.) we need to fill that space with something else. So, in this case, removing chips and cookies from the house meant that I had to provide healthier food options that he would eat instead.
My overall goal is to create positive interactions with food, so if he doesn’t want the snacks that I provide, I respect his decision and revisit them at a later time when he may be more willing. There was an adjustment period, for sure, but consistency is everything.
- Apples + peanut butter
- Pickles + cheese slices
- Chopped veggies + homemade ranch (Hidden Valley powder + sour cream or Greek yogurt. Once you try it you will never go back.)
- Rice cakes + peanut butter + banana + chia/flax/hemp seed mix
- Frozen mango + strawberry + banana + flavored sparkling water smoothie
Snacks change from week-to-week depending on what things he continues to show interest in and what things he doesn’t. I explain to him everything he’s eating with looooots of enthusiasm to get him just as excited as I am. Since doing this, I have stopped buying bulk items for him from Costco, purely because his appetite changes week-to-week, sometimes day-to-day. I now stick to Trader Joe’s and local grocery stores where I can get more variety in a smaller quantity.
Let’s talk meals for a sec. Three times a day, every day. Starts to feel like a lot of food to come up with, but it doesn’t have to be stressful! I’m sure there are so many approaches to meal time that work, but what has worked for us is the Montessori approach. This allows the toddler to participate in making his/her meal from start-to-finish. The tasks can be big or small, depending on what the child’s level of understanding is. Augie loves to add salt to his eggs, put bread in the toaster, spread the butter, peel the banana, discard items to the trash/compost bin, take lids on and off, etc. I’ve noticed a significant difference in his willingness to eat when he is involved in the process. It’s so sweet to see his enthusiasm and celebrate together all his little and big accomplishments in creating his own meals. I try not to correct him if he doesn’t spread the butter to every corner or if he sprinkles more salt on the ground than on the eggs because I want him to walk away from the experience, feeling that what he contributes IS enough.
After meal time is over, I have him help me put items back in the panty, dishes in the sink, and trash in the trash can. We again celebrate every step and it almost feels more like a game to him than a chore (HA!).
BREAKFAST + LUNCH IDEAS:
- Naan + eggs + fruit
- Oatmeal + PB powder + honey + chia/flax/hemp seed mix + frozen blueberries at the end to cool it down
- Frosted Flakes + banana slices + blueberries + chia/flax/hemp seed mix
- Costco veggie patties + pickles + cheese
- Corn dog (Trader Joe’s is our fave) + veggies + dip
- Costco lentils + rice + fruit
- Annie’s mac & cheese + applesauce
- Chicken nuggets + toddler’s preferred dipping sauce + fruit or veggies
Many of these meals I do for breakfast and lunch because, come dinnertime, he eats what we eat. I’ll simplify the meal for him, but it’s important to us that we create the habit of eating the same meal for dinner as a family. I just don’t have it in me by the end of the day to cook a “grown-up” dinner AND a separate dinner for Augie. Nope. This chef is tuckered out. Growing up, my mom had dinner on the table and if we chose to not eat it then we’d have to opt for cereal or go to bed hungry. Now, as a mother myself, I GET IT. By adopting a similar method, Augie’s appetite has adapted to us (vs. the other way around). He is willing to try new things, doesn’t always eat everything we give him, but at least shows interest.
So there you have it, a brief synopsis of how we approach toddler eating! Start slowly, figure out what your toddler likes + dislikes, and try incorporating those ingredients in a variety of meals each week while adding new foods to the mix to expand their palate. I’m far from perfect and still visit the McDonald’s drive thru + give Augie snacks and desserts, but the difference now is those things aren’t a habit or a part of our daily routine.
Good luck! You got this!