SPONSORED POST: I’ve partnered with Milk & Eggs, an amazing farm direct grocery delivery service, to bring you guys some delicious, super seasonal, and always healthy recipes a few times a month. I’m so excited to share some of my favorite dishes and health food products with you!
What to feed my kid has become much more of a focus in my life than I care to admit. As a nutritionist, I am constantly worrying about little M eating healthy toddler meals with enough healthy fats, proteins, macronutrients and greens, but hovering over her every bite wasn’t doing either of us any favors.
To get a real sense of how well your toddler is eating, look at what they eat over a two week period, instead of just day to day.
What I’ve learned is that to really get a sense of how “well” a toddler is eating (in terms of fueling their bodies with healthy foods and building blocks for growth), you can’t look at just one day. Toddlers’ appetites naturally ebb and flow from day to day, and on a “bad” eating day, when they may just not be as hungry as normal, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming a short order cook and whipping up crowd-pleasing backup meals just to get our kids to eat.
The problems with this approach are many and varied, but most notably, it sets a precedent that our kids get to call the shots (dangerous) and that it’s more important for them to eat something than something healthy (false). When we set aside the rejected healthy meal of salmon and broccoli and run to the kitchen to make some mac and cheese that we know they’ll eat, we aren’t honoring their own sense of what their bodies need in the moment and we show them that all they have to do is push away their plate of healthy food to get mom to make them something “fun.” This is a recipe for entrenching picky eating.
When I let go of my desire to control what and how much little M eats, I noticed that she actually started eating SO much more healthy food. Her nascent finicky eating behaviors more or less disappeared, and mealtime became so much more enjoyable for us both.
Now, even on those days when she only eats fruit and greek yogurt (yes, we have those days too), I keep calm and know that tomorrow or the next day, she’ll be back to devouring her plates of greens and beans and all things good.
Here are the 4 rules for stress-free, healthy toddler mealtimes:
- It’s your job to put HEALTHY food in front of your child at every meal, it’s their job to decide what and how much of that food they eat.
- Always make sure one thing at every meal is a healthy food they like (like fruit or a favorite veggie), so at least they eat something nutritious.
- If they reject the rest of the meal, that’s fine! No cajoling, no “one more bite,” and definitely no running back into the kitchen to make a backup meal. They’ll have another chance to eat at their next meal or snack. No child has every starved themselves. The less you show you care about how well they’re eating, the more they’ll eat, I promise!
- Make sure there is always something green on their plate at every meal. This gets them used to eating greens and avoids the dreaded mono-diet that some American kids develop. “Hiding” greens and vegetables in your kids’ food is a really dishonest way of getting them used to a broader palate, and does nothing to help them develop a love for healthy eating.
- And lastly, feed your toddler REAL food! “Kid” foods breed picky eaters, so steer clear as much as possible. Your toddler can (and should) eat what you eat! Ditch the puffs, pouches, kid crackers, etc.
My philosophy around what I feed M is really simple: easy, no fuss, healthy foods, with a decent amount of variety in textures and flavors. I use all organic ingredients, and local, seasonal produce whenever possible.
Her diet is pretty similar to my own (minus the snack, which adults do not need): mostly plant-based, with a bit of fish and chicken; lunch as the biggest meal of the day (where she gets her main source of protein); a protein and healthy fat at every meal; and just one snack, which is more of a mini-meal, and less of snack-type food. (Learn more about excessive snacking and other toddler bad eating habits here)
I have to say, my weekly grocery delivery from Milk & Eggs makes all of this SO much easier. No matter what, I know I’m getting a big box of local, organic produce (we use staples like greens, broccoli, berries, and citrus every single week), and can add on our other weekly basics like organic greek yogurt, organic raw cheese, free-range eggs, and sprouted whole grain bread so easily. To help introduce new foods, I try to pick one new organic veggie every week to bring into the mix every week, which I prepare a few different ways (steamed, roasted, sautéed), which helps her to integrate it.
Remember, many babies and toddlers have to be exposed to a new food 10 times before they accept it!
Nearly everything M eats (and almost everything in this week of meals) gets delivered to my door by Milk & Eggs straight from local farms. It’s really the perfect tool for us healthy-conscious, busy mamas! If you’re not in LA, find a local CSA or grocery delivery service.. it’ll save you SO much time and planning.
As far as recipes go, I’ve got some basics that I come back to again and again, and some new fun recipes that I throw in the mix. I find that the more effort I put into a meal, the less interest she has in it, so the key for me is simplicity and ideally making meals (or components) that we’ll all eat. I’m also all about batch cooking, so I make a few things for the week, and then recycle them in different dishes for a few days.
Below you’ll find typical week of meals for M, who is now 21 months old. This will work for toddlers and small children of any age. M has been eating like this pretty much since she started solids, as we went with the baby led weaning approach to feeding (more on how we started feeding her here). Really the only thing that’s changed is the size of pieces she eats.
For this week of meals, I made the quinoa and brown rice ahead of time on a Monday, made the Green Toddler Muffins on Sunday, and already had a batch of the Broccoli Quinoa Patties in the freezer from a previous week. Any time I cook a veggie (like steamed broccoli or sweet potatoes), I make extra and keep it in the fridge for future meals. I use organic, low sodium canned beans and legumes, which I alternate so she’s not stuck eating the same type of bean all week. And I always have healthy whole grain or nut crackers, organic “dips” and a variety of fruit on hand for snacks and to round out meals.
Most of these meals don’t require a recipe — they’re just thrown together quickly and easily from components that I’ve already prepared (like whole grains) and foods I have on hand. I never spend more than 20 minutes cooking, and for most meals, it’s more like 5.
I always add a healthy fat (olive or coconut oil or grass-fed butter) and some seasoning to M’s lunches and dinners (Gomasio, Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, Nutritional Yeast, or organic herbs are what we use most) to keep things flavorful. So for example, the “bowls” that she eats all the time are pretty much just a whole grain, protein, greens and/or veggies with some olive oil and seasoning. Easy peasy.
I’ve included recipes for the meals that are more a little more involved or have more ingredients.
A Week of Super Healthy, Yummy Toddler Meals
Right click the image to download • *Denotes leftovers
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