Healthy Meals for Toddlers

The Squid enjoys her Widget French Toast

The Squid enjoys her Widget French Toast

It’s too easy as parents to get in the habit of serving our toddlers quick and easy foods, which are frequently lacking in nutritional value.  The most common vegetable eaten by toddlers is potatoes, which is resultant of their high french fry intake.

Why?  The obvious answer is that feeding tiny people is wicked inconvenient.  Unless working in a daycare center, or taking care of quintuplets (in which case you’re so busy and frazzled that you probably don’t want to cook anyhow), you’re putting effort into turning out extremely small servings, which are likely going to get picked apart and abandoned.  Toddlers are also fickle.  The food they love one day, they could loathe the next.

Thusly we find ourselves picking up frozen nuggets of this and that, and serving our kids meals based on convenience, instead of nutritional value.

So, how do we make sure that our kids can get the nutrition they need?  The toddler years are debatably the most important time for good nutrition.  Our kids are expending more energy than they ever have before, their brains are developing constantly, and their emotional crises are rarely alleviated for long.  How do we tempt that toddler palate enough to get our kids to stop going long enough to get the nutrients they need?

In all honesty, extended breastfeeding is the best answer.  No matter how picky an eater you have, or how hectic your schedule, nursing your toddler lets you know that they are still getting the necessary nutrients to develop a healthy brain, body and immune system.  Allowing your child to miss out on these benefits out of fear of societal judgement blows my mind.  The Wizard nursed in the evenings until he was two, and The Squid is still nursing several times a day. 

However, I don’t think this means I can get away with loading them up on junk the rest of the time.  It is a nice safety-net though.  But as far as actual meals go, we need to prepare things that we and our other family members are going to be interested in as well.  This not only ensures that our toddlers are going to receiving complex meals, it makes it so we’re not just preparing tiny frustrating meals and dirtying endless dishes for one very small and unappreciative person.  There are many things we can vary in order to be toddler-sized or toddler-appealing.

Secondly, things that can be given in small, convenient servings and offered repeatedly through the day.  Toddlers have very small stomachs, and smaller attention spans.  Sometimes when your child stops eating it may not be that they don’t like the food, it may be that they’re full or bored.  Let them get down and play for a couple hours, and then re-offer the foods as a snack.

Thirdly, they need to be easy to eat.  Another reason toddlers may not finish a meal is not because of frustration.  Foods that are too large, too tough, or difficult to handle, are in a toddler mind, which doesn’t understand the importance of a balanced diet, not worth the effort.

Foods that are convenient to make, easy to eat, and enjoyable for the rest of the family?  Sound like a tall order?  Not so much.  They might need to be somewhat different than the food the rest of the family eats, but easy to prepare at the same time, with similar tastes.

The best way to explain is to demonstrate, so here are some of my (and The Squids) favorite recipes.

Bitty Bruschetta

I thought of these when I encountered at the grocery store a bag of marked-down whole grain “party bread”.  Bruschetta is one of my favorites anyway, and these soft little slices of bread were perfect for making The Squid her own option.  They bake along with the rest of ours, and sometimes I just make a bunch of the small ones and join her in a snack.  They can refrigerate during the day, but don’t hold up as well overnight.  The bread gets mushy.

6 party bread slices

pesto, marinara or garlic sauce to taste  (you can be sneaky with your pesto and work in zucchini, spinach, or whatever nutritious vegetable your widget is not inclined to ingest).

desired toppings (olives, tomatoes, etc.  if any meat is used, make sure it’s pre-cooked.)

about 1/4 of a cup of medium-soft cheese (mozzarella works best, but I’ve also had success with colby jack.)

1. Place party breads on a baking sheet, or a plate if you’re going to be microwaving (not recommended).  2.  Spread pesto, or desired sauce on top, and then sprinkle with your toppings.  3.  Put a pinch of cheese on top, or to make it a little more fun, you can slice the cheese and use cookie-cutters to cut out shapes to decorate the brushetta with.  They hold up surprisingly well.  4.  Pop in the broiler on “low” until cheese is melted.

Macaroni and Cheese Bites

2 cups pre-prepared macaroni and cheese (from scratch or box both work fine, but if you do them from scratch Bertolli has come out with a new line of mini-pastas called piccolini.  They’re adorable.  For very, very small children, you can even use pasta stars.)

1/4 cup cooked veggies (broccoli, peas, carrots, etc.)

1/2 cup medium hard to medium soft cheese  (mozzarella is again, my winner here, but if your kid is a cheddar fan, that works fine too.)

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup butter

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 and butter a muffin or mini-muffin pan.  2.  Mix the vegetables into your macaroni and spoon into muffin pan.  3.  Top with cheese.  4.  Melt the remaining butter, and add to your bread crumbs.  5. Top your macaroni and cheese with bread crumbs and pop in the oven til it’s looking golden brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes.  These hold up alright in the fridge AND freezer, so after you put ALL the effort (ha) into making a batch, you’ll have several easy meals prepped and ready to go.

Widget French Toast

Just came up with this the other day, already a favorite.  Obviously, when I’m feeding the whole family, I just add in a couple of the party breads in with the regular bread, but when it’s just me and The Squid, I munch the widget bread too.  It’s an eye-baller, the measurments are slightly different every time, and I tend to add varying spices depending on the day.

10 party bread slices

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

natural sweetener (agave, honey, stevia or the like) to taste

teaspoon vanilla

cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg to taste

1.  pre-heat griddle or frying pan to about 325, or medium heat, lightly grease. 2.  mix egg, milk, sweetener, vanilla and spices in a small bowl.  3.  add party bread, about 4 at a time or so, make sure egg mixure coats both sides.  4.  fry for a couple minutes on either side until golden brown.

Vegetable Curry

Cooking a bit of apple in with the vegetables adds a slight sweetness and some extra vitamins.  Use a nice firm apple that won’t break down.

1/4 cup each of peeled and chopped potatoes, carrots, apple and zucchini

1 cup of vegetable or chicken stock

2 tablespoons mild curry power or garam masala

1. Bring the stock to a boil in a small saucepan.  2.  Add potatoes and carrots.  3.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.  4.  Add apples and continue simmer for about 5 more minutes.  5.  Add zucchini and simmer until all vegetables are tender, this will vary depending on how finely your vegetables are chopped, which should depend on how big of pieces your child can handle.  6.  You can either drain the remaining stock, or keep it and use it to make a light sauce.  …obviously, the sauce is messy, and you may want to serve it with bread or a sandwich to sop it up.  7.  Add curry powder and stir til everything is coated and mixed together well.  Cool, and serve!

Some of you may be thinking “I thought these were supposed to be healthy meals!  Look at all these fats and carbs!”

Well, yes.  An “Atkins” type diet would be very unhealthy for a child.  We ALL need fats and carbs, but especially children.  Carbohydrates are where we get our energy from and there are good and bad carbohydrates.  Carbs that take a while to break down can give us lasting energy and keep our blood sugar balanced, which is very important for a child.  Fat is necessary for both muscle and (!) brain development.  Again, it’s the kind of fat.  It’s not something to be gratuitous with, but olive oil and butter are both very positive sources of fats, and there’s many more, though it might require some more research on your part.

Alright, that was my first soap box.  Here’s my second one.

If you’re going to feed your children meat or animal biproducts (milk, eggs, cheese and butter having all been included in this post), you should know where they’re coming from.  The fact that animals are tortured for human convenience is disgusting, but even if you don’t care about that, the hormones that are pumped into these animals are ingested by your children.  This causes an early onset of puberty, as well as aggressive behavior and obesity.

Think about it.  The hormones that are given these animals to keep them producing eggs and milk at an unnatual rate, are obviously going to attempt to do the same to your children.  The hormones that are given to them to get them to grow and pack on weight (to make them more profitable to an industry powered by greed) are going to do the same thing to your children.

Also, it’s known that emotions that we experience are literally chemical interactions in the brain and body.  So, when animals live miserable, torturous lives, and then die in terror and suffering, these chemicals are FROZEN in their bodies.  And then, yes, ingested by our children.  There is enough stress in our kids lives without passing on the tension of a deceased bovine.  Seriously.

I’m aware that free-range and organic milk, meat and eggs are very expensive.  But the grocery store is not the only place to get food, and is really the last place we should be purchasing it.  Farmers Markets and www.craigslist.com are both resources to try and find farmers and a trip to the farm or Farmers Market to acquire these biproducts is an experience that your children should have.  Many kids don’t understand that their hamburger used to be alive, or that their grilled cheese or scrambled eggs came from an animal.  How are we supposed to teach our children to think freely and make their own life choices without informing them of the basic backstory required for moral thinking?

If there is no available farms or farmers markets, and you can’t afford to buy the free-range meat in stores, maybe it’s time to start seriously considering a vegan lifestyle, or at least cutting way back in your intake of hormonally and chemically polluted food.

Okay.  So, some recipes and a rant.  I’ll get back off my soapbox now.

-Domestic Anarchist

Walking with Children

now that the weather is beginning to warm up a bit, we’ve started making a regular habit of walking with the kids.  The Squid and I often go for walks during the day, with her either in her sling or mei tai, either napping or observing.  she loves being outside.

The Wizard, on the other hand, is becoming less interested in just walking for the sake of walking, and now for him it’s all about exploring and challenging himself.  any hills or bolders we encounter he must conquer before we can move on.  and he always looks for the most complicated way to do so.

this is doing more than just getting out of the house and getting exercise.  as humans in our culture, we’ve become so accustomed to being in houses, places we seldom leave except for set activities, such as shopping or soccer games, and then we travel in a car.  we’re disconnected from the reality of the world.  we don’t think of it as a huge interconnected organism, we think of it as a number of places, conveniently attached together by roads.

getting out in the wild, exploring the world around us, gives children a sense of not just the earth, but themselves and their place in it.  that place should be a connected, living space.  a space where they’re aware that while we’re part of a much bigger picture, we contribute to it.  we’re part of it.  finding frogs and climbing trees and splashing our way through rivers and creeks, picking up contributions from beavers, we find ourselves reconnecting to the truth of what we are and what’s around us.  in lands that have no ownership, we have the same right to be there as every bird, deer or bug that crosses our path.  we are all equal and we all belong.  our heads lift, our breath becomes deeper.  when at last our bodies begin to tire and we push through, we learn of our own strength, the hidden strength within us and the power we can draw from the universe around us.

Cloth Diaper Revolution!

The Squid sportin' a Flip cover and Econobum prefold.

The Squid sportin' a Flip cover and Econobum prefold.

last thursday, I got my May/June issue of Mothering.  as always, it had some awesome articles, and really great encouragement for alternative parenting.  but what I was most excited about was the article about cloth diapering.  now, we’ve been toeing around with cloth diapering since before The Squid was born.  the first couple months of her life, we weren’t able to do much, as we had just moved and didn’t yet have a washer and dryer.  once we did, we started switching back and forth from the few fitted cloth diapers we had, and a few Gdiapers, which we’d gotten at our baby shower, as well as the occasional disposable.

now, it’s been primarily, “well, we still have Gdiapers left…” and “oh, we can’t really afford to get a bunch of cloth diapers right now…” but after reading the Mothering article, which made a few points about Gdiapers that I hadn’t known about (A. they still contain SAPs, which are toxic, petroleum based, and one of my issues with disposables in the first place, and B. while they claim “compostable” they shouldn’t be used on vegetable beds, due to the SAPs, which never completely break down.  however, they are making cloth inserts now, good for them, check ’em out at www.gdiaper.com), so, I ran to the compost bucket, pulled out the inserts, which were by then covered in coffee grounds and veggie scraps, and threw them in the trash.  then I sat down and had a talk with The Husband, about our diapering options.  which went fairly well, til I mentioned ‘carcinogens’ which he’s been teasing me about since the first few months we were together, when I spoke of them so frequently.  every time he asked me “why don’t you use…” the answer was usually “carcinogens!”, now he breaks into song, listing off various things and following them with “carcinogens!”, as in: “deoderant, carcinogens!  sunscreen, carcinogens!  diapers, carcinogens!  william shatner, carcinogens!”

eventually, though, we agreed it was time to switch over, and I went to do some research and try to track down some semi-affordable cloth diapers online.  all we’d encountered up til that point was fitted cloth diapers, which are wicked expensive, and the random store-bought prefolds pinned together and covered with plastic pants, which wasn’t really the route we wanted to go either.  so, during my internet search, I discovered a diaper store in Olympia!  Simple Cloth.

my friend Danielle had mentioned it to me before, but we had no money to spare at the time, and so I promptly forgot.  this time, however, I was going to Olympia with my mom the following day, and so we stopped by.  we had a limited time frame, since the Wizard gets home from school at about 3:30, and we were at the store at about 2:20, and it’s more than a half-hour drive away.

Store Review: Simple Cloth gets 5 out of 5 for Badassedness!

in the short amount of time I had there, they were incredible.  the woman who helped me make my selections was thorough, friendly and demonstrated everything to make sure I would know exactly what I was doing.  also, now that I know they’re there, I’ll be in more frequently, because they offer, not just a huge selection of diapers, baby carriers and cool natural toys, but also nursing areas, changing areas and a play area, which are available for use whether or not you’re doing diaper shopping that day.  how cool are they?  they also have an online store, so even if you’re nowhere near Olympia, WA, you can experience their awesomeness for yourself!

Diaper Review: Econobum gets 4 out of 5 for badassedness!

and a huge vote of badassedness to Bumgenius, who started their new line of diapers, Econobum!  they’re prefolds and covers, made with the bare-minimums, not trying to be fancy or shmancy, with plain white adjustable covers and prefolds that fold two ways to guarantee they grow with your kid.  and, you can buy a diaper and cover together for just $10, or a box with a dozen diapers and 3 covers for $50.  I was a little nervous about going the prefold route, especially after she warned me that the Econobums, aren’t quite as easy to use as some of the others (most of the other covers have pockets on either side to hold the prefolds in, while the Econobum covers just have elastic), but I haven’t had any kind of issue with them, or with putting them together.  obviously they’re not as easy as the fitted diapers, but the covers fit just fine over the fitted diapers as well, which is great.  I did get two Flip diaper covers as well, which work with the Econobum prefolds and our fitted diapers, and they do have the flaps, so they’re a little easier to use, and still have the adjustable snaps.  …they’re also wicked cute.

all together, I got the Econobum pack, 2 Flip covers and a little hemp pad to go over the diaper at night to increase absorbancy.  which came out to almost $90.  it sounds like a lot, until you think about the fact that we could probably get by without having to buy diapers again.  (that’s a lot of laundry though, so I’m thinking I’ll probably get another Econobum pack when we have some extra money.)

now to commence the rant.  most kids go through about 6-7 diapers a day (roughly evened out.  more when teenie, less when a bit bigger), until they’re at least two and a half (The Wizard decided he was thoroughly potty-educated on his 3rd birthday, and never looked back).  so, that’s… 2,520 diapers a year, for 2-3 years, which is between 5,040 and 7,560 diapers.  holy shit.  so, disposable diapers are about 25 cents apiece.  that works out at… $630 a year?  and up to $1,890 before your kid is going to be using the toilet regularly.  (unless you opt for Elimination Communication, which sounds brilliant and I’m going to try to implement part-time.  upcoming blog, probably.  for now check out www.diaperfreebaby.com)  all of a sudden throwing down $100 for cloth diapers doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  a family with just one child in disposable diapers throws down over $50 a month anyway.

plus, not only are you paying money for these things, these toxic, plastic things that you’re strapping on to your childs most vulnerable places, each and every one of those 7,560 diapers ends up in a landfill.  a baby in disposable (what a stupid word.  we don’t “dispose” of anything.  we just bury this toxic SHIT in our already overloaded earth, and then try not to think about it.) diapers has an ENORMOUS carbon footprint.  diapers are petroleum based, made with 7 billion gallons of oil each year.

they’re a non-renewable resource, that we’re taking from the earth, and the closest anyone can figure to how long it’s going to take these things to actually break down is HUNDREDS of years.   the children who’re wearing these diapers aren’t going to last as long as they do.  why the HELL are we making a “disposable” product with a longer lifespan than it’s consumer?  just for the purpose of catching shit?!  god.  check out the video at www.gdiapers.com to see just how well disposable diapers break down.

we live in a disposable culture.  there is so much we throw away.  if we want to be revolutionaries, if we want to dream of a future, any future at all, we need to man up and stop throwing stuff away simply for our own convenience.  the biggest reasons that people give for not using cloth diapers are: “it’s gross.” and “it’s too much work.”

come on, people.  this is our kids we’re talking about, and our planet.  honestly, it’s NOT that big of a deal.  it’s not that gross and it’s not that much extra work.  diapers are small.  throwing them in with the laundry you’re already washing is not that terrible of a hassle.  what’s REALLY gross is letting our non-biodegradable shit-catchers pile up for hundreds of years.  once you throw a disposable diaper in the garbage, you can’t take it back again.

ever.

-Domestic Anarchist