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 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

holidays = consumerism? or, how to track down thanksgiving dinner without caving to “the man”.

holidays in this culture, it seems, are all based on some form of consumerism.  when I first moved out on my own, I was strongly of the opinion that I was no longer going to celebrate holidays.  thinking that all they were was a chance for big businesses to cash in on the emotions and programming of the masses.

and then The Wizard came along.  who was I to deprive my son of holiday memories?

I was distraught and confused.  floundering in poverty and political ideals, I didn’t want to go out and throw down a fuckton of money on gifts and meals and decorations.  what to do?

Dr. Seuss to the rescue!  honestly, one of my favorite people of all time (busted out with the amazing quote of “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”).  unwilling to deprive my son of the awesomeness of The Grinch, we watched the original movie on cartoon network.  (the one based off the Seuss illustrations, not the one with Jim Carrey, who admittedly did a wicked rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”.)

to make a long story short, I am a sap.  when it comes down to it, I love holidays, conceptually.  I just needed a friendly reminder that “stuff” is not required to make a good holiday.  the answer of course, lies in my answer to almost every life struggle: D.I.Y.

I was nervous that I’d get sucked back in to the drama and commercialism, but I kept the idea of majick, and making a bright center in a cold and dark time.  we potted a little tree and brought it indoors, bought a box of hooks for 97 cents, and then had a blast turning random little items about the house into ornaments (my favorites: a condom {in wrapper, of course} and a little orange plastic army man), and discovered almost everyone who came over wanted to contribute to the tree.  that was when I realized that ghetto-rigged holidays have more power and memories to them than anything that we buy.  and I’ve tried to keep that feeling and spirit for each holiday which has followed.

halloween, we can make our costumes, and make our treats, like people have done for decades, christmas we can make presents and decorations… but what of thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving consumerism is of course, Food Consumerism.  the meal is the focus, and we stress about the cost, the time, and the effort.  …however, when you think about it, most traditional Thanksgiving foods, are tradition simply because they were accessible, cheaply, in November.

the basic spread:

Turkey: how to acquire a turkey without buying it from the grocery store?  easy as pie (HA!).  while turkey hunting isn’t that common anymore (and lends the mental image of guys with muskets and buckle-hats running through the woods), there are quite a few people who still raise them.  craigslist, around thankgsgiving, starts getting alot of posts from farmers who raise turkeys, offering them for sale or barter.  most people sell them pre-butched, plucked and cleaned, and if you offer to help with this lovely process, you can probably get a significant discount.  if you still can’t afford it, or if you can’t find farm-raised turkeys in your areas, don’t fret!  people give out turkeys like crazy around thanksgiving.  lots of employers give turkeys to their employees, and if yours doesn’t, odds are you know someone who does.  there are also lots of agencies that will give you a turkey if you qualify.  there’s also churches that hand out turkeys, often without prying into your private life.  ask around.

stuffing: okay, bread is THE EASIEST food to acquire, period.  grocery stores and bakeries both get rid of day-old bread.  you can check dumpsters if you want to go the punkrock route, and otherwise, just check or ask around to see where it gets donated to.  senior centers are a good resource here, my father-in-law is always bringing us free bread he got from the senior center.  leave it sitting out on a plate overnight to get good and stale, and thereyougo!  now all you need is some onions and celery.  …speaking of which:

veggies: you can check craigslist for local farmers, cruise your area, or talk to family members who garden.  posting something on an actual bulletin board “seeking local produce”, is also a pretty good idea, and brings people to you.  you can always offer to trade labor for food.  alot of the traditional thanksgiving veggies are roots (sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.), which are infamous for storing well.  green beans are one of the easiest foods to can ever.  in other good news, fruits and veggies are THE foods to dumpster dive.  they get thrown out well before they ever get moldy, and cutting off some brown spots never hurt anyone.  if you see an over-ripe banana, grab it, and mash it into your sweet potatoes, the consistencies are similar, and rather than making your sweet potatoes taste like banana, it’ll bring out the flavor of the sweet potatoes.

Apples: apple pie and stuffed apples are a staple.  fortunately, autumn apples are plentiful.  dumpsters are, again, a good resource, and there are lots of orchards that let you go and pick your own, sometimes for free, sometimes for a minimal fee.

Pumpkins: there’s a reason thanksgiving falls right after halloween, and many pumpkin farms grow pie pumpkins as well as carving pumpkins, and if you don’t have any left over from halloween decorations, post-halloween they usually come dirt-cheap anyway.

if you want further tips for dumpster diving, or just acquiring free food, is pretty much the place to go for advice, as well as just being an awesome website for anyone who wants to duck out of the economy and consumer culture, or just save some money.

-Domestic Anarchist