photo by D Sharon Pruitt
This is part two in a series on Finger Food for little ones. Yesterday, we shared some ideas on what to serve for breakfast and snacks to toddlers who are new to feeding themselves. Today, I wanted to extend the idea into lunch and dinnertime ideas.
Several of you mentioned in the comments yesterday that your little ones eat what you eat at mealtime, and I have to agree this is the easiest way to approach meal preparation! I also have to confess that when my oldest was a new eater, she absolutely would not eat meat in any form. (She’s still a reluctant omnivore.) Sometimes patience and a good perspective on the big picture are helpful when approaching how much and what kind of food your new eater is eating. When our second child reached the finger food age, I was better about serving her what the rest of us are eating and not freaking out if she doesn’t eat much. She almost always makes up for it later in the day or throughout the week.
Having said that, sometimes what we are eating just isn’t great for the new eater – particularly those who only have a few teeth! And don’t we all love to hear what other families are eating for lunch? Lunch is the biggest culprit of food rut blues for me. How many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can one person eat?
Here are some thoughts on preparing meals for little eaters:
1) Realistic portions
Remember that toddlers don’t need a full serving, nor do they even need a half-sized serving in most cases. They have little tummies that fill up quickly! Start small and serve more if they are still hungry.
2) Accept the mess
Mealtimes are meant to be sensory. Adults appreciate the smell and taste and texture nuances that eating offers. Toddlers want to experience these sensations, too, but this oftentimes involves a mess! Prepare yourself for this mentally as well as practically by employing full-length bibs, keeping wet washcloths closeby, and protecting the flooring with a drop cloth, vinyl tablecloth, or even a shower curtain.
3) Make each bite count
Think about ways to combine foods to increase the chance of your toddler getting an (almost) equal amount of protein, starch, and fruits/vegetables in each bite.
We have enjoyed:
quesadillas – These are a fixture in our home for lunches and dinners. The girls love basic cheese quesadillas, but you can certainly power them up with proteins like chicken and beans. I often shred carrots on top of the cheese before I cook them to get some veggies in each bite. Did you know you can make sweet potato and black bean quesadillas? Yum! Quesadillas can be cut into thin slivers for younger toddlers. I have even diced them into bite-sized pieces to serve those who are lacking teeth.
grilled cheese sandwiches – This is another favorite lunch option for us. Grilled cheese offers another chance to get some veggies in – try adding diced tomatoes on the inside or stacking a few sliced tomatoes on top and securing with a toothpick (obviously not intended for younger toddlers).
peanut noodles – Each of my peanut-butter-loving children love these noodles! They are fun and messy and you can add as many different vegetables as you have on hand. When I make these for dinner, I make a double batch so that we’ll have some for lunch the next day. They are very tasty served cold!
pasta – The combination possibilities for pasta meals are vast! Whole wheat pasta spirals can be tossed with butter and diced zucchini. Throw some beans or sauteed tofu into a bowl of ravioli . Mix peas into your mac ‘n cheese. Variations on the pasta theme rarely disappoint.
put it on a pita (or a tortilla) – Sometimes a simple departure from the traditional is enough to entice a hesitant eater. Pita bread and tortillas can be used for roll-ups or pocket-type sandwiches filled with proteins and veggies. (Once again, just slice down to a manageable size for younger toddlers.)
Some of the resources I have found to be the most helpful for feeding toddlers are
Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron – Not just for making baby food! She includes many recipes for the toddler palette.
Toddler Cafe – Innovative and fun recipes coupled with gorgeous photography.
The discussion in the comments section has proven once again that the Simple Kids community is full of wisdom! What thoughts do you have to share on the Finger Foods season of childhood?