Feeding Your Toddler: A Field Guide

Oh toddlers. They can be such a delight and such a drain, right? Thank goodness they’re cute.

There are so many aspects to infant and toddler care that prompts debate and discussion in the parenting world, and food/eating habits is definitely at the top of the list. 

I am not here to tell you how or what to feed your child. All I am here to do is to offer some advice and a little encouragement, because no matter how supportive your community is, no matter how meticulously you planned and prepared that meal for your little love, for the most part, your toddler is going to do what she wants with the food you put in front of her. 

So fear not. Maybe he refuses to eat veggies. Maybe she doesn’t like meat. It’s all going to be okay in the end. All you can do is try, try, try again, and hope that whatever annoying food-habit phase you’re in isn’t replaced with an even more annoying one. And please, utilize some of my ideas, if they fit your family’s needs and style. 

My daughter is far from perfect, but a picky eater she is not. (Although there are still some nights when the dinner she loved last time ends up all over the floor. She’s not yet two. It’s going to be alright.) 

What can you do besides serve a never-ending rotation of chicken nuggets? (And hey…if that’s all that works right now, this too shall pass…) 

Here are my thoughts.

On Fruits and Vegetables:

1.     Start early and serve what your family regularly eats. Get your baby used to the flavors of your dinner table from as early an age as possible, and be consistent. There is no point in getting stressed that she won’t touch eggplant, for example, if you yourself aren’t a big fan. 

2.     Hide veggies. Yes, hide them. Buy the pasta made with vegetables. Mix frozen chopped spinach into pasta sauce and meatballs. Mix “riced” broccoli and cauliflower into cooked rice, orzo, or even mashed potatoes. (You can buy this stuff frozen, too. It’s a lifesaver.) Do what you need to do. Get creative. 

3.     Spread a little butter on. A sliver of real butter (unless you have a dairy intolerance) makes the flavor of vegetables much more palatable for a new eater. 

4.     Serve “sweeter” vegetables. Cubed butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, mashed sweet peas. If your baby pushes the broccoli and green beans away time after time, then try serving a slightly less “bitter” tasting alternative. (For the record, broccoli and green beans aren’t bitter they just might be a jolt to a new eater, especially a breast-fed baby. Babies and toddlers are naturally more inclined towards “sweeter” because of the sugar that naturally occurs in breastmilk.)

5.     Serve fruit as a snack. Freshly cut fruit is definitely an “anytime food.” Buy strawberries, kiwis, bananas, apples, grapes, and pears. Wash and cut up into finger foods. Cut up banana can’t really be stored out of the peel for more than a day, but most sliced and cubed fruits will last for three to five days refrigerated.

6.     Mix frozen fruit into plain waffle and pancake mix.  

7.     Substitute unsweetened apple sauce for oil or butter in baked goods. You can cut the amount needed in half and use half applesauce, half butter or oil. 

8.     Take advantage of what is available for frozen vegetable products. Brynne loves the cauliflower tots! 

9.     Take advantage of what is available for dry goods. They make these awesome applesauce pouches with carrots or spinach mixed in. Brynne likes both flavors. 

10.  Serve vegetables steamed and slightly mashed, with just a little butter mixed in. Carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, even cauliflower all mash very well. 

On Meats/Proteins:

1.     There’s nothing wrong with serving chicken and fish nuggets. (Seriously!) But please, buy the best quality you can afford. If that’s your child’s main source of protein, try to make it a high-quality source. 

2.     Take advantage of beans. Even baked beans are a great source of protein and fiber for picky eaters. (And they’re sweet too!) 

3.     Take advantage of lentils. “Over-cook” them a little with chicken (or vegetable!) broth and serve mixed with orzo and a little butter. Yum! 

4.     Ground beef and other proteins can be a tricky texture for new eaters. Try chicken liver instead. Saute in a small pan with butter or oil and a pinch of salt until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side on medium heat. Cut up into small bite-sized pieces. 

5.     Remember that grains and legumes served together create a complete protein. So if your child won’t touch meat at all, or if you are vegetarian/vegan, than serve your child mashed beans and rice with a little butter or oil. 

Here are a few last things to keep in mind:

·      Do not give up after the first try (or five.)  It can take children up to ten times of trying something before they can really decide if they “like” it or not. So just because your toddler pushes it away doesn’t necessarily mean she won’t eat it the next time you serve it.

·      Be extremely mindful of food safety when cooking for and feeding your little one. Follow all the rules for internal cooking temperatures for meats. (See my post on Kitchen Organization for more on Food Safety here.) Cut/dice/mash what you serve so that your toddler can easily pick it up with her fingers. Steam hard vegetables, such as carrots, until her teeth are in and she can chew with ease. Never ever, ever serve your baby something if you aren’t sure that it’s “still good.”

·      Serve water with meals (once your baby reaches a year or older) and throughout the day. Water is necessary to keep your little one hydrated and doesn’t add any extra sugar or calories. 

·      Be careful when serving juice (even the kind with veggies mixed in.) There is often a ton of sugar added into juice drinks, and more often than not, a very tiny percentage of what you’re offering is actual fruit and vegetable juice.

·      Give yourself some grace, and give your babe an age-appropriate multivitamin if you’re really concerned. (Check with your child’s pediatrician first.) If you’re reading this list in the first place, you’ve got your priorities straight and everything will beokay

Some Ideas on Toddler Tableware:

I personally think that as your child grows, they naturally want to feel like they are becoming more and more independent. I think that having cups, utensils, and plates that are the right size for them not only leads to independent eating sooner, but I believe it encourages it. We use utensils when we eat in front of Brynne, and we always provide her with her own set at meals. Sometimes she uses them, sometimes she doesn’t, but I personally think that having the choice is key. 

There are SO MANY styles and brands of toddler tableware available, and I will not tell you what you should buy. But I will show you what we use, because I did some pretty heavy-duty research, and for the most part, I’m very happy with our choices. 

toddler_feeding

 

From top left, clockwise: 

Stainless Steel Kids Cups – We love these cups. They are perfect for on-the-go and at daycare, as they can get tossed and take a beating. Toss them in the dishwasher, you’re good to go. (Do not serve heated liquids in them.) 

Boon Snug Silicone Sippy Lids – Another absolute favorite. Not only were these the only way I could transition Brynne to a sippy cup, they make any regular-mouth cup a sippy cup! We use them on the stainless steel tumblers and on half pint jelly jars. 

Nuby Sure Grip Silicone Suction Bowl – We got this as a gift, and it works pretty well. I like to use it as back up if her ezpz mats are in the dishwasher.

ezpz Happy Bowl and Mini Mat – Love these. They are perfect for toddler meal time, although I won’t lie, from time to time they “uncling” from the table and get tossed. What I like best about them is they clean so easily. 

Munchkin Stainless Steel Snack Catcher – This thing is a great snack holder. It sees daily use at my house, perfect for cut up fruit or goldfish crackers. Plus it comes apart and cleans very easily. 

Re-Play Toddler Utensil Pair – We’ve just started using these utensil sets, and Brynne does a great job with them when she wants to use utensils. I like how easy they are to clean.

Bambu Baby’s Feeding Spoon – We used this as a feeding spoon when Brynne was a baby, but it still does see some action. It’s got a great grip for a toddler. (Wash by hand.) 

Skip Hop Baby Zoo Fork & Spoon Set (Marshall Monkey) -  This super cute set was Brynne’s first foray into utensils. They are perfect for first-time fork and spoon users, but keep in mind, they are metal and it will hurt if a toddler stabs themselves with the fork tines. 

Boon Snug Straw Silicone Lids – Brynne practices straw use with these. I like them almost as much as the sippy lids, for the same reasons. I just wish learning how to use a straw wasn’t quite so fun (messy.) 

Green Sprouts Learning Cup – Another learning cup, the perfect size for a toddler. Brynne does a great job with this cup when she wants to. Otherwise, it can get messy. (As are all learning-to-eat/drink tasks.) I love that it is silicone: easy to clean, impossible to break. 

Green Sprouts Glass Sip & Straw Cup – Brynne has been using this since she was about 8 months old. We use it as her water “bottle.” The mouthpiece can be swapped out to use as a straw or sippy. I love this cup. It does have quite a few pieces, but I like that it all comes apart and can be washed no problem. 

Jar Jackets Silicone Mason Jar Sleeves – We use these when travelling with milk, or when we give Brynne a glass jar to drink from. They make the toddler-glass situation a lot less precarious. 

Ball Jar Plastic Storage Caps – If you use Mason Jars for any type of food/drink storage, get yourself these. Game changer. We use them when we travel with milk. 

Munchkin 4 Piece Silicone Freezer and Storage Cups – I love these little cups. I portion out fruit, snacks, and yogurt in them. They can also be heated in a baby food warmer and frozen. And they clean so easily. Can’t be beat.

Skip Hop Bento Clix Mealtime Containers – While these aren’t a “favorite,” they are very convenient and easy to clean. They store a perfectly portioned meal for breakfast or lunch at day care. They work very well. 

 

So there you have it! Just a few ideas and suggestions to navigate the often murky-waters of toddler feeding. 

If you’re interested, I’ve also included a free printable with my tips and suggestions, so you can stick it on your fridge or keep it on hand when making your grocery list. 

 

But really, you’re doing great, your kid will eat, and everything is going to be fine. It already is. 

Talk soon! 

:) 

Cara