I recently attended a small seminar on “Nutrition & Tips For Picky Eaters” presented by a fellow mom who is a RD (Registered Dietician) at my daughter Ridha’s preschool. We asked all kinds of questions about how to get our toddlers eating healthier foods, how to cook for picky eaters, how to shop for foods, how to distinguish what is “organic”, etc. It was so educational that I wanted to share some of the tips with you.
How do you introduce nutritious food into a toddler’s diet?
One of the things the mom said really stuck with me. She mentioned how children, especially the younger ones, don’t really have any pre-conceived ideas about how a food is supposed to taste. We put those ideas into their heads once we introduce them to pizza for example. For a child who has never seen or tasted pizza, you could pretty much present anything to them and call it a pizza, and they’ll believe you.
So what is keeping us from introducing healthier versions of these foods? They won’t know the difference between a real cheese sauce in their mac n’ cheese and one that is made with well-seasoned, pureed cauliflower and a hint of cheese. Why not try chopping finely veggies, and hiding them away inside the pizza, underneath the cheese? I think it’s worth a try!
Hiding the Goods
My kids don’t like to eat vegetables. They don’t like the texture of them, doesn’t matter if I boiled, steamed, sautéed them. This mom showed me that I can try masking the texture and taste of a vegetable by changing the way I would normally cook it for my family. “Masking” vegetables/fruits and any other nutritious (mostly avoided by kids) food into a sauce or puree is a great option for toddlers.
So I took a chance on it, and tried something different with a food that my kids seldom touch: salmon. I basically cooked a pasta sauce like I normally would, but this time, I chopped up the broccoli very fine, sautéed it so it was super soft, and added the salmon, very finely shredded. Fish has a softer texture, so working it into the sauce was simple, and just made it way creamier. And guess what? My kids ate it, happily.
Blend them in
My kids love all the sugary, fruity, icy drinks you can think of. I think my daughter asks me for a smoothie everyday, and many times I oblige with Panera or Starbucks. But after hearing this mom talk about how we can incorporate fresh fruits about to go bad into smoothies, I thought why not? So I’ve begun to actually put our magic bullet to good use, and just blend different smoothies right in my kitchen. It doesn’t have to be stressful or extravagant. With toddlers, everything is trial and error. So if you didn’t get it the first time, try tweaking it a bit.
Most of the smoothies and juices you find outside are filled with added sugars and sweeteners. The good thing about making them at home is I can sweeten them with honey, agave or dates. Making sure that its healthy enough for my kids and sweet enough that they’ll enjoy it.
Read the Labels
Grocery shopping for your home has never been more challenging. Trendy labels, Organic this, non GMO that, and we get lost in a sea of labels filled with unrecognizable ingredients. The dietician made a great point, that we need to scan the ingredients, despite the “organic” label. Most of the better-tasting snacks and foods in the markets are filled with unsaturated fats, artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
I wish that I could be the type of mom who makes homemade granola bars and other nutritional treats for my kids to snack on. But I’d have to make a whole lot to keep my kids satisfied- they snack all day long. But what I can do is to try to find alternatives to the junk foods, and just stop bringing them home. I wouldn’t go crazy and banish Doritos from our home completely, but I think that trying to keep a balance is the key.
There were so many more things that we spoke about, but I just want to take a moment and highlight some more tips to Toddler healthy eating hacks.
- Getting your kids involved in food prep – my daughter loves to sit on the countertop and “help” me cook. She shows more interest in the foods if she’s had a hand in it.
- Don’t offer a quick alternative if your child refuses a food/meal. Toddlers are smart. If they whine/cry/refuse a meal, and they know they’ll be given an alternative they’re more likely to refuse. Teach them that what has been cooked for dinner is all they’re going to get.
- Make meal time pleasurable not stressful. Freaking out over dinner, hurrying your child to take bites, getting annoyed at them, raising your voice, etc. None of this makes for an enjoyable meal. Dinner time should be fun, something your child looks forward to, rather than dread.
- Eat with your child, be an example. It’s easy for us to tell our child to do something, but so much more effective if we show them. Eating healthy foods should be something we do together as a family. Children will see us eating, and hopefully try new foods.
- Balance is key. It’s okay to have fats once in a while. Occasional ice cream, juices, nutella, you name it. Don’t deprive your child in fear that they won’t grow if they eat a chocolate bar. It’s unrealistic. Try to maintain some sort of healthy balance, and leave room for treats.
Here’s a pretty good article about reading labels for foods carefully and misconceptions: 16 Most Misleading Food Labels
I would love to hear more tips and hacks for getting your toddlers to eat/try healthy foods. Please do share in the comments below 🙂