It drives me crazy that my child won’t eat a balanced diet. Let’s just start there. In theory I know that kids are often picky, heck I was, though that was mostly my sister’s fault. I copied everything Venise did and she remains to this day a particular eater. In practice, Henry’s picky eating aggravates me to no end. I take food really seriously, always have. I love eating it (as an adult I am a pretty adventurous eater), growing it and cooking it. I also hate waste. So watching my child refuse to eat the veggies I have lovingly prepared for him is incredibly frustrating for me.
When I first became a parent, feeding Henry was the most natural and beautiful process ever. As soon as he was born he latched perfectly and though it was a learning process for me and not easy at times, I breastfed him happily until he was a year old. Then we introduced his first solid foods at 6 months. He was enthusiastic about the new tastes from the start. As much as he loved nursing, he was equally enthusiastic about yogurt and bananas. In fact, there really was no process to our weaning. My supply had gone down and he was excited about food on his tray so it came easily and naturally, and was hard only for me emotionally to quit nursing. However, also around 1 year old, his tastes in solid foods began to change.
I think this is a combo of his incessant teething schedule and his newly found will. Lately he has a strong desire to make his own decisions. At the same time, he seemed to become a less adventurous taster overnight. He refused purees and pushed meats immediately off of his tray. Over the last 6 months I’ve tried multiple tactics to reintroduce foods and multiple philosophies about feeding. I’ve gone from super frustrated watching him push food off of his tray or into a dog’s waiting jaws to deciding that the frustration is just not worth it. The damages are not equal. Intellectually, I believe his pediatrician when she tells me that when he needs it, he will eat it. So, I’ve decided to let go and relax a bit more about food. My new philosophy is every bite counts. By this I mean that since toddlers go through very different phases of amounts and portions, and may have a limited menu of items they will accept, so it’s enough to make sure that the bites they do eat are serving as fuel for their growing bodies. By serving a variety of nutritious, whole foods that he likes and a few new ones every now and then, I can still ensure he maintains a healthy diet.
In general, I present about 3 different types of foods at each meal. At least one of these is a favorite food which acts as a kind of white flag and tends to make him comfortable and more likely to eat the others. He eats about every 4 hours and I try not to give snacks in between. He eats mostly dairy, carbs and fruit because that is what he likes. I serve meats regularly but if they’re rejected I don’t push it. (I want dinnertime to be a time for family and nourishment, not negotiations. And I never want to force my child to eat more than he is hungry for or create food issues with the habits we introduce.) Henry usually eats his veggies without ever realizing it. Ideally my kid would clap after happily and neatly consuming a plate full of broccoli and chicken. I wish he saw these foods in their fresh and normal form on his plate and dug in but he doesn’t. So, I hide them. I am a magician who makes veggies disappear in béchamel sauces, baked goods and egg scrambles. He is not super picky about texture and thankfully does not have sensory issues as many children do, so these subtle tricks have worked really well.
I’ve come to realize that there are as many ways to parent as there are children in this world, and each parent tends to have “their thing” with their kids that really grates at their patience. I know who I am- I look forward to mealtimes, read cookbooks cover to cover, completely geek out over heritage organic vegetable seeds, and think its fun to play “Chopped” and make a meal out of random fridge ingredients. Those things won’t change, so until I can convince my son that parsnips are the carrot’s underrated and sexier brother and that Thai take out is always a good idea, I’m happy to have found a way to eat together that is healthy and frustration free.
If you’re going through some of our same toddler eating struggles, or are just looking for new options to shake up the lunchbox routine, I hope you’ll enjoy some of our favorite fuel up recipes. They are also all pinned here to our Pinterest board, Henry’s Healthy Eats.
(all recipes found via Pinterest and linked to their sources)
No bake energy “cookies”- Henry eats these for breakfast or snack. I add bran and dried fruit to this recipe. You can use or omit chocolate chips or nuts as well. These keep well in the fridge for a week but it makes a lot so unless you have more than one child or plan to join in the eating, half the recipe (they’re a great afternoon slump snack for me when I get the 4 pm hangries)
Banana Bread- I always add more veggies! You can grate carrot, sweet potato, parsnip or zucchini by hand or in a food processor. I also sometimes add a pouch or jar of pureed veggies (use an organic version of the pre-made baby food veggies to save time!) Henry eats banana or zucchini breads like crazy so I usually wait until he has eaten a couple of other things first. He loves it and will fill up on it first if given the chance!
Toddler muffins- I love muffins for Henry’s breakfast because one batch can last us almost 2 weeks . I freeze the second half since they will not stay soft for more than a few days.
Healthy Wheat & Pumpkin Pancakes- Hank is a pancake monster. He does not discriminate between pancakes- pumpkin, apple cinnamon, or crepes. I can add a ton of veggies to the batter and he will munch them down just as heartily. Sometimes I will follow a recipe like this one or sometimes I will use a plain pancake recipe and just add pureed or grated veggies to the mix. Also, I think a lot of people forget that pumpkin and squash are totally best friends and can be substituted for one another easily. Since Venise and Farmer Ross grew a ton of spaghetti, acorn and butternut squash this year, Henry is getting his fill of beta carotene in delicious pancake form.
Less Sugar, more protein yogurt- This one isn’t really a recipe but is a trick I highly recommend. When Henry as younger, he ate plain whole milk yogurt with a little jam added in for sweetness. He gradually grew to refuse this after getting a taste for sweeter foods and now prefers flavored yogurts. Even if they’re organic and whole milk though, those things have a ton of added sugar. So, I’ve begun to mix 1/3- 1/2 a container of vanilla yogurt into 1/2 container of plain greek yogurt. This way he gets the sweet flavor he loves with less than half the sugar and gets way more protein in his breakfast.
Cheesy Zucchini rice- I use brown rice and add zucchini and carrot. This is so good I love eating it for lunch with Henry.
Veggie packed marinara- use this one or your favorite marinara sauce recipe, then add steamed carrots, kale, spinach, broccoli, or other veggies of your choice. You can puree the assembled sauce at the end for a really smooth texture or chop the coarse veggies very small before steaming them and adding them to the sauce once they are soft. Make a big batch and freeze small bags of this sauce to use on mini pizzas, fried polenta slices, or pasta.
Roasted root veggies– I realized Henry loves sweet potato fries one day at a restaurant when I had no idea what to order him. Now I buy bagged frozen sweet potato fries like these and I will add bagged frozen squash and carrot pieces (prep your own homegrown veggies or buy them pre-done) to the baking sheet as well. I spray the pan first with olive oil spray and lightly salt them when they’re done. The veggies look so similar that it encourages him to eat them all, not just the potatoes he enjoys most.
Substitutions I recommend for healthier baking- I sub in applesauce, 1 mashed banana, or an equal amount of greek yogurt in place of oil or butter in baked goods recipes for Henry. I also usually add about 1 cup of shredded veggies such as carrot, sweet potato, or zucchini if the recipe doesn’t already call for it. Keep in mind that these substitutions will alter texture and may change baking times. Henry does not seem to mind the differences though, so I substitute liberally!