Since I currently have three toddlers, I'm getting to be an expert in toddler meals. One of the undeniable realities of toddler eating is that they seem to pick--AT RANDOM--what they do or don't like for any given meal. Don't sweat the details. Just move on. If you're moderately concerned with nutrition and offering healthy food, they won't die of malnutrition and will most likely develop good eating habits. Remember--you are the best source of good eating habits; what you model will be what they learn.
My pediatrician once told me to attempt to balance a toddler's diet over the course of the week instead of every day. You will notice this attempt: depending upon availability, any given toddler's appetite, and amount of prep. time, the meals will fluctuate throughout the week. When I notice my toddlers haven't consumed many veggies in the past couple of days, I'll whip out the old faithfuls and let them consume several servings' worth at once. (A toddler's serving size is roughly 1 tablespoon per year of age--not much! Therefore, when a toddler wolfs down an entire baked sweet potato, he or she has just consumed 5 or 6 servings.)
We offer our toddlers the same dinner we eat unless it is something they aren't physically capable of chewing (or is very spicy). My youngest two toddlers have no molars yet, so we don't expect them to eat salad, other raw vegetables, nuts, and things like that. Otherwise, they generally get the same offerings the adults get. If they don't like it, too bad!
We also try to stay away from much refined sugar, try to avoid an overconsumption of hydrogenated oils/trans fats (but I haven't found a way to live entirely without crackers!), and try to eat lots of whole grains, lean meat, and fruits/vegetables. We certainly don't have perfect nutrition and often go with "what works," but I do try to offer healthy meals most of the time. Since I'm feeding three toddlers, "what works" gets pulled out a bit more often than it did when I was only feeding one toddler. But I try! For instance, our peanut butter and jelly is natural peanut butter and whole wheat bread.
All in all, here's a short list of tips for successful toddler feeding:
- Be creative
- Use up all those leftover tidbits (toddlers don't know what should or should not be eating for breakfast)
- Offer a variety (texture, cooking style, type of food, etc.)
- Be prepared (get it ready ahead of time if necessary)
- Eat with your toddler(s)
- Offer a combination of foods with "staying power" (proteins with carbs, complex carbs with simple carbs, etc.)
Hope you enjoy the series and it sparks some creative thinking on your part if you're feeding toddlers! I love new suggestions, so comment on a week's post and let me know your successes!