Q&A: Whole grain breakfasts and snacks for toddlers

We currently give our 15 mo. son oatmeal for breakfast, and I
usually mix it with unsweetened applesauce for a little bonus. He seems
to be getting bored with it, and I wondered what you do for breakfast
with a toddler? He has other things in addition (fruit, yogurt, and
sometimes a muffin if we have them), so I’m wanting to ask specifically
about whole grains.

Also, do you have any snack suggestions beyond the typical Cheerios? Thanks for your help!

My son isn’t quite at the breakfast stage yet, other than milkies, milkies and more milkies, but here are a few suggestions based on what I did with our daughter, and what I intend to feed our son as he gets older (I am waiting until he is one year old to begin him on any grains at all, and even then I will stick to the less allergenic grains first).

For starters, I will mention the fact that it’s best if all whole grains are soaked or sprouted first. This is such an easy thing to do. Before you go to bed, simply add your oatmeal (or whichever grain it is that you are using) and appropriate amount of water to the pot you will cook it in, along with a little bit of whey, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, lemon juice, or apple cider vinegar. This helps to pre-digest the grains (because of the enzymes in each of the above options), making them far easier for a little one to digest, and also breaks down the phytates in whole grains that inhibit (that is, prevent) the absorption of nutrients.

I remember reading not so long ago (sorry, I can’t remember what I was reading) that oatmeal packages actually used to include instruction to soak them overnight as part of the regular cooking directions. At dinner with my Nana on Sunday night, I asked her to confirm whether this was true, and she said that it was. This is not just for children or toddlers, by the way, but for adults too!

We definitely did the oatmeal thing, and to this day, our daughter is an oatmeal fanatic. But I noticed that she also grew tired of it just plain after a while, and I figured that I wouldn’t want to it eat plain (or nearly plain), so why should she? I chose to use it as an opportunity to fill her little tummy with other delicious and nutritious goodies.

Here are some of the additions I use in oatmeal:

  • blackstrap molasses (high in calcium and iron)
  • a little bit of raw milk or cream, or before we had raw milk I’d use goat’s milk or almond “milk”
  • a sprinkle of cinnamon
  • chopped dried fruit (again, high in iron)- her favorite is raisins, but she also enjoys dates, unsulphured apricots, and has even been cool about prunes (I was a little sneaky- I said they were dried plums, which is true).
  • fresh fruit- bananas, chopped apples or pears, any type of berries (fresh or frozen/thawed)
  • occasionally, I’ll use a bit of raw honey, just for a special treat (note: honey should not be given to infants under 1 year of age)
  • a bit of fresh ground flax seed

In addition to using oatmeal, some other wonderful variations are millet, spelt or kamut flakes, or even leftover brown rice! They all make a great, creamy breakfast cereal. My husband also enjoys something like Red River cereal or 7 Grain hot cereal mixes, which have a heartier and less creamy texture than oatmeal.

A new dish that we’ve been thoroughly enjoying lately is a variation of the Baked Oatmeal that Crystal posted a little while back. I wanted to adapt the recipe for overnight soaking, so this is how I do it:

1 cup oil (I often do this 1/2 butter and 1/2 oil- you can use coconut oil as well, instead of olive or canola)
1 ½ cups sugar (I use honey- about 1/2- 3/4 cup. Because we also add fruit, this seems to be enough sweetness for us)
4 eggs
6 cups oats
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon (a bit more cinnamon is good, too!)
2 cups milk (I substitute this with about half and even up to all yogurt, kefir or buttermilk if I have them, for better soaking results, although I have used milk with added whey or apple cider vinegar in a pinch)
Variations: Adding chopped apples or raisins (or both) before baking is a wonderful addition, almost like eating dessert for breakfast!

1) Prepare (oil) a 9×13 pan. Mix oats well with milk/yogurt mixture (or whatever substitutions you are using). Let soak in pan overnight. Since I usually use about half milk, I leave it to soak in the fridge (rather than just on the counter). This isn’t quite as good for the soaking process, but it’s much, much better than not soaking it at all.
2) Bake at 375° for 30-40 minutes until lightly browned.
3) We pour raw milk or cream, and add raisins or other fruit (if not added during baking) before eating.

My husband adores this recipe, as do I!

And a few quick snack ideas, before I run outside to enjoy the sunshine with my children…

  • If you really want to do a cold cereal (which I don’t prefer), some better options are kamut or millet puffs (available from health food stores), or rice cakes or crackers (unflavored and unsalted, made with brown rice)
  • Small pieces of peeled, baby friendly (ie. fairly soft) fruits and veggies- cucumbers, zucchini, mango, banana, etc.
  • For the older baby with some chewing ability- any dried fruit like the ones mentioned above (also, apple rings and banana chips are great!), nuts (not peanuts, but perhaps almonds or walnuts) and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)
  • homemade teething cookies (these are very simple to make- if you’re interested in my recipe, leave a comment letting me know and I’ll post it)
  • small pieces of bread with no crust

Those are some ideas that worked for us!

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  1. Baked oatmeal is our favorite. I usually make it on Saturday nights and put in the fridge so all I have to do on Sundays is pop it into the oven!!

  2. Stephanie,

    Thank you so much for responding to my question. I’m going to print this post for reference–very helpful ideas!

  3. Your variation of the baked oatmeal is similar to ours except we like to added a little freshly ground flax seeds to it. Actually I add flax seeds to almost all bread type recipes for the extra nutrients.
    We haven’t got a whole foods store anywhere near us, so I was wondering if you could recommend any good online sites that sell whole grains and other natural foods?

  4. I make my baked oatmeal similar to yours. It’s great with blueberries and cinnamon added in before baking.

  5. Hi Stephanie, thanks for posting this, it does look like a good recipe. I have to admit that I don’t have any toddlers of my own just yet, but I do fancy making it for myself. 🙂

    As for the cinnamon and the apple, you’d be surprised how many recipes these ingredients can be used in, but aren’t normally. For example, there is a lighter version of Spaghetti Bolognese where you use diced chicken or turkey instead of minced beef. With this you can add diced apple, cinnamon and sultanas, along with the usual ingredients such as chopped tomatoes (from a tin), and if you leave it in the pan long enough, it can taste outstanding. Also very healthy.

  6. There’s obviously a lot to know about this. I believe you made a few great points in Features as well. Thank you so much, a wonderful job!

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