Raising healthy eaters- Making mealtimes work with toddlers

Before you read on through this post, I just wanted to alert you to a couple of important items mentioned at the very bottom of this post, in bold and italics- please make sure that you don’t miss them! And now, on with the post…

As promised, after some great discussions on other aspects of feeding young children (see this post and also this one), here are some ideas from our house on the actual preparation and presentation of meals.

We keep breakfasts very simple and informal around our house, although we love to sit down at the table and eat a nicer breakfast together whenever possible. Since my husband often has to leave early, though, he often grabs something on the go (some toast or a smoothie in a coffee mug), leaving only me and the kids to eat. This is the one time of day when I make foods more specifically to my daughter’s taste, simply because it is the only time when I don’t mind making something different for her and I (although we often will eat the same thing).

Here are some examples of what I feed her for breakfast:

  • Oatmeal. Her favorite! I soak it the night before, and then I simply take 5 minutes to cook up a child-sized amount for her. When I’m thinking ahead, I make enough for 2-3 breakfasts, and store it in the fridge. Then I simply reheat it in a small pot or pan, and it’s ready in a snap. See this post for some ideas of what I put on her oatmeal, a baked variation and some other grain substitutions that I make. Changing it up slightly keeps her interested in this simple, nutritious and frugal meal.
  • Scrambled eggs. Usually with just a bit of salt or Spike, but sometimes with a little homemade ketchup.
  • Toast. She loves it with cheese, just like Mommy and Daddy, but she also really enjoys some organic peanut or almond butter. To make this more fun, we like to add raisins or sunflower seeds to make a face in the nut butter.
  • Homemade yogurt with nuts and seeds and/or different kinds of fruits. I give her some say in what she wants to add to it, as this makes her more eager to eat it. Common additions in our house are frozen blueberries or raspberries, or fresh sliced bananas, or peaches and nectarines in season. If I have homemade granola on hand I will give her some of that as well (I make a dehydrated sprouted buckwheat granola- I know, I know, I’m weird, but we like it!).
  • Smoothies. What child doesn’t love a good smoothie? (Now just because I said that, someone will comment and say "my child!") Our smoothies consist of yogurt (usually, but if I’m all out, I use nuts and seeds plus water for the base), frozen fruits (all kinds of berries, peaches, pineapple, and bananas as a cheap sweetener and filler), plus some honey or stevia to sweeten, water to thin it, and any supplements or superfoods (such as green powder or flax, etc.) that I want to add. This is a staple in our house! Some previous smoothie recipes I’ve posted are here and here.
  • Pancakes. I soak the flour overnight and have a couple of simple pancake recipes I like using, and we top them with fresh or thawed fruit and berries, plus either maple syrup, honey, sweetened homemade yogurt (I sweeten it myself with honey or stevia), and occasionally a bit of whipped cream for a treat. I think that Abbie almost consistently eats more pancakes than either my husband or I!

My main concern when preparing breakfasts for her is that she gets a variety of foods over the course of the week. I am fine with her eating the same thing 2-3 days in a row, as long as what she eats over the whle week balances out.

My other concern is that she is starting the day with something substantial, and it usually includes either an animal protein source, or a soaked, whole grain component (which also has protein, just not as much). When kids start the day with a solid breakfast, especially protein, they don’t get hungry as quickly, their blood sugar stays more stable and they are more able to concentrate and focus on school work or other tasks.

I’ve already posted about what I do for lunches, and you can read that post here. As I’ve stated before, for most meals I don’t cater to my daughter, but I just serve her whatever my husband and I are eating. This goes for dinner as well. You can see my meal plans here. My daughter is eating these foods right alongside of us. We have done this with her as soon as she could handle table food, and have progressively served her more and more of what we are eating (whereas when she was younger, we would pick and choose the portions of the meal most appropriate or simple for her to eat).

I do, however, keep in mind her eating ability (for example, she finds chewing red meat difficult and cannot handle large chunks of raw veggies) and her preferences. While I make a large salad for myself, I will give her a few smaller pieces of lettuce, a couple of the salad veggies and dressing on the side to allow her to dip into it. When we eat tacos, I make hers into a taco salad that she can eat out of a bowl, rather than trying to hold a taco together. When we’re eating something like a spicy curry with rice, I’ll give her more rice than curry, and add some yogurt to make hers more mild. I always cut her veggies and meat smaller if I think they’re a bit big for her to handle. We allow her to "drink" her soup from the bowl when it gets low. There are so many ways to make grown-up food work well for little ones!

Since I started thinking about this post, I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what makes these healthy foods work in our house, because overall, I don’t think there’s anything particularly fancy or cutesy or special about the foods I make or the way I present them.

Honestly, I think it just comes down to attitude and the tone that you set as you serve the food. Sure, she loves it when I let her make funny faces on her toast or put olives on her fingers or make a bunny shaped pancake. But I don’t usually do that kind of stuff- I’m simple, practical and pragmatic.

What I lack in creativity and kitchen pizazz, I make up for in enthusiasm about the foods that I serve. I serve healthy meals with the expectation that they will be well received, and put foods in front of her with an attitude that says she is blessed to get to eat such wonderful food, instead of a half-hearted "Ok honey, now please try to eat your veggies".

I want good, whole, nourishing food to be a delight to my children, and so it’s up to me to set the example of enjoying it as such. As I’ve mentioned before, we continually mention how thankful we are to God for these healthy foods that are so good for our bodies, and how delicious they are. And you know what? It’s contagious! Almost daily our daughter now tells me how her food is so healthy, or yummy, or she thanks me for the wonderful food (an example set by he Daddy).

As I prepare to end this series on Raising Healthy Eaters, I thought it would be fun to get all of you involved in two different ways. The first is that I would love to post a guest post or two from a more experienced mom with older children than me! If you’ve been integrating good nutrition and healthy eating practices into your family and are seeing the fruits of it in your healthy, older children, please email me at keeperofthehome @ canada.com (remove spaces) and let me know that you are interested in writing a guest post!

The second is this- my last topic is healthy snack ideas and recipes, and I would love to hear some of your ideas! Would you think of your favorite snack recipes (or just simple things your kids like to snack on- they don’t have to be full blown recipes at all), and post them next Tuesday? I will put up a Mr.Linky on Monday night so that everyone can join in and share their great ideas!

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  1. My oldest son (almost 5) has just in the last week been asking me if he can have a healthy snack. It is the same rotation of snacks that he usually has, but all those time of me saying they were healthy for him and his brother has finally stuck with him.

    And just today when we ran to the store for a quick trip (with just the oldest), he asked to get a healthy snack for his baby sister (8 months). I thought it was very sweet and let him pick something for her.

  2. You are doing such a fantastic job of training your daughter to eat properly. Congrats! This is such an important part of our family as weel and it is always so encouraging and inspirational to read what others are doing, although I must say you are doing a much better job than I. I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to make homeade yogurt and to soak my wheat, etc. I have tried in the past but it just always seems that there is never enough stretch in the budget to get started. We do eat all from scratch though. (And my eight requests curried lentils, broccoli, and brown rice for her birthday. I can brag about that, right?)

    Sorry for all the rambling. Again, thanks for all the wonderful posts.

  3. Tami, how sweet that you are seeing the fruits of your labor!

    Kate, sounds like you’re doing great yourself! I don’t know many kids who would choose that kind of a meal (sounds yummy- can I join you? 🙂

    As for the homemade yogurt, the reason I did it was actually to save money. It doesn’t cost me anything extra, not even to start up doing it. All you need are glass jars, a bit of yogurt, and milk. I try to buy my milk on discount, but even if I can’t, it’s still cheaper than buying yogurt. If you search my site for yogurt, you will find my post for how to do it!

  4. Stephanie,

    Thank you for your encouragement in this area. I appreciate you sharing your practical advice, as well as reminding us that attitude has a lot to do with positive eating!

  5. Hey Stephanie,
    Great idea, for the carnival! I will definitely try to join you next Tuesday with another soaked cracker recipe that seems to be very kid friendly! 🙂

  6. These posts are so helpful to me. We get stuck in our ruts and I love to know what others are eating!! I was wondering if anyone has any good ideas for what to take for your little ones when you go out. We have different things that come up at church for instance on Sat. an Easter egg hunt and they always fix hot dogs. Those nasty little red ones yuk. So anyways I try to take something for my 2 year old but I usually always end up with PB&J. BTW she is allergic to dairy.

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