Toddlers are gourmets of picky eats and masters at food-poking. Don’t let this worry you too much though: after a year of rapid growth (where they normally triple their weight at birth), toddlers don’t gain weight as rapidly as they did in the first year. This means that they do not need as much food. What’s more, kids between the ages of 12 to 48 months are constantly on the move, rarely sitting still through any activity, let alone meal times!
So how do you keep your tot entertained at the dinner table? There are ways, most of which involve some effort on your part in food prep! Still, with these creative eating tips, your toddler can get the nutrition he needs without too much effort - just always be prepared for spills!
1. Make meal time a mini-smorgasbord. Get a compartmentalized dish, tray, or even an empty ice cube maker. Place a variety of colorful foods in each compartment, making sure you have food from every basic food group: grains, veggies, fruits, proteins, dairy. Try a variety of foods, such as apples, blueberries, Cheerios, sweet potato sticks, cheese cubes, hard-boiled egg, shredded corn and steamed broccoli florets. The attractive colors entice toddlers to graze through each food so that they’ll grab a morsel of healthy food each time!
2. Create food faces. You can make “food faces” with any type of food, not just pizza! Try some of these ideas:
Breakfast – Happy face pancakes: Make buttermilk pancakes. Use berries and bananas to make eyes and ears; use a bit of peanut butter or jam spread to draw the mouth. Make sure you top off this meal with a nice glass of milk!
Breakfast or Lunch – Eggs: Scramble an egg, and use vegetables and meat to make the face: Use tomatoes for ears, stir-fried mushrooms for the eyes, some ham strips for the mouth, and a bell pepper nose!
Snack or Lunch – Potato pancakes: Put grilled zucchini for the ears, some steamed sweet peas for the eyes, a baby carrot nose, and shred some cheese for the hair.
Lunch or Dinner – Pizza: This is easy! Take a plain pizza crust, spread on some chunky tomato sauce mixed with a broccoli or carrot puree, and use sausage slices and olive slices for the eyes, some fresh button mushroom for the nose, bell peppers for the mouth.
3. Have some happy dips. This is a great way to get your little tyke to snack on fruits and vegetables. In our house, I keep some homemade veggie peanut butter dip on standby at all times for snacking on fruits and crunch vegetables like carrot sticks and celery spears. Try some of these other dips with a twist:
Creamy Greek dip with veggies: In a food processor, blend a cup of garbanzos, half a cup of mayonnaise, a garlic clove, salt, ground pepper, half a teaspoon of onion powder, and the juice of half a lemon. This is great for dipping bell peppers (which are high in vitamin C) and carrots.
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Deconstructed Tacos with Guacamole: Avocadoes are among the super foods! Mash some avocadoes and season with a bit of salt, pepper and a dash of lime juice. Use it for dipping unsalted corn chips, and let your toddler top these off with some ground meat.
Snack – Veggie-peanut butter dip: On the stove, gently melt 1 cup each of natural peanut butter and honey, and stir in a cup of pureed veggies, such as cauliflower, sweet potato, carrot or broccoli. This makes a great spread on toasted bread, and is also great for dipping apples, bananas and grapes!
Snack – Cream cheese and berry dip: Take a cup of cream cheese, two tablespoons of honey and mix thoroughly. Strew some pureed berries on stop (blueberry or strawberry work very well!) and use it to dip wholewheat crackers and breadsticks.
A word on vegetable servings We’ve mentioned quite a bit of vegetables in this article. According to Dr. Sears, each serving of vegetables for a child should only be a tablespoon at each meal for each year of age. For example: a three year-old’s vegetable serving is three tablespoons of cooked or raw vegetables at least three times a day, or more, if you count snack times.
In order to ensure your toddler gets his daily recommended servings of vegetables, just remember this simple rule and offer the sufficient amount at each meal time using the recipes and tips mentioned in this article.