Foodie Baby: The Toddler Years.
I have had this post half-written for a week now, and for some reason it doesn’t seem to be finishing itself! As promised a long time ago, let’s talk about feeding toddlers! I originally thought I’d post some toddler/pre-school lunch ideas, but as I thought more about it, it made more sense to just give an overall picture of daily meals – the full picture!
I really wanted this post to be filled with pinteresty images and word bubbles and all the rest, but if I try to make that happen it will take me even longer. And honestly, that stuff annoys me. So here goes – a look at what my almost-three year old is eating (and not eating!) these days.
Our best meal of the day! Breakfast is by far the favorite time to eat in our house, no matter what is being served. For some reason, Cullen’s appetite is absolutely enormous in the morning (probably because he refused to eat dinner the night before, hmmmm…). I give him as much food as he asks for – the more the better!
We tend to be kind of boring and eat the same things over and over again. I try not to make the same breakfast four days in a row (despite Cullen’s urging), but we rotate through these general meals:
- Oatmeal (the favorite!) – rolled oats made with half water, half almond milk, and topped with raisins, sliced almonds, crushed walnuts, chia seeds, ground flax, and some sort of nut butter
- Eggs, toast (with coconut oil), and Field Roast veggie breakfast links
- Bagels (obsessed with the sprouted Silver Hills brand) and a bowl of fruit
- Yogurt (Straus organic Greek yogurt), fruit, and toast with nut butter
On the weekends, we usually go out to breakfast and treat ourselves to thinks like pancakes or the occasional donut. I really love breakfast too, and sitting at the table each morning with a hot cup of coffee and two happy kiddos is my absolute favorite time of day.
Where we excel at breakfast, we struggle at lunch. In the mornings we tend to be out and about, so I have to really plan depending on what we are doing. We have two types of lunch – packed on the go, or thrown together very quickly at home. First up, the packed lunch!
If I know we are doing something where we won’t be home until 12 or 12:30 and we’ll be cruising straight into nap time, I always try to have lunched packed up to take with us. We always pack lunch for our weekly playgroup, as well as a few days each week when Cullen has preschool.
Most lunches look like a variation of this:
We use the Boon Trunk Snack Box every single day – can’t say enough good things about it! It holds plenty of food, is really sturdy with no leaking, and Cullen loves that it looks like an elephant (with the lid on).
With the four compartments of the lunch box, I usually aim for one filling/protein component, one fruit, one vegetable, and one thing I know he will love no matter what (like the above dried apricots). Here is another lunch – sunbutter and banana sandwich, sliced carrots, a few slices of cheese, and grapes.
Nothing groundbreaking or fancy, which is exactly what my toddler wants. I try to always keep finger fruits and veggies on hand for quickly tossing into lunches and onto dinner plates. I do try to include a good variety, and some things that are seasonal and maybe unexpected (like fresh sliced figs, pomegranate seeds, roasted squash, etc.).
If we are at home for lunch, I usually serve some sort of leftovers, or dig into the pantry or freezer. Here are a few of my favorite prepared items for when we’re in a hurry or low on fresh produce…
I find that Cullen is much more willing to try things in soup than he would otherwise. If I put green beans, carrots, potatoes, and lentils on a plate he probably wouldn’t touch it. But he will eat almost an entire can of this soup!
Recently if Casey has been traveling or it’s just been a chaotic day and I don’t have dinner prepped in time for my early birds to eat, I’ve been supplementing meals from the freezer. Trader Joe’s has a few really good grain and protein medleys right now that both the boys are usually willing to eat.
This blend of beans and lentils is my personal favorite, and I often eat this for lunch too after the boys go down for naps.
Dinner is honestly not all that different from lunch. Depending on when Casey gets home from work, half of the week we all eat together, and the other half we tend to feed the boys earlier and then Casey and I eat after bedtime (usually a Blue Apron meal for us those nights).
Nights where we all eat together, here are some sample meals we might have:
- Glazed tempeh, roasted sweet potatoes, and baked kale (kids also get applesauce)
- Bean chili with homemade cornbread
- Jovial (einkorn) pasta with cherry tomatoes, roasted broccoli, and kalamata olives in an olive oil dressing
- Field roast sausages, roasted potatoes, and a saute of zucchini and mushrooms
- Salsa bowls or burritos – rice, onions, mushrooms, black beans, tomatoes, avocado, cheese, Greek yogurt, and salsa
And on nights when I throw together dinner for just the kids, it is similar to what I make for lunch. Dinner is the worst meal of the day, and both kids leave most of their food on their plates (or in Graham’s case, he throws it all on the floor or rubs it into his hair).
What is it about snacks? Cullen likes to tell me that he “doesn’t want to EAT, he wants a SNACK!” Okay, kid. When we are out on the go in the morning or in the stroller, snacks tend to be things like dried fruit bars, pretzels, fresh fruit (apples, grapes, and other things that travel well in a diaper bag), and trail mixes with nuts. Pretty predictable stuff.
The one thing I discovered this summer that wins for snack any day, any time is the beloved POPSICLE!
Cullen loves smoothies, and I realized pretty early into summer that I could just pour the same smoothie base into popsicle molds and freeze them into tasty treats. I bought two sets of popsicle molds – rocket ships (seen above) and ice cream cones – and we still use them daily even now that it’s fall. It is also his preferred method of recovery from “ouchies.”
He doesn’t seem to care what the flavor is as long as it’s cold and in a fun shape! Our standard smoothie/popsicle mix is – bananas, carrots, several handfuls of spinach, strawberries, figs, almond milk, and flax oil. It’s actually pretty delicious, and it’s a really easy way to get extra veggies and fats into the kids that otherwise would be a huge battle.
Graham hasn’t quite figured out the whole popsicle thing, but he loves smoothies, and will happily slurp down a whole cup.
A few weeks ago, I pulled our trusty juicer back onto the counter, and I’ve been challenging myself to make one big pitcher of juice for the family each morning. I know I’ve gotten lazy with my own eating as the pace of life has picked up and time just feels non-existent these days. So in an effort to get a better variety of veggies and nutrients into all of us, we’re adding a daily glass of juice to the menu.
Today’s juice pitcher was made from one pound of carrots, three small beets, one head of romaine lettuce, one large cucumber, one small granny smith apple, and small piece of fresh ginger. I try to keep the fruit to the bare minimum – just enough to sweeten the veggies enough to make them palatable (especially to a toddler). We get plenty of fruit throughout the day, so no need for extra fruit juice.
Cullen thinks it’s super cool to get a straw in his cup on juice days!
And last but not least…
A million years ago, I wrote a whole post on choosing a milk for Cullen as we transitioned away from breastfeeding. After he turned one, we started giving him hemp milk (as an alternative to cows’ milk), and he drank that for around a year. Somewhere around his second birthday, we decided to switch to almond milk for several reasons.
First and foremost, the hemp milk was really expensive! Also, usually doctors who recommend cows’ milk suggest switching from whole milk to 2% milk around age 2 – as the critical fat needs of a developing toddler change as they get older. While almond milk didn’t have as much fat and protein as we were looking for at age one, we felt it was sufficient by age two – especially as his appetite and whole foods have increased.
Now that Graham is one (WHAT? – that update coming up next!), we’ll be stocking up our pantry with hemp milk once again. And the good news there is that the hemp milk brand we use – Tempt – has changed their formula so that it no longer has carrageenan in it (which was the only other thing that sort of bothered me about it). We started giving him one small cup a day last week, but he’s not so sure about it yet…
Other than milk and homemade juice, the boys don’t really drink anything other than water. We don’t do juice boxes or anything like that, because honestly they don’t seem to really know those things exist, and I just see it as unnecessary added sugar.
So that’s that – how we’re feeding our kids these days. I would consider them both to be pretty picky eaters. Cullen would happily live on fresh berries and oatmeal all day if I’d let him, and Graham thinks throwing food is a lot more fun than eating it. But meal after meal, I take deep breaths, and I just keep on trying.
Gosh, this was fun to write. I feel like I haven’t written a post like this in ages, and I sure did miss it. I am sure I glossed over or left out a lot, as I know how to feed kids is a big topic and remains one of the great mysteries (and one I continue to try to solve myself). Please feel free to ask more questions or specifics in the comments, and I’ll check back!
For previous posts in the Foodie Baby series, check out: