Food Even a Picky Toddler Will Love
If your toddler is going through a picky phase, don't shy away from hiding fruits and veggies in 'approved' foods
For weeks or months, she eats her scrambled eggs for breakfast or turkey wrap for dinner, and then – boom. Surprise, Mom and Dad! You find yourself in a standoff. Maybe you’ve tried bribing or rewards or begs and pleas. Sometimes it works. But as anyone with a toddler knows, sometimes you find yourself beating your head against the wall.
If you’ve browsed Pinterest for food for picky eaters or googled “dinner ideas for picky toddlers,” you’ve likely had some difficult mealtimes with your little ones. I’ve laughed at some of the ideas I’ve seen in cookbooks for picky eaters. Do you know a picky 3-year-old who would eat shepherd’s pie? Yeah, me neither.
As my children have gotten older, I’ve tried less and less to hide the nutrition in their food. At ages 7 and 8, I want them to know the tastes of broccoli and eggplant and sweet potatoes. I want them to discern for themselves whether they like it or not, and to know that even those vegetables they don’t love are worth a second taste simply for the health benefits they offer.
But when they were toddlers, I had no problem hiding beets in chocolate muffins or zucchini in their mac and cheese. If your picky toddler’s main objection is to fruits or vegetables and you’re concerned they’re missing out on that nutrition, don’t worry about the long-term ramifications of “hiding” them in oatmeal or spaghetti sauce or any other favorite foods they’re willing to eat. Sure, it’s ideal to present the foods to them and teach them how delicious healthy foods can be. But if they’re in a serious “no” phase, try to let some of your ideals go...for now. There’s plenty of time to reintroduce colorful vegetables and healthy grains.
Here are some ideas that have passed the test of discerning toddlers.
Add a little Parmesan cheese for great flavor.
Mashed Potatoes with Carrots
- 1 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the potatoes and carrots into a pot of lightly salted water. Bring to a boil, and cook for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Drain and then mash together with the butter, milk, salt and pepper until smooth.
Use an ice cream scoop for a perfect scoop.
A friend told me this recipe from Weelicious was a hit with her toddler son. If your kids are in a phase where they can’t handle the texture of the vegetables, simply puree them. It will give you more of a soup than a chili, but will still taste good. Top with cheese, unless your toddler is currently objecting to cheese.
Turkey Veggie Chili
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 15-ounce cans white beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons cumin
Heat the oil in a large pot, and saute the onion, celery and bell pepper for 2 minutes.
Add the garlic and turkey, and saute for 4 minutes or until turkey is cooked through and broken into tiny pieces.
Add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
To make ahead: Allow to cool, store in appropriate containers or ziploc bags, label and freeze up to 4 months. When ready, defrost in fridge for 24 hours or place in pot and bring to heat over low-medium heat.
Maybe it’s not fruits and veggies, but protein you’re having trouble getting your toddler to eat. These little protein bombs are great to start the day, as a snack or tucked into a toddler’s lunchbox for daycare.
Cottage Cheese Muffins
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1/4 cup cornmeal
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Melt butter, and set aside to cool slightly. Combine next four ingredients in large mixing bowl. Stir in butter.
Stir dry ingredients together in a small bowl, then add to cheese/egg mixture. Stir just until combined (the batter will be thick). Distribute evenly between muffin cups.
Bake until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the muffins sit in the pan for about 3 minutes before releasing. These taste best served warm.
Most toddlers will approve of these little lasagna cups from the “picky eaters” chapter of the book “What’s for Supper?”
Lasagna Pizza Cups
Makes 10 cups
- 1/2 pound lean ground beef
- 1/2 small onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 of a 15-ounce jar pizza sauce, divided
- 1 (7.5-ounce) can refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook ground beef, onion and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until meat crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain well. Return meat mixture to skillet, then stir in 1 cup pizza sauce. Remove from heat.
Press biscuits on bottom and up sides of lightly greased muffin cups. Spoon about 1 rounded tablespoonful meat mixture into each biscuit cup. Top with ricotta cheese (about 1 heaping teaspoonful each). Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 375 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden Remove from oven, and gently run a knife around outer edge of cups to loosen from sides of pan.
Microwave remaining pizza sauce, and serve warm alongside pizza cups.
These cookies are packed with oats, raisins and whole-wheat flour. Selling point to toddlers? Cookies!
Whole-Wheat Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Makes 15 cookies
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
- 1/2 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter with the sugars. Beat in the egg, and add vanilla.
Sift together flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add to butter mixture. Stir in oats and raisins.
Place tablespoon-size balls of dough on cookie sheets. Flatten slightly. Bake 15 minutes or until edges are done but centers are still soft.
Looking for some toddler-approved snacks? Here are a few ideas that may get your little ones out of their rut.
- Deli-sliced cheese rolled around apple slices
- Hummus on Wheat Thins or Nut Thins
- Cold whole-wheat penne pasta
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Peanut butter and banana shake
- Roasted carrots
- Turkey bacon
- Snack mix of pretzels, cheerios and chopped dried fruit