OFFERING YOUR CHILD THEIR FIRST TASTES OF NEW FOOD CAN BE EXCITING, BUT IT IS ALSO A TIME FRAUGHT WITH STRESS AND UNCERTAINTY FOR MANY NEW PARENTS.
If you’ve been out and bought the cook books, the baby bibs, and a whole host of colourful utensils but you still don’t feel ready to wean then don’t worry: we’re here to help! Here are our top tips for making healthy meals for babies and toddlers that are fun and easy to eat:
Eat The Same Foods
You don’t need to prepare special, separate dishes for your baby or toddler. Give them the same healthy and nutritious meals that you enjoy. If you are making a roast dinner, for example, then you could blend all of the ingredients to make a delicious puree for your baby whilst an older toddler could be offered cubes of vegetables, meat and potatoes to feed themselves. Other meals that are great for sharing with the whole family include mild curry with rice and spaghetti bolognaise.
The key to sharing your meals with your small children is to avoid adding salt or sugar to your cooking: if you can’t live without salt on your food then simply add it afterwards.
Vary Their Vegetables
The first foods that most babies enjoy are spoonsful of pureed vegetables: apples and carrots are both popular choices for baby’s first taste. However, if you want to raise a child who has a varied palette and isn’t a fussy eater then it’s important to introduce as many new vegetable flavours as possible during those first few months. You should also incorporate some bitter tasting vegetables, as well as the sweeter ones, if you don’t want a child with a sweet tooth.
Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower are all accessible vegetables without any extra sweetness ideal for introducing at an early age. Don’t be alarmed if your child rejects these new flavours at first: research suggests that an infant needs to taste a new flavour seven times before they can really determine if they like it or not. Just keep offering new things and remember that food before one is just for fun! It doesn’t matter whether they eat it or not.
Stock Your Freezer
Modern parents have busy lives, and most of us know that it simply isn’t possible to cook healthy meals from scratch every day. For those days where mealtime gets away from you, and you don’t have the time to get to the supermarket for ingredients, ensure that you have some fast and easy to prepare ingredients in your freezer. Frozen peas can be mixed with microwaveable rice, for example, to make a fast risotto. Frozen soft fruits and berries are easy to blend with fruit juice to make a healthy smoothie.
Another great tip to help you make the most of your freezer is to batch cook your favourite healthy recipes, and simply reheat them on busy days. Sweetcorn muffins and wholewheat pizza are toddler-favourite homemade recipes that freeze particularly well. Ensuring your babies and toddlers eat a healthy, balanced diet doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to be hard work if you prepare in advance, and make the most of the tools (like your freezer) that you already have in your kitchen!
Make Mealtimes Fun
Dealing with a fussy toddler who makes mealtimes feel like hard work? Injecting some fun into proceedings might help to make things a little easier. Colourful plates, new cutlery and brightly coloured baby bibs can all make eating dinner feel like an adventure. Why not let your toddler choose their own? They may be more likely to sit at the table and try new things if they are excited to use the crockery and cutlery that they have chosen for themselves.
Children often take their emotional cues from their parents, so if you are approaching mealtimes feeling tense and stressed, your children are likely to pick this up. If you can approach the dinner table with a relaxed and carefree attitude, your children will be much more likely to try new things and enjoy the meal that you share with them.
Fat is Your Friend
When preparing foods for yourself it’s likely that you’ll avoid fatty options, but food that contain higher levels of healthy fat, such as salmon, avocado, cheese, and nut butters are actually essential for the development of your child’s body and mind. A lunchtime meal of cubed or pureed avocado on whole wheat toast is one of the easiest ways to incorporate healthy fats into your child’s diet. For a more substantial dinnertime dish, we love fun dishes like homemade mini salmon fishcakes or mac and cheese muffins.
Both of these dishes are easy to prepare, and incredibly appealing to small children because they can pick them up and eat them without any assistance from a grown up. Finger food meals such as these help your child to assert their independence, improve their hand eye coordination, and will also make mealtimes less stressful for you. Just make sure they’re wearing a bib: things are likely to get messy!
The family that eats together, stays together! You should try to eat your meal alongside your baby or toddler as often as possible. Working schedules and other aspects of our busy lives may make this difficult, but making time to share food together where you can is important. Toddlers learn to eat new foods by watching and copying their parents: they will look at what you’re eating and how you’re eating it.
If they’re still reluctant to enjoy new foods, you could also try placing all of the food in big dishes in the middle of the table. For the toddler that wants to assert their authority and their independence, this may leave them feeling more inclined to broaden their horizons and try new things (if only because they want to hold the big spoon and serve themselves like mum and dad!)
Follow Their Hunger Cues
Have you noticed that there is one mealtime where your child seems to want to eat everything in the house and another where they eat like a sparrow? This is very common, and something you should both be aware of and work with. If your child is hungrier at breakfast, for example, then give them a big breakfast. Following their hunger cues will make them much easier to feed, and you’ll also find you’re less concerned with how much lunch they eat if they had their fill at breakfast just a few hours earlier.
If your child does have a hungrier mealtime (this is often breakfast for many little ones) then it’s important to ensure it is healthy and nutritious. Why not try offering an egg and tomato omelette, whole wheat pancakes covered in fresh fruit or a delicious fresh smoothie? The opportunities are endless to also make their favourite meal their most healthy.
Involve Your Child In Food Prep
Obviously this tip won’t work for babies, but toddlers and older children will certainly benefit from getting in the kitchen with you. Even if you don’t let them cook themselves, seeing what you’re doing may help them to process what they are about to eat and deal with any food aversions. Give them little tastes as you are cooking, and involve them as much as possible.
Soft fruits and vegetables can safely be chopped or sliced with a plastic knife. Bowls can be stirred (spoons can be licked) and eggs, water, and other ingredients can safely be added by helpful little hands. In fact, you’ll be amazed by just how much your kids can help to do in the kitchen. And they will be much more inclined to eat foods, particularly new foods, that they have helped to prepare themselves.
For more culinary inspiration for the whole family, please pay a visit to our food & drink page.