The mom behind the mega-popular blog A Couple Cooks dishes on the toddler feeding strategies that are working with her son... so far, at least.
When my husband Alex and I began writing our cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking, we were a family of two. Weeks before our manuscript was due, we got the biggest surprise of our lives: our son, Larson. We adopted Larson from birth, and he is the ending to a long story of searching for our family.
For years before Larson, we’d been running the food blog A Couple Cooks, all about the joy of cooking and eating healthy, vegetable-forward food--together as a couple. Suddenly, we had someone new to cook for. But instead of disrupting our life with food, we found that having a baby fit right into our routine of cooking and eating real food.
Now that Larson’s turned one and officially a toddler, we’ve been able to share our greatest love with him: food! And to our surprise, it’s been easier than we thought…so far, at least (fingers crossed!). Here are 10 pretty simple toddler-feeding strategies that are working in our house:
- Start the day with real food. Breakfast is one of the easiest meals of the day for feeding a toddler and can involve minimal “cooking”. Think low-sugar organic yogurt, whole grain bread with peanut butter, homemade oatmeal, fruit, and eggs.
- Make foods easy to eat. At age one, Larson loves food he can hold and feed himself: whole green beans (steamed from frozen), red pepper strips, roasted carrots, bananas cut into strips, pieces of whole grain bread, etc.
- Make dinners the whole family can enjoy. This is our biggest advice for feeding kids. Don’t cook for toddlers, cook for the entire family. The Smoky Lentil Stew (see below) from Pretty Simple Cooking is a huge hit in our family.
- Season to your taste, then show how much you love it. Right now, Larson is more interested in what’s on our plate than his. We always season his food to our tastes so it’s not bland “kid food”, and then taste and show him how much we love it. Once he sees us eating it and tries it, he can be hooked into sophisticated adult food.
- Make all-natural sweet treats. Our household is into naturally sweet, just-sweet-enough treats. A favorite lately is frozen yogurt dots, where we make just the filling of our all-natural strawberry yogurt pie and freeze it into small disks on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Once they’re frozen, we peel them off and keep them in a sealable container in the freezer; Larson loves one at the end of a meal.
- Smoothies are big faves. As long as the flavor is balanced and not too bitter or sweet, smoothies are a great way to load on the nutrients for kiddos.
- Eggs for the win. If all else fails and Larson is not into what we’re eating (which does happen), he loves scrambled eggs. We’ll whip them up if he’s not into a meal.
- Opt for homemade versions of kid foods. One of Larson’s favorite foods is fries (of course!). Instead of restaurant or frozen fries, we make homemade oven fries, hand cut potatoes with olive oil that are baked in a hot oven until crisp.
- When in doubt, add flair. Not only is this simplest tomato soup delicious and vegan (made creamy using cashews), it’s the perfect carrier for a bit of kid flair: star toasts! Fun-shaped foods can add excitement to any meal--and honestly, for adults too.
- Be patient & keep the faith. According to French Kids Eat Everything, it takes kids at least 7 times to accept a new flavor, often more. So instead of assuming Larson doesn’t like a type of food, we think of it more that Larson hasn’t tried it enough times. And we try to eat meals together as a family, but if it doesn’t work out on a given night, we try again tomorrow. Alex and I believe that if we continue to make real, delicious food for our toddler and eat it together, he’ll enjoy it in the long run. And then we don’t sweat the small stuff.
Smoky Red Lentil Stew
Serves 3 to 4
2 large carrots
1 medium yellow onion
2 stalks celery
3 medium garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons smoked paprika (pimentón), plus more for garnish
¼ teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1¼ cups red lentils
1 quart (4 cups) vegetable broth
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice (½ large lemon)
1 handful cilantro or Italian flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Plain Greek yogurt, for garnish (optional)
1. Peel and finely dice the carrots and onion, then finely dice the celery. Peel and mince the garlic.
2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery, and saute until the onion is translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Then stir in the balsamic vinegar, smoked paprika, cumin, cayenne, and lentils and stir for another minute. Add the broth, kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a low simmer, then cover halfway and gently simmer until the lentils are just soft but before they start to break apart, about 7 to 10 minutes. Watch closely and taste to assess doneness. The finished soup should be brothy with the lentils just soft; cooking past this point yields a very thick stew (which is just as delicious but less soup-like). Stir in the lemon juice.
4. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish with torn cilantro or parsley leaves, Greek yogurt, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.
Recipe excerpted from A Couple Cooks | Pretty Simple Cooking: 100 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes to Make You Fall in Love with Real Food by Sonja and Alex Overhiser. Copyright © 2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.