Want to Start Cooking Healthier? 10 Easy Ways to Make Baby (and Toddler) Food More Nutritious
With little bodies expanding in every direction, it’s been a goal of mine to feed our three little kids (and I do mean little—they’re 1, 2 and 4 years old) good, healthy and fresh food from the start. It’s not about making radical changes to the food you cook, sometimes just a few small updates make a big difference. Here are my best tips and tricks so far.
- Always opt for whole wheat. Babies DO come out of the womb craving sweets, but this is still a good time to instill a habit of healthy eating. Use whole wheat cereal as soon as your baby is ready for solids, then introduce new grains such as quinoa, millet, even whole oats—either ground up ahead of time or mashed after cooking. Toddlers can always eat whole wheat sandwich bread, pasta and tortillas.
- Add spinach to everything. Frozen or fresh, pop a handful of leaves in a microwave bowl with a teaspoon of water and steam for a minute or so. Puree, and add to anything—applesauce (for babies), scrambled eggs (for toddlers), any sauce, or whatever works at your place (for everyone).
- Choose organic produce. A no-brainer these days, the point is not that an organic carrot has more vitamin C, but rather that it’s been exposed to fewer chemicals along the way. THAT’S the health benefit. Grocery stores often offer frozen organic brands for much less, and CSAs are always a good deal, if you’re going to be cooking produce a good deal.
- Get ‘em hooked on fruit. If you want to avoid processed foods for as long as you can (this means you, Goldfish), fruit is your best ally in the fight. Surprisingly, your kids won’t actually like all fruit, and not all the time. But stick with it. Introduce what’s in season (peaches in the summer, oranges in the winter, and so on) and each juicy fruit will be more likely to taste great. (Or at least HAVE some taste.)
- Sprinkle on the goodness. I add chia seeds, wheat germ or flax seed to anything I can (from yogurt to cereal) whether the kids can see it or not. They know all three and actively ask for them often.
- Reduce the sugar in baked goods. One thing kids eat too much of today is sugar. This is especially true the older they get, and the more processed food they eat. Since mine are babies, toddlers and a preschooler, I’m trying to train these little taste buds to be satisfied at a lower setting and my main trick is simple: cut the sugar called for in every recipe. Muffins and quick breads at my place routinely receive 50-75 percent as much sugar as the original recipe called for.
- Cut the fat. And while you’re at it, you can easily replace half the oil in any recipe with applesauce. Mashed bananas can be a good substitute for half the butter.
- Add extras. In place of a quarter cup of flour, I always add wheat germ or oat bran (depending on what’s available in my pantry and whether I want the kids to see the good-for-you stuff lurking in the batter.)
- Double the veggies. Since babies and toddlers are notoriously picky and have ever-changing palettes, I like to give them two kinds of veggies at every meal—or at least every day. (Another important note: Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t steam organic broccoli for your baby at noon, then follow it up with roasted sweet potatoes you grew in your own back yard at dinner. Just keep offering them the good stuff as often as you can.) Or do this: Double the amount of vegetables called for in any dish. That carrot in meatloaf? Throw in two or three. Snow peas in stir-fry? (And yes, toddlers can certainly eat stir-fry.) Double up.
- Present the rainbow. Try to vary the kids’ meals throughout the day—or the week—so they’re seeing (and hopefully eating) food in every color. Cauliflower is white, peaches are orange (sort of), cheese can be either one. Spinach and kale are green at their best, but I never met a toddler who didn’t like cucumbers. They’re all green, they’re all progress.
In the end, these are all just little adjustments that I’ve made and I do believe are making a difference. We have not sworn off junk food, nor entire food groups or types by any means. We eat gluten, sugar, and the occasional Dorito, but these rascals are off to a good start.
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