Fantastic Finger Foods
A little creativity in food presentation can go a long way towards rendering nutritious meals palatable, even for picky toddlers!
Finger Food Ideas
Toddlers are a finicky bunch. They insist on wearing their purple pajamas to the supermarket and cry when you cut their sandwiches across, instead of on a diagonal. Not surprisingly, most toddlers are also finicky eaters. They turn up their noses at everything that isn’t peanut butter and jelly or macaroni and cheese, and they avoid vegetables like the plague.
Though you want your kids to eat healthy, don’t get into food wars with them, advises Joan Carter, a registered dietitian and instructor of pediatrics with the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “We know that it’s normal and natural for parents to be concerned about their child’s nutritional health, but it’s really up to the child to decide what and how much they’re going to eat,” she says.
Keep in mind that your children have much more sensitive taste buds than you do. Even if your child balks the first time you give her carrots or broccoli, keep trying. “New foods can take up to 20 times of exposure before a child will even try them,” Carter explains.
You can present nutritious foods in a way that will appeal to even the most finicky eater—if you use a little creativity.
Finger Foods Make Mealtimes Fun
Finger foods are just the right size for little mouths and tummies. They make it easy for children to feed themselves, and they can help make healthy foods more palatable. Here are a few ideas for delicious and nutritious toddler finger foods:
- A fresh fruit plate: Cut up an orange, slice a banana, chop an apple, and cut a few grapes into quarters. The colorful variety appeals to kids, and the fruits are loaded with vitamins your children need.
- Dip your fruits and veggies: If your child absolutely detests fruit and vegetables, try dipping apples into caramel dip or bananas into chocolate syrup. Cook baby carrots in butter and a little bit of brown sugar to sweeten them. The nutrition-packed fruits and vegetables will more than make up for the little bit of extra sugar your child consumes.
- Frozen fruit pops: Another way to make fruit more appealing is to freeze it. Cut strawberries, pineapple, and bananas into little pieces. Put the fruit into little paper cups and top with orange juice. Put in a Popsicle stick and freeze. You can serve these pops frozen or partially defrosted.
- Put on a happy face: Spread peanut butter or cheese on whole wheat bread, and then let your child use raisins, chocolate chips, or other small foods to make a smiley face. Food is always more fun to eat when kids make it themselves.
- No-brainer cereal snacks: All toddlers love Cheerios and other low-sugar cereals as a snack or “appetizer.” (Keeps them happy while you make lunch or dinner.)
- Wrap it up: Warm a tortilla in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds. Spread with peanut butter and a chopped banana. Roll it up into a wrap, or use a tortilla to make a quesadilla. Put two tablespoons of cheese on half of the tortilla. Sprinkle with one teaspoon of chopped, cooked broccoli or carrots. You can also add one tablespoon of chicken or ground beef, fold your tortilla in half and microwave for 30 seconds. Once the quesadilla has cooled, cut it into wedges.
- Ants on a log: The buggy concoction that we loved as kids is still popular today. Spread peanut butter or cream cheese on a piece of celery and top with raisins, or slice a banana and connect the slices with peanut butter, then add a cut grape for the head. Voila! You’ve made a caterpillar.
How Much Should Your Toddler Eat?
A good guide for determining portion size is one tablespoon of meat, vegetables, or fruit per year of life for children six years old and under. Of course, your child may eat slightly more or less than that depending upon his or her size and appetite.
Never make your child clean her plate. Very young children know how much they need to eat. Force-feeding them can turn them into over-eaters later in life.
Avoid Choking and Allergy Hazards
When preparing finger foods, follow these safety tips:
- Watch out for choking hazards, such as nuts, raw carrots, and hard candy. Cut grapes into quarters and hot dogs lengthwise into thin sticks. Cook carrots and other crunchy vegetables until they are soft. Cut apples and other hard fruits into tiny bite-sized pieces.
- When introducing new foods—especially foods like eggs, shellfish, and nuts (which tend to cause allergies)—wait 24 hours before feeding them to your child a second time. If your child has an allergic reaction, such as wheezing or a rash, call your pediatrician immediately.
The toddler years are a time in which children are beginning to express their individuality and independence. They are learning what they like and don’t like, especially with foods. If your child won’t eat something, don’t push. Your job is to put healthy food on your child’s plate—it’s her job to eat it. Offer her a variety of food she likes, be creative, and she’ll ultimately learn to make the right food choices for herself.
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