The amazing world of food – taste, smell, and texture – is opening up as your toddler begins to explore all that their plate has to offer! As you leave pureed, jarred, and prepared baby foods behind, you may be wondering what are the best foods to offer your toddler. What are the best choices, and the choices that are easiest for you to prepare?
Some parents find it tempting to feed their children the traditional “kid-friendly” diet of processed meats and packaged food products. It’s a widespread misconception that toddlers are picky and won’t touch healthy foods. However, the key to prevent this is by introducing these healthy foods early and often.
Dr. Hassan Alzein with Alzein Pediatrics in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn, Illinois has the answer. His “Top 5” menu suggestions for toddlers are sure to be a hit with your child – and a hit with you for ease of cooking, serving, and cleaning up!
“Who doesn’t love avocado?”, says Dr. Alzein. “It’s great for both you and your toddler for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” Full of healthy fats for brain development, this smooth green fruit is a great addition to smoothies. You can also serve it sliced alongside cheese for a snack. Cut very small or mashed, you can even share an avocado toast breakfast with your toddler, including the scrambled eggs. BONUS – Avocado provides a great opportunity to explore with your child what makes a food a fruit, what textures your child likes best, and the color green!
Go bananas! You can make smoothies for your toddler using frozen berries and banana. Because you don’t want to add store-bought juice or sugar into any smoothies until your child is at least 3 years old, bananas give smoothies an attractive, healthy sweetness. Blend bananas with apple, mango, orange, and carrot or kale and freeze into a mold for a fun summer popsicle. Your toddler can snack on sliced bananas, or enjoy these as side dishes with meals. “When you pair bananas and other fruits with veggies, such as carrot sticks or kale, your toddler can start eating sweet and savory together – and what a palate you will be developing!”, says Dr. Alzein. BONUS – use that fruity snack as a colorful opportunity to talk about colors – greens, yellows, oranges, and more.
“It’s the perfect breakfast food,” says Dr. Alzein. “It’s so adaptable, so versatile, so delicious, and so good for your toddler’s health.” Grains such as oatmeal are a valuable source of fiber, which is very important to your toddler’s digestive health. Make oatmeal with either milk or water, depending upon your toddler’s needs. Add fruits like banana, apple, or mango for a burst of color, taste, and texture. Oatmeal provides a great base to discuss what fruit toppings your toddler likes best. CAUTION – even though oatmeal and brown sugar is a tasty pairing, avoid adding this type of sugar to your toddler’s breakfast.
4. Every. Single. Vegetable.
Think of it this way- any veggie you like, you can enjoy with your toddler. Leafy greens such as kale can be used in salads and stir-fry meals. When you cut hard vegetables like carrots small enough to avoid choking, why stop there? Cut carrots and sweet potatoes into fun shapes. Make broccoli into trees, cut green peppers into stars. You don’t have to be a vegetable artist to create fun shapes to create an enjoyable experience for your toddler. Dr. Alzein says, “Avoid casting vegetables in a negative light and let your toddler try all sorts of new vegetable tastes and discover what pleases their palate. Don’t disguise the taste of veggies with cheese toppings, aggressive seasoning, or excessive butter or oil. Cook vegetables until just tender enough to chew, leaving as much flavor as possible. Allow your toddler to taste the sublime sweetness, tangy acidity, and savoriness of vegetables. By encouraging your toddler to try new flavors, you may even find yourself enjoying vegetables in a whole new way.”
Eggs are a perfect protein, and what’s better than perfect for your toddler? Hard-boiled eggs, cut very small, are fun and colorful to eat. Cook scrambled eggs thoroughly, both whites and yolks, and then cut into small bites. Add different cheeses to scrambled eggs for different flavors and textures, but be sure there are no large chunks. Cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs, and a whole-wheat tortilla with mashed black or refried beans makes a high protein taste-sensation that you can throw together in minutes, This easy to prepare meal will quickly become one of your toddler’s favorite. Dr. Alzein says, “Don’t be afraid if your toddler falls in love with scrambled, poached, or hard-boiled eggs. Eating one egg a day provides Vitamin A, Vitamin D, protein, and amino acids, all important for the healthy development of your toddler’s bones, teeth, brain, heart, and more.”
Nourishing Your Toddler’s Health
As you can see from the list above, Dr. Alzein recommends staying away from highly processed, boxed foods. “Keep food selections as fresh as possible, or frozen if you need to. Avoiding getting your child hooked on high salt, high fat, and high sugar foods and drinks is very important to fight childhood obesity. It’s also vital to help adults stave off obesity and all the chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and more that come with it.”
Discovering new foods is exciting for your toddler. Let them make selections in the grocery store and see where their tastes (and yours) leads you. “Your toddler may be attracted to foods that have never been on your menu,” says Dr. Alzein. “It’s important to keep an open mind, explore these new foods, and expand your palate.”
The investment in good eating habits early creates a solid foundation for long-term health. When these nutritious foods are introduced early, they become a more permanent part of the diet. Your toddler will gain intuition and awareness to really feel how well their body reacts to healthy foods. By establishing these habits early, you’ll be setting your little one up for a lifetime of healthy and nutritious eating.