Most parents struggle at some point with their toddler or child’s eating habits. We worry they aren’t eating enough of a certain food group or vitamin, we worry they are eating too much of something, we worry they aren’t eating enough at all. And those worries change over time as our children do. I once had a baby who would stuff anything I put in front of her into her mouth, but now I have a toddler who is much more picky. So I worry. Add to that the fact that we are vegetarians and you can see where a mother might start to lose her mind.
Below is my list of ways to get more bang out of your child’s meals, so even if they don’t eat much it will pack a bigger nutritional wallop!
Ground flax & chia seeds– Adding ground flax or chia to foods is a great way to bump up your child’s fiber, protein, and Omega-3 intake. We are supposed to consume about four times as much Omega-6 as Omega-3 (4:1) but most North Americans have a 10:1 ratio! For any recipe where I would be mixing one of these in before cooking I would use flax (ie. baking) and if I am adding right before serving I’d likely use chia (ie. mashed potatoes, shakes etc.) A teaspoon goes a long way for either of these, though with baked goods I generally add up to 1/4 cup of flax.
Nutritional yeast– one tablespoon contains 100% of your daily intake of B-12, and if you’re a vegetarian you will love that fact! On top of the B-12 nutritional yeast is also high fiber, protein, folic acid, and helps maintain proper bacterial levels in the bowel. It can be added to any food that has cheese in it as it also has, what has been described as, a cheesy-nutty flavour. Vegans use it to replace the cheese flavour in recipes; however, if you’re just trying to add it to a toddler’s food, it’s probably best to mix a teaspoon into their cheese sauce or sprinkle over their pizza.
Kale Chips– yes, I did seriously say the word KALE in a post about feeding a toddler. I agree, this is not going to work for everyone, but kale chips are fabulous and if you add enough other flavour your child might get into these. Rip up some kale into bite-size pieces, toss in olive oil and spread the pieces out evenly on a baking sheet (none overlapping). Sprinkle with salt and nutritional yeast. Put in a 300 oven for 8-12 minutes. They dry out quickly so I would keep a close eye on them- if you see any browning take them out ASAP. They come out light and crispy. I make these every time I have kale that is starting to wilt.
Apple sauce**– I never buy apple sauce because home-made is so simple and is easily made more healthy. The easiest way to bump up the nutritional value is to keep the skins on. Once it’s all pureed you can’t even tell they’re there. I happen to have a child that does not like carrots so I add them to my apple sauce. Throw some chia into your home-made carrot apple sauce (skins left on) and you have a snack that has lots of vitamin A, beta carotene, fiber, protein and vitamin C.
Shakes**– shakes are an amazing way to create a delicious balanced snack. I use a range of items in my shakes: fresh or frozen fruits, chia, flax, maca powder (good for women’s health), greek yogurt, avocado, lemon juice, coconut oil, cucumber (very mild flavour that is easily masked by the fruit). The fruit covers a lot of flavours, so as long as you don’t get too heavy-handed with strange/strongly flavoured ingredients you can add many items that they wouldn’t normally eat.
Buy refillable pouches and go back to blended combos**– this is similar to the above 2 items. Basically those baby food combos that your child loved- make them again! My child loved blended edamame and apricots, maybe yours liked peas and peaches. Fruit is a great way to cover another food. The reason I suggest the refillable pouches is because little kids can start to get turned off by colour and the pouches keep them from seeing the green goop 😉 Reusable pouches are also the better choice environmentally.
** It may seem like you are not making much headway if you are always “hiding” vegetables or other healthy options with fruit etc., so I do reserve apple sauce, shakes and these kinds of blends for snack time. I still offer standard plain vegetables at meals.
Add something beneficial to all empty calorie foods– breads, crackers, and even a standard apple or banana can be a bit empty when it comes to calories and protein. I try to add something to all of these empty foods to bump up their value. My main “go tos” are cheese, humus, peanut butter, and pumpkin seed butter (good source of iron). Most kids are drawn to grains and fruits but on their own they don’t provide a lot of energy, so add a protein.
Juice Plus+– while I am reticent to recommend a specific vitamin supplement, I do genuinely love Juice Plus by Dr. Sears. It is a multivitamin that is directly made from fruits and vegetables. The description is basically juice powder. I add it to my child’s cereal, yogurt or shake. What I like about this is that the vitamins are not being separated/extracted from their original source and so I feel there is a greater chance of them being used by the body. It also seems like a more wholistic & natural approach over the regular children’s vitamins. If I get Juice Plus+ into my child daily then I at least feel like she has a good base to start her day. I like it so much that I take it too!
Chick peas– throw out the Cheerios and grab a can of chickpeas! Organic are preferred as they do not have the salt of the normal canned version. It is just as easy to take chick peas as an on-the-go snack as it is to take any of the toasted grain cereals. They are high in fiber, high in protein and don’t spike your blood sugar the way wheat based snacks do. Any legume is a good option; however, the chick pea has the most similar flavour to cereals, I find.
Nothing reduced fat, and limited processed foods– you want your child eating all whole foods with their whole calories. They are growing at an exponential rate and that takes a huge amount of vitamin, mineral, calorie and fat input. Both children and adults should be eating whole unprocessed foods in proper portion sizes. Use butter, but use it in moderation. Eat full fat yogurt, but eat one serving, not the tub. What you should be eating and how it should be eaten is a skill you should be passing on to your child. 100 calorie pouches of crappy processed cookies are ridiculous. That is 100 calories of chemical. Bake real cookies and show your child that they are meant to be eaten in moderation. We choose convenience over health in order to save time in the present, but convenience shortens your life not by minutes, but years.
(Homo milk is the only thing that your child should be having that I would not advise for an adult. Go with 2% for yourself.)
Take a look at my post on making the dinner table a demilitarized zone.