When talking with some friends last night, we were discussing our children's eating habits. They are first time moms who just want the best for their little one, and by baby number 3, I had learned a few tricks. So we agreed I would write out a meal plan for them, with ideas and cooking tips to get their munchkins to be as big of a pig as my daughter is. She has no fear, and would dive into a bowl of taco salad if you loosened your grip. But she also has two older brothers to keep up with. For an only child, they may not care as much about what or how they're eating, as long as they have mommy's attention while doing so. So this is my meager attempt to help these moms keep their sanity while battling meal time.
First, consider who you're feeding. Your baby neither needs nor wants fancy sushi. Simple, healthy meals can be easy and fun. The goal is to get baby all the nutrients he/she needs, while encouraging him/her to try new things. Feedings are a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the trip along the way.
The easiest way to plan meals for my kids is to make a list. I divide foods into categories, then pick one food from each column. How you combine them is only limited by your imagination. NO COOKING SKILLS REQUIRED. I use three basic things to cook: A skillet, a pot, or a microwave-safe bowl. You don't need a fancy baby food maker or food processor. So resist the late night infomercials and save some money! My list is as follows:
Whole Wheat Tortillas
Sauces and Toppings
I generally start with the grains list. Am I in the mood for pasta? Craving tacos? Need a meal fast? Let's say I have a hankering for stir-fry. I would pick my pasta. Then onto the meats. I prefer chicken stir-fry. Then I pick out fruits and veggies. I like peppers, carrots, peas, beans, and tomatoes. Then I choose my sauce or topping. Add in a little soy sauce. Maybe sprinkle some garlic powder. Top sprinkled almonds (not for baby, for mommy). And voila! You have an easy dish. Throw it all in the skillet and let it cook while you play peek-a-boo.
Some people can't build a meal on their own, and need clear-cut meal plans. That's fine. Here are some favorite baby/toddler meals at my house:
Tomato and Cheese Pasta
2 ounces of pasta (alphabet soup is fun)
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 large chopped tomato
1/4 cup cheese (like Parmesan or Cheddar)
Directions: Boil pasta, drain, set aside. Heat olive oil on low in sauce pan or skillet. Add tomatoes and cook until soft, about two minutes. Remove from heat, add in cheese and stir until well blended. Pour sauce over pasta and let cool. Add a side of peas or green beans and a glass of milk and your meal is done!
1-2 Eggs, beaten (use only yolks if baby can't have egg whites yet)
1 slice whole wheat bread
1/2 tsp canola oil
To make: Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Dip the bread in, coating all sides and absorbing all the egg. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat. Place bread in pan and fry both sides,takes about 4-5 minutes. Cut the bread into strips, add a cup of yogurt and some sliced apples. Tip: Plan your meals for the whole day, or at least a general idea. You can cut up one apple in the morning, and serve the slices for breakfast, lunch and snack. Nothing is wasted!
1/2 sliced apple
carrot sticks (if child has teeth)
shredded chicken or chicken strips
strips of toast or tortilla
Cut food into slices, about 4-5 inches long (so baby's chubby little fingers can get a good grip) Serve a few of each on a plate with 4-5 bowls of sauces. Yogurt, peanut butter, cream cheese, ranch, marinara, hummus- the possibilities are endless! Then just sit back and let them enjoy. Kids have fun dipping and trying new things, mommy has fun watching! Tip: Do this right before a bath, such as dinner or late snack. Kids will get messy!
Other finger food ideas are graham crackers, string cheese (Chloe loves this!), sliced peaches or avocados, bananas and soft fish (like salmon). Let kids enjoy making their own meals.
As for the shopping and having everything ready to go- that's easy! Here's your shopping list:
10 bags of frozen veggies/fruits. Any kind you like- just peas, peas-and-carrots, mixed veggies, broccoli, it's up to you.
10 lbs of meat. Either frozen chicken breast, ground turkey/beef, or a combination of both. Whatever your family likes best.
10 boxes of noodles or pasta. Rotini, ravioli, linguine, spaghetti, pin wheels, alphabet soup, egg white noodles, ramen...there's 100s of possibilities!
10 jars of sauce. Pesto, Alfredo, Marinara, cheese sauce, soy sauce, terryaki sauce- get a variety.
And most importantly- a box of Ziploc bags.
When I get home from the store, I give the kids a snack to keep them occupied while I get to work. I divide everything up. 1lb of meat per bag, 1-2 cups fruits/veggies per bag, 1/2 box of pasta per bag, and just leave the sauces in jars. Pasta can go back in the pantry, everything else in the freezer. Our deep freezer stays stocked so meals are just minutes away. For the fridge, a few packs of plain yogurt, some fresh fruits like apples and bananas, milk, eggs, and cheese. Now you always have a healthy snack on hand! Just pick 1-2 things your child likes to eat, and combine them in new ways.
Anything can be a pizza, taco, casserole, or soup. Pick up a box of Bisquick and you're never more than 20 minutes from a delicious casserole. There are more recipes on the box! We do easy chicken pot pie- mix the dough according to directions, add in chicken and bag of frozen veggies- bake. Easy as...pie! Same with soups. We keep cans of chicken stock or chicken broth, and soups are quick and easy. Running low on ingredients? Throw in everything you have left! You can't go wrong. Chicken, beef, veggies, whatever you like. Let simmer while you set the table, round up the baby and strap him in, and you're good to go!
Meal time shouldn't be stressful, it should be a time for family and conversation. Follow these tips for easy meals and watch for more recipes this week!