If you are a parent who feels relaxed and chill about the time you’ve got to prepare nourishing meals for your child, please raise your hand.
As my child toddles his way towards that 18-month milestone, I find meal planning to be really challenging. I thought I’d take a moment and share what our dinners are like, and provide a dose of nitty gritty reality to combat the hordes of sites and posts that feature meal plans and ideas I simply can’t keep up with.
Firstly, our lengthy list of obstacles: like many kids, Felix has food allergies. We need to avoid eggs and milk. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was too young to cook, so I don’t actually know how to prepare meat. To add to the fun, like many breastfed children, Felix is slightly iron-deficient, and I need to use supplements. Another big challenge is that I am the only one home during dinner. Any cooking I attempt is done with a little monkey hanging off of my legs. Felix sleeps poorly, thus I sleep poorly and lack the energy and enthusiasm to cook meals the way I used to before becoming a mom. The last obstacle I’ll go into is that Felix is still terrified of loud appliances. Using the blender or the mixer results in his whole body shaking as he cowers. I don’t know why, but I don’t have the heart to subject him to it!
Honestly, by 5:30pm I am just counting down to bedtime and I sometimes don’t even cook myself a dinner. I feel really strongly about Felix’s health, however. I want him to get enough vegetables, protein and iron. I want him to try different flavors. So I’m doing the best I can, and feeling glad that toddlers like repetition. Aside from obvious plate-fillers like fresh fruits and veg, tofu, pickles and bread products, here are some things I rely on regularly:
Frozen food is my friend. I use a lot of frozen food. I keep bags of frozen vegetables at the ready, and every night I choose which varieties to serve or add to a dish. Felix loves broccoli and cauliflower, I also keep bags of carrots and various blends. Because I’m vegetarian, I also keep some easy-to-prepare meat/fish options for Felix. I look for organic items with no antibiotics, and often will buy bags of pre-cooked grilled chicken breasts or fish filets. Earth’s Best chicken nuggets use an egg-free breading, which is nice.
Pouches are my pals. We are still using lots of pouch purees. I have zero shame. I prefer organic varieties with no additional ingredients besides fruits, vegetables, grains or proteins. My favorite brands are Happy Baby/Happy Tot, Plum Organics and Beech-Nut.
Use your noodle. Ya like that? I’m so cool. We really do have pasta all.the.damn.time. It is easy, and it is fortified with iron. I like to use the more savory varieties of pouches as a sauce, and mix in elbow noodles. There’s a chicken and root vegetable blend that Felix enjoys, and really any veggie blend works. I can also add the iron supplements to this meal and it doesn’t affect the taste. Felix smashes down pasta like it is going out of style. (Also, if you have read this far and are thinking ‘Jeez, just give this kid some meat!’, I do try. He won’t eat red meat. Shrug.)
Sneak in those fruits and veggies! Again with the pouches…there are a lot of nice organic varieties that blend vegetables and fruits quite well. Kale and apple, or black bean and cherry. Whatever works. Sugar intake is definitely a concern, so read your labels, of course. I also like giving Felix the veggie nuggets that Earth’s Best makes, or the kale/carrot puffs by Dr. Praeger. Freeze-dried strawberries and raspberries are so delicious, and fun to share together.
Cook! Yes, sometimes I really do get a ray of light in my life and am able to cook some real meals. I recently purchased the Happy Family Organic Superfoods Cookbook For Baby & Toddler, and have been pretty pleased with it. There are lots of allergy-friendly options out there. The internet yields so many great vegan and allergy-friendly ideas, thankfully!
On any given night, Felix usually eats a meat, protein or pasta, vegetables and chopped fruit or a pouch.
Lastly, the OG: Cheerios. These babes are everywhere. Under our couch, stuck to freshly cleaned clothing, in our bed. Whatev. Felix likes them, and they are just dandy.
Ok, mamas and papas. Spill your secrets. How do you feed your kiddos on the fly?