Nutritious Meal Ideas for Your Picky Eater
Alright Mommies lets talk about food!
But first.... A little science:) In college, I got my degree in Biology before heading to PA school. I love science!!!! I can turn a little nerdy on you when discussing it, so I will do my best to remain calm haha. But I think that when talking about food and nutrition, it is important to understand the science behind it. Before we jump into meal ideas and recipes, let's talk abut basic principles of nutrition to keep in mind when thinking of meal time for our little ones.
1) Food is the building blocks for our cells. Humans cells are indeed made of what we eat! Hence the quote, "You are what you eat!" This is why deficiencies of some nutrients and excess of others can affect brain development. Therefore, it is important that we consciously work on giving our little ones a well-balanced meal.
2) Introducing healthy food early is important. Did you know that by the end of gestation, your child's gustatory and olfactory system are almost adult- like? Because both amniotic fluid and breast milk contain molecules derived from the mother’s diet, learning about flavors in foods begins in the womb and during early infancy.This means that the flavors you introduce to your child while you are pregnant by consuming a well-balanced meal, as well as during their early years while you breast feed, are essential for their little tongues to get used to different flavors (like veggies)!
2) Presentation matters. In addition to the type of nutritional value you give your child, the way in which you introduce food matters! Depending on how feeding time goes, children begin to associate food with either a fun and positive experience, or a negative experience. So I encourage to make it fun and try to be relaxed when you feed them. Provide them with opportunities to try new foods, but if they aren't too excited about it, it is ok! Tell them they can try it again at a different time.
Now on to the exciting part... food!
I am not a cook, and I don’t enjoy cooking.... but I have always made it my priority to feed my little ones well. Because of this, ever since they were allowed to start solids around 6 months I have pre-made their food. This way, even when my days are busy with ballet class or carpool, I know that I always have a healthy nutritious meal waiting for them in the fridge. I, on the other hand, make questionable food choices (no judgement, right?) But most days, my little ones, whose cells are forming, are eating a well balanced meal.
Because I don't enjoy cooking, I had to find easy nutritious recipes for my little ones. The ones I have included below are some of my favorite!
Breakfast! I am a huge fan of giving a healthy nutritious and filling breakfast. Specially because when the day gets busy, I feel like I have done my morning duty filling their brain cells with great food.
Scrambled eggs with avocado toast. Eggs are a great source of protein and the perfect way to start the day. I do scrambled eggs 3 days a week, and do boiled eggs on our busy mornings. I always include a fruit for a healthy carb- Strawberries, blue berries, mandarins, pineapple, avocado and sometimes toast. If you want to start introducing eggs to your child who is less than 1 year old make sure you get a clearance from your pediatrician first.
Gluten free oatmeal pancakes: We have a pancake friday tradition- My 4 year old does not have preschool on friday so we have a slower morning and enjoy making pancakes together! I like to use the RedMIll gluten free mixture and use coconut oil instead of vegetable and add blueberries to it. I have also added powdered oatmeal to make it a little more nutritious.
Oatmeal with fruit- Steal cut oatmeal ( I buy a large bag from Costco) with almond butter and cut strawberries and blueberries are one of my kids' favorites. I love it because it is just as easy as making cereal, but much more nutritious. You can also do baby oatmeal for breakfast for your 6-month-old and up.
Lunch is my slack meal. Mainly because I pack lunch for school and can never be sure that it will get eaten.... So what is my trick, you ask? Pack new foods that they are not likely to normally eat at home- a little peer pressure sometimes help! My jack used to have a hard time with broccoli, but ever since I started adding a side of hummus, he enjoys it so much more! I have found that dipping is always a good idea! When packing lunch, I always follow my protein, vegetable/fruit and carb rule. For example, while I pack healthy choices I also make sure to include one "fun" item, like M&Ms. I personally like this bento box from Pottery Barn because they can easily see their options. Some ideas for lunch items include string mozzarella cheese, guacamole, hummus, turkey sandwich in multi grain bread and cheese, grilled chicken nuggets with a small side of ketchup, chicken and bean burrito, multigrain chips, pretzel sticks, carrot sticks.
Dinner- So dinner is a big deal in our house, because it is the time we all get to sit down, talk, relax and enjoy. It is also a meal that I consider a MUST, because I get to monitor what my child eats. Again I am not a cook. I do not enjoy cooking because I get overwhelmed by thinking about what I am going to make…. but this is where having pre-made meals for your kids is soooo helpful! My go-to easy meals include:
Grilled chicken with rice and vegetables Spaghetti squash, Lentil soup with sweet plantains, Salmon and carrots, Meat and veggie lasagna, chicken with sweet potatoes.
Some fun snack ideas are: Green apples and peanut butter, banana and nutella, gram cracker and nutella, greek yogurt with berries and granola, chips and guacamole, chips and hummus.
Nice ideas but.... how do I get my child to try these??
Having picky eaters can be stressful, and makes it difficult to feed them a nutritious meal. My siblings and I were very picky eaters and my mom tells us that dinner time was so very stressful for her! But guess what? She kept introducing new foods, and making it a fun experience and now..... the THREE of us are old! and LOVE food! It is one of our favorite things to do as adults hahah.
I did the same strategy with my kids and they also love eating all sorts of foods! Given this experience, my recommendation to you is to RELAX- it is going to be ok! I know that as a mom we carry enough guilt with our long to- do-list..... The fact that you want your little one to eat well is already proof that you are an amazing mom! So.... keep a positive atmosphere and encourage your child to try new things, but don't MAKE them eat a whole plate of broccoli.
I also try to avoid ordering kids meals at restaurants and let them try some of my food. This creates opportunities to have "big kid" food. Incorporating fun stories about veggies during meal times has also helped a lot! For example, my son loves to compete and so I told him that I spoke to Flash's mom (the superhero) and she told me that what made The Flash so fast was broccoli. Since then, he has been more encouraged to eat it, even though it is not his favorite. I call carrots "Olaf noses" and make dinner time fun by telling them that they are eating an Olaf nose!
Remember your job is simply to introduce food in a positive way and allow them to try it! With time they will learn to love the flavors! Try to be creative and really tap into your little ones' personality. Eating well is a a great gift to give your little ones! You can do it!!!
Ventura, A. K., & Worobey, J. (2013). Early influences on the development of food preferences. Current Biology, 23(9), R401-R408.