The other day via Twitter, my friend Lindsey mentioned that her family is trying to eat less meat overall, but having a tough time coming up with recipes that translate well into toddler food. With a growing-like-a-weed nearly-16-month old on their hands, this is a major issue. Gavin needs his protein! So I’ve come up with a couple of ideas to get them — and anybody else out there with kiddos trying to go meatless every now and then.
Some of these are ideas for how to construct a meal for both adults and toddlers (as a former nanny, I have some experience with this, because I am lazy and don’t like to cook twice at each meal), and others are more veg-centric (which, since I was a vegetarian nanny, I also have some experience with).
1. Eat with Your Hands
This is “think like a toddler” advice. If you can eat it with your hands, chances are good a toddler can eat it. Obviously, anything really tough or crunchy may not work, depending on where your toddler’s teeth development is, but for the most part, anything you can pick up is toddler-edible.
When brainstorming finger foods, really think like a toddler. What do you eat with a utensil that doesn’t really need one? We sometimes forget that all the pieces of a salad, for example, when not drenched in dressing, are finger foods. And how cute would it be to get your toddler obsessed with eating raw spinach leaves, or dried cranberries?
2. Sandwiches & Fritters
Some ideas for great vegetarian recipes that are less flatware centric include sandwiches and fritters (as long as they are served cool enough to handle!). Sandwiches can get pretty gussied up for dinner, going way beyond grilled cheese (though that is also delicious): Cucumber and cream cheese, roasted red pepper and goat cheese, eggs and bacon and gruyere!
I’ve also lately come across lots of yummy veggie fritter recipes that would work similarly. Try these summer corn cakes, mashed potato cakes (a great one for leftovers), or zucchini fritters. You could easily mix in summer squash, carrots, or cabbages into similar recipes, too. Great pick-it-up food that is primarily vegetable, rather than fried grain.
3. Split Your Meals into their Littlest Selves
Toddlers need to eat a lot — but they tend to prefer to do it in more frequent, smaller meals, than we do. So when thinking about what you want to make for dinner, ask yourself what smaller portions you could dole out over the course of cooking, and then eating, to your toddler.
If you have a meat-based dinner, for example, with two or three sides, the little one can snack on tomatoes and avocado cubes while you’re prepping, and then some shredded chicken and tortillas while Mommy and Daddy enjoy their grown-up Chicken & Guacamole Tostadas (probably with a Dos Equis or two…). Pineapple Chicken Satay for you can become pineapple and sugar snap peas for him, with chicken and dipping sauce at dinner.
This allows the grown-ups to get grown-up meals without having to cook something different for Junior — and has the added perk of keeping him occupied while you are cooking!
You can also take a lot of the meat-based toddler-friendly recipes you may already have in your repetoire and transform them into veggie options with some simply substitutions. Once allergy concerns have passed, tofu is very kid-friendly, as are lentils, seitan, etc. If you’re not big on meat-substitute products, you can also find grain and veggie substitutes, like eggplant in place of meat in Italian recipes like lasagna, or quinoa in place of ground chicken in nuggets.
My very favorite thing about kids — whenever I’m around them — is that they remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. Feeding your young is serious business, but it can also unlock a totally different spirit to our cooking. Enjoy little bites! Eat with your hands! Get messy!
Nothing better than eating with a smile…
What toddler eating advice do you have? Anyone out there raising fully meatless kiddos have some tips I didn’t think of? Leave a comment and share your ideas!