I didn’t have many assumptions about how I’d parent better than the masses when I was childless. However, I was pretty hellbent on not becoming a short order cook and a slave to toddler tastebuds. I hoped my kids would eat what we adults were eating and would develop a taste beyond mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. (Don’t get me wrong, though, there is a time and place for both of these foods. Even as a full-grown adult, I’m not above the good ol’ blue box!)
Coming up with three meals a day to please two sets of toddler tastebuds that are ever-evolving and growing numerous, strong opinions is no easy feat. I’ve had to get creative in hopes of feeding them something that resembles a balanced meal with, ideally, little to no fighting involved.
I don’t have all the answers, but these things have helped keep easy, reasonably healthy, and fun meals in the rotation. My kids are fed and I’m still (mostly) sane.
I know, I know, everyone is all up on the Instant Pot train, but hear me out for a second. This bad boy heats up faster than the oven (no preheat necessary), cooks faster than most oven times, and delivers crispy “fried” food with little to no oil*.
We’ve made frozen foods, fresh foods, and even homemade tortilla chips. My only complaint is capacity. We sprung for the XL size, and while I can easily get lunch for two kiddos made, food for the whole family has to be made in shifts.
*When we do feel the need to use oil, we use these spray bottles. They’ll give just enough oil to be effective, without so much you taste/feel it on the food.
Mini Cookie Cutters
Sometimes, a “balanced meal” looks like cheese, deli meat, and bread. Not in sandwich form, of course, because toddlers.
For some reason, cutting cheese into flowers, turkey into hearts and bread into stars makes food infinitely more attractive to finger-food-loving toddler tastebuds. Bonus: the trimmings from the shapes make for an easy lunch on the go for mom!
Try, Try, Try Again
One of the biggest lessons I have had to keep relearning is to keep trying. Keep offering, keep reintroducing. What they turned their nose up at last week is now their favorite treat. I watched my child actually inhale the ENTIRE bowl of broccoli meant for us to share after last week telling me, “Brocky icky.” Who knew? By ruling it out as something she “doesn’t like,” I would be watching my list of options dwindle away week by week while not giving her a second (or third) chance to warm up to something!
Look, snacks rule all in our house. In fact, I have a MUCH higher success rate at meal time if I don’t refer to meals as “breakfast” or “lunch,” but rather “snack”. In between all meals, I will hear a request for “snacks” no less than ten times. Instead of trying to battle this, I have a shelf in our pantry where they can access pre-approved snacks (most of which require my opening, so I can at least be aware when they’re indulging). Instead of fighting it, I’m leaning in. Want a snack? Go grab one. Someday I aspire to one of those hanging snack stations over the door. For now, a bin on a shelf will do the trick.
What are your kitchen hacks for pleasing toddler tastebuds?
Photo credit: A fun Milwaukee lifestyle session was taken by Milwaukee family photographer, Talia Laird Photography for Milwaukee Moms Blog.