Sunny days are getting longer, dogwoods are blooming, farmer’s markets are opening back up, and kids are hungry! This month we celebrate the sprouting of spring with some fun and easy ideas to keep your little ones (and yourself) well-fed and happy as you venture out to play and explore.
Feeding Babies (6 months to 1 year)
Whether breastfed or formula fed, babies typically show interest in other foods, and begin needing their added nutrition, at around six months. However, this varies from individual to individual and a good rule of thumb is to start introducing foods when your baby shows interest in eating. Continuing to provide them with plenty of whatever milk they are used to as you introduce new foods is ideal. Trying one new thing at a time (meaning only one new food in a day at first) can help you determine what your baby likes and tolerates without getting confused about the culprit if there is fussiness or digestive upset.
New little digestive systems are still developing until about two years, so it’s great to keep foods simple and easy to digest until then. This means lightly steaming or sautéeing most vegetables, choosing well ripened fruits, which are rich in enzymes, and avoiding processed foods, fillers, and anything artificial. A great book that explains what babies need and why, along with what their bodies are equipped to digest at what ages is Super Nutrition for Babies by Katherine Erlich, M.D. and Kelly Genzlinger.
Snacks Are Where It’s At
We all know that growing babies and toddlers need plenty of nourishing food, and that when they don’t get it, they get HANGRY. Sadly, so many snack foods geared toward little people are packed full of tantrum-inducing sugar and empty carbs and devoid of body-building protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. So let’s ditch the crackers and cookies and get creative to fill those little bellies, grow them strong, and steer clear of highs and crashes in energy.
Toddlers (and many older than that) prefer finger foods that they can grab and hold easily with their smaller hands. They also tend to feel more comfortable and interested in simple, individual foods that are identifiable; a plate with some rice in a little pile, a few shrimp in a little pile, and a few broccoli florets beside them is more approachable than the whole mess mixed together and smothered in some kind of sauce, which might sound yummier to us.
Here are some ideas for nutrient-rich and easy snack foods for younger eaters:
- Avocados. Rich in several different kinds of healthy fats, along with essential minerals, avocados are great to simply slice open and eat with a spoon. Nice ripe ones can easily smoosh in transit, so placing a whole avocado inside a container like a jar or yogurt cup can help avoid a mess. Another easy option is to buy pre-made guacamole that has been vacuum packed, which is readily available at most grocery stores.
- Sweet potatoes or carrots (roasted, steamed or boiled). These fun, bright-colored vegetables are packed full of beta carotene, folate, antioxidants, and other important nutrients. The beta carotene (vitamin A precursor) is more readily available from cooked carrots and sweets, and our uptake is increased if we eat them with a little bit of fat. I like roasting both in butter or olive oil. If you’re wary of greasy little fingers, just make sure that there is another snack available that’s high in fat, like avocado, olives, cheese, or nut/seed butter.
- Hard-cooked eggs. Protein-packed and portable, eggs are usually pretty agreeable for youngsters. I’ve found that separating the yolk from the white when offering them to kids can make them a little more approachable. To do this I peel the egg, and then gently break the white enough to get the yolk out as an appealing yellow ball. The whites I then break up into bite-sized pieces.
*It is very rare for anyone to be allergic to the yolk of an egg. The egg whites on the other hand, contain 4 proteins that can range from mildly to highly allergenic. Most pediatricians say that egg whites/whole eggs should not be fed to baby before 1 year of age however recommendations are changing.
- Nut and seed butters (peanut, sunflower, almond, cashew, etc). As adults we often think of these as spreads, dips, or some kind of accompaniment to another food. For kids, simply offering a spoonful is a nice way to add protein and fat to a snack session. This also avoids the mess of newly developing motor skills grappling with celery sticks or crackers covered in greasy, sticky stuff.
- Olives. Not only are olives full of healthy fat, they are also rich in antioxidant vitamin E and a good source of both iron and calcium. I loved putting whole black olives on my fingers as a kid and popping them into my mouth from there, maybe your kids will too!
- Cheese (string cheese or cheese bites). If your kids tolerate dairy, cheese is surely a go-to snack. Fat, protein, calcium; cheese has a lot going for it. As with all animal products, cheese concentrates any toxins that the animal has been exposed to, so it’s important to buy organic whenever possible.
- Yogurt. Another great option for those who do well with dairy products. Yogurt has the added benefit of probiotics (healthy bacteria) to support developing digestive tracts. Instead of buying pre-sweetened fruity yogurt (which almost always contains sugar and is sweeter than it needs to be to be tasty), go for the plain, whole milk yogurt and add in honey and fresh fruit, or a fruit-sweetened jam to taste. There are a few brands of flavored yogurt that use minimal sugar, so if you’re going that route check labels and make sure you’re not dosing your tiny ones with 10+ grams! Nancy’s, Siggi’s and Wallaby tend to be among the best.
- Beans. Rich in fiber and protein, beans are tasty, nourishing, come in lots of fun shapes and colors, and are soft enough for gums with just a few teeth. Certain kinds have tougher skins and hold together better once they’re cooked, making them better finger foods; garbanzos, kidneys, great northern whites, and adzukis. If you’re buying canned beans, just drain and rinse them so that they aren’t swimming in their juices, put them in a sealed container, and head to the park. Dry beans are best prepared by soaking overnight, then cooking thoroughly, after which point they can be strained and rinsed as well.
Happy eating! Be sure to share your favorite go-to recipes with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe we’ll feature one of your recipes on our social media pages in the coming months!