Quite a few friends have been impressed (and others mildly horrified) by Coraline’s eating skills. The girl likes to eat! And she eats some interesting things: seaweed, tempeh, garlicky hummus, spicy peanut kale. I completely attribute her comfort with solids to baby-led weaning. I already blogged about “the Rapley Method” so no need to reiterate why I’m a fan of this approach, but I will say that I can now more fully appreciate its benefits since Coraline is a little older. I feel like she does so well with solids because she was exposed to the real thing right out of the gate. And by real I mean whole. By not doing purées we skipped a whole lot of steps that saved me some time in the kitchen, and her some time, too.
How you feed your child, and the example you set with food, is really important. I feel a lot of pressure to make sure Coraline doesn’t only eat well, but that she develops a healthy relationship with food. And this fresh post-baby, pre-toddler stage is tricky; she’s still nursing and so is getting everything she needs nutritionally, but it’s brought me to a new level of health consciousness (i.e. paranoia). Is she eating the right thing? Enough of the right thing? Is this the last time she’ll touch a leafy green? What if there’s too much salt on that? Phew, it’s exhausting!
Here are a few toddler nutrition tips for the mobile and munchy:
- Try a Dr. Sear’s “nibble tray.” Fill the compartments of a muffin tin or empty ice cube tray with different healthy bite-sized snacks and maybe something to dip in (applesauce, guacamole, coconut milk, yogurt). Place it on a low table where your toddler can reach; this way they can graze at their discretion.
- Clearly you should go easy on the processed foods, heavy on the fruits and veggies. But heavy for a toddler isn’t really heavy at all — a one-year-old needs only three to five tablespoons of fruits and veggies a day, a two-year-old needs six to ten, and so on. And look at the balance of their diet across a week, not a single day.
- Check labels for those pesky sugars. Did you know even Cheerios have sugar in them these days? Evaporated cane juice is just a fancy way of saying “added sugar,” and most snacks marketed for babies has some. Earth’s Best teething biscuits? Check. Gerber Graduates snack puffs? Check. And those puffs are extruded, which means that any nutritional value their ingredients had is long gone. Offer plain rice cakes, whole grain bread, or little bite-sized pieces of fruit instead.
- The AAP is no longer recommending holding off on common allergens like peanuts and eggs until 12 months (though if food allergies run in your family, you should remain cautious). In fact, they suspect that waiting too long to introduce certain foods may cause allergies.
- If you don’t plan on being a short-order cook, don’t get in the habit while your little one is still little. Offer them some of what you’re having; if they’re not into it offer them some fruit or toast, but don’t necessarily cook a separate meal for them, especially if you’re still nursing (they won’t starve, I promise).
- Start encouraging good habits by sitting down to eat together, eating slowly, and encouraging you child to participate in mealtime (even if that means they just sit in their high chair putting spaghetti in their hair). If you set the expectation that the family sits down to eat together from Day One, it may become less of a battle down the road.
- Avoid using food as a reward or pacifier, though sometimes it can be a great tool. If your little one eats a lot of paper, try offering them a sheet of nori instead; the toasted seaweed (what they use to wrap sushi) crinkles just like paper and tastes good. And celery or carrot sticks are great for teething.
- If your older toddler is showing some aversions, don’t push it. Try something else to avoid a power struggle that will likely end with their life long aversion to broccoli. Or try to find a healthy way to sneak in fruits and veggies. A friend makes sweet potato ice pops for her daughter, who she swears would eat six a day if she could. Just boil the sweet potato, blend with coconut milk, and pour into pop molds.
- If, like me, you’re of the herbivore persuasion and question whether your little one can get everything they need without meat or dairy (as many non-vegans would suggest), check out this Web site. Make sure they’re getting lots of healthy fats (avocado, oils, coconut milk, nut butters) and Omega-3s from somewhere (flax oil is a great source).