I feel like as parents we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about three things:
You can’t avoid poop* (once you stop obsessing over if they’re pooping and what it looks like, they start talking about it constantly), and sleep is always evading you. Kids can be really picky eaters, and we spend so much time trying to figure out what they can and should be eating when they’re just starting out, and then what they’ll actually accept as palatable when they get a little bigger. But the thing about eating is that we at least have some modicum of control over it.
I know some parents get really frustrated or concerned about what their kids are eating, but just try to keep in mind that as long as you’re offering them healthy options, you’re doing everything you can. Kids will be picky, and they might go a week without touching a vegetable. But don’t freak out. They’re not going to get scurvy. We definitely do some bribing sometimes (“If you eat two bites of chicken, you can have dessert.”), and the main reason behind buying the little table was that Lily would not sit through a meal at the big one. (She ate all her meals at the little table for months. She eats with us at dinner now, but still prefers breakfast and lunch at the pint size one.)
My kids like to eat a ton and are pretty healthy eaters, but Lily can be suuuuper particular. I end up giving her really simple foods much of the time, and try to get the biggest bang for my buck out of something like a PB and J by making some easy tweaks. Working moms just don’t have the time to experiment with new recipes, so having go-to options like these is really important.
*This post is just about what Lily eats. I’m doing a separate one about Maggie because we started table foods very early. We didn’t intend to do baby-led weaning but that’s what it ended up being, so stay tuned for more on that!
While we eat generally healthy we aren’t super crunchy granola. I think we’re pretty middle of the road. I’d love to cut sugars out of my diet and serve Buddha bowls for dinner and smoothies topped with chia for breakfast every day but I just don’t have time to do that right now. As a family we’re in this really busy stage in our lives where I need to have a handful of meals on rotation because I don’t have the mental energy to handle thinking of new ideas every week. And while the meals/items below are generally healthy, Lily does eat some snacks of questionable nutrition (mainly fueled by my own animal cracker obsession) and I have a mean sweet tooth.
A few other little things that guide the way our kids eat:
- We don’t do “kid foods.” If I wouldn’t make it for myself, I don’t buy it. The only things we’ve gotten that fall into the kid food category are mac and cheese (but we get Annie’s Whole Wheat Shells and Cheddar or their other grainy blend, mix it with peas, and I take the leftovers for lunch), and yogurt pouches between the ages of about 18 months-2.5 years to reduce mess during the morning rush. I might actually be able to avoid yogurt pouches with Maggie because she seems to like Kefir in a cup.
- I make sure to include a fruit at breakfast, and a fruit and vegetable at lunch and dinner.
- We don’t restrict them from eating what’s offered at other people’s houses and we occasionally order pizza or go out to eat, so obviously they’re getting less than favorable foods then, which I’m fine with.
My plug for whole grains: If you aren’t eating very well and want to make an easy change that has a big impact, switch to whole grains. Unlike trying to get more vegetables in your diet, by switching to whole grains you’re just tweaking something you’re already eating versus trying to add something new. A lot of people have a misconception that kids won’t eat whole grains, but if you don’t start them off with white bread, white rice, refined pasta, plain waffles etc. they won’t know the difference. So any time I mention bread, toast, pasta, etc. below it’s 100% whole wheat/grain. Also, grown-ups don’t eat white bread.
Lily’s Typical Meals
For a good week Lily asked for Teddy Grahams before breakfast every single day. She also had a screaming tantrum everytime when I said no. She also tried to get around it by asking for lunch, so then they would be a snack, or claiming she just at dinner. Nice try, kid.
Peanut butter and jelly banana – this is her concoction. Banana slices, half of them topped with peanut butter and the other with jelly. Sometimes I used almond butter if we have it. Sometimes she has something else with it, like “frozen toast” (below), or peas (I’m not going complain about that odd request).
Smoothie – I say something like “Do you want a frozen yogurt smoothie?” but it’s really made with banana, frozen fruit, greens, plain Greek yogurt, milk, juice, and ground flax seeds. She doesn’t know the difference.
Oatmeal – Oatmeal with milk. She always eats a lot of fruit on the side.
Frozen toast – quite literally frozen bread. Recently I’ve been getting whole grain variations that also include spelt or other grains just to get more of a hearty variety. We of course pair this with something else (Kefir, yogurt, fruit, milk, etc.)
Bagels – cold or toasted, plain or with cream cheese, peanut butter, or almond butter. Wegmans sells these super spelty, grain-filled bagels in the frozen aisle of the health food section. Something I’ve been trying to do with grains since Lily eats so many of them is to only buy things I would eat for breakfast. I wouldn’t eat a regular bagel, but I feel pretty good about these ones. Again, served with fruit.
Muffins, pancakes (homemade): I’m not a huge fan of sneaking veggies, but I am a proponent of boosting whatever other foods you’re eating by adding veggies to them. I like to include a veg in baked goods whenever possible. By making them at home I can both add a veggie, and reduce the sugar.
I find it hard to offer veggies at breakfast, but because Lily likes her veggies plain I’ll give her some tomatoes or peppers if I’m making lunches.
Beverages: milk (whole milk), juice (100% without no sugar added, watered down, maybe once or twice a week), or water. Lily always wakes up looking super thirsty (read: her lips are cracked) but doesn’t often want to drink water in the morning so I try to get her to drink whatever I can. I always offer water first but man, this girl loves milk. I’m not a big supporter of drinking milk from the nutrition end, so this is hard for me to swallow (ha). She does a pretty good job of drinking water throughout the rest of the day so I’m not super concerned.
I offer fruit, veggies, a starch or grain, and a dairy or protein at lunch. Here are some of our go-to options from each group.
Fruit: basically any fruit. She’s not a big fan of mango, kiwi, or blackberries but eats everything else.
Veggies: Lily recently started refusing broccoli. It used to be one of her favorites so this is tough. She has a very limited vegetable palette which doesn’t include any leafy greens (except in the summer when she challenges us to kale eating contests).
- Cherry tomatoes – every kid’s favorite veg. So easy to pop in their mouth. Lily has been known to consume an entire pint of tomatoes in a sitting. Okay, she’ll leave two so I’ll see them and get more (no joke, she said this to my mom).
- Bell peppers – uncooked slices
- Carrots – baby carrots, uncooked (she just told me a few days ago she doesn’t like them anymore so this may be nixed from our list soon)
- Peas – from frozen
That’s it. *sigh*
- Whole grain bread, pasta, rolls, etc. As often as possible the pasta is a quinoa amaranth blend (my mom introduced us to this–she’s gluten-intolerant) or Banza (chickpea). These both have more protein than whole wheat pasta.
- Sweet potatoes (baked, plain or with butter)
- Corn on the cob (summer only)
Dairy/Protein: I don’t get very creative with lunch when I pack it during the week because I want to be sure it’s something she will actually eat since I won’t be with her when she gets it. I actually don’t usually make her lunch during the week…my mom makes it on Thursday, sometimes my MIL does on Tuesday, and unless school lunch is weird (Salisbury steak) I let her eat it. She won’t eat many proteins for me, but she always eats what they offer at school. I’m not thrilled she’s eating non-organic meat and poultry but you win some, you lose some.
- Cheese – only sharp cheddar
- Peanut or almond butter – on a whole grain
- Turkey – lunch meat
- Meatballs – usually turkey or chicken
- Black beans – only at home since she sometimes refuses it
- Yogurt – only at home, ditto the above
- Tuna salad
Combo foods: usually leftovers of a dinner
- Some form of a whole grain pasta with sauce (sometimes with ground turkey or chopped carrots mixed in)
- Macaroni and cheese with peas
- Wrap with peanut/almond butter or cream cheese
By far the hardest meal, and we don’t get creative. If we make something like stir fry, we keep elements of it separate and without sauce or else she won’t eat it. Lily is also required to taste everything on her plate, even if she just touches it with her tongue. Here are some common dinners at our house:
- Tuna, bread/roll, vegetable, fruit
- Salmon, rice/grain/sweet potatoes, vegetable, fruit
- Homemade pizza: whole-grain flatbread, pita, Naan, or pizza crust; sauce; cheese. Lily no longer likes veggies on top so gets hers on the side.
- Soup with a roll (pureed soup is best)
- Wegman’s turkey or salmon burgers (summer only), corn on the cob or sweet potato fries, vegetable, fruit
- Chicken (but only if my mom or MIL makes it), rice/grain/sweet potatoes, vegetable, fruit
- Eggs (scrambled, or an omelet but only if she’s stealing it off someone else’s plate), toast, vegetable, fruit
- Chili, bread/roll, fruit (vegetable if needed)
- Tortellini soup, fruit
- Burritos: wrap, cheese, ground meat or chicken (she usually doesn’t eat it), tomatoes, peppers. This is one of those meals she eats only parts of.
I really like to cook, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that for the next few years at least I won’t really have the time or the audience to prep creative meals.
*I feel like ever since Lily became obsessed, I talk about poop with other moms all the time. At work last week one of my coworkers who has an 8 year old was recounting for another coworker who has a 3 month old how I had been laughing so hard tears were streaming down my face while she told me about a time she had to remove her daughter’s arm-length poop from a public space by rolling it with a stick. The new mom was totally horrified.