Knowing that I’m a nutritionist, most people assume my kids are raised on nothing but quinoa and kale. While it’s true that I do try and sneak both of those ingredients, I also serve more boxed macaroni and cheese than you might expect.
For me, feeding my family is about achieving a balance of good nutrition, tasty food, and maintaining my sanity. Here’s how I do it.
Pick Your Battles
I have two kids, one of whom is just two months old, and the other nearly three years. The three-year-old is a discerning eater to say the least. I wouldn’t say he’s picky per se (although increasingly he’ll refuse to eat anything with “leaves” in it). When he’s in the mood to eat he’ll eat well, and when he’s not, well, he’s just not.
A lot of people get stressed out with getting their toddlers to eat, and I get it. However, there’s also good evidence that shows that forcing or bribing a child to eat teaches them to override their satiety cues and can lead to a potentially problematic relationship with food later in life. Being mindful of that, I don’t often get into battles over whether or not he eats, and I never use dessert or treats as an incentive for him to clean his plate.
Having said that, I do insist that he eats at least a few bites of breakfast each day, since he goes off to daycare and I don’t want him to be a complete nightmare if he’s hungry when he gets there.
With each meal I give him a few choices on his plate. Typically a protein, a starch, and two different vegetables or fruits. I ask that he tries at least one bite of each thing, especially if it’s something he hasn’t had before. I don’t over fill his plate or provide too many choices, as that can be overwhelming.
While I don’t bribe or negotiate for food, my kid is indeed motivated by sweets (obviously, the nutritionist’s child) and if he’s asking for a cookie or ice cream while he’s still eating his dinner, I let him know that he needs to finish his meal first.
I like to bulk prep breakfast foods and keep them in the freezer to make our weekday breakfasts easier.
I make healthy whole-grain waffles, which freeze like a charm and just need to be popped into the toaster on a weekday morning. I top them with a bit of peanut butter for protein, and add a side of fruit as well. Pancakes also freeze well, so I make a double batch on the weekends and serve them for breakfast with a bit of yogurt on the side.
My son loves overnight oats (this recipe is our favorite) so we’ll share a jar for breakfast if I’m organized enough to make them the night before. I also make big batches of homemade granola, which we eat for breakfast with yogurt and a bit of fruit.
I often start my day with a veggie-packed smoothie, and my son loves to help me make them. He likes to put the ingredients into the blender (often taste-testing as he goes) and turns the blender on. I pour out two glasses – one small and one large – and we get a good dose of veggies and protein in that way. This Chocolate Black Bean Brownie Smoothie is a household favorite!
My son goes to full-time daycare, and he gets a morning snack (always fruit) a hot lunch, and an afternoon snack there. I love this because he’s exposed to all kinds of different foods, and lots of things I would never think to make. It amazes me that they serve soup once a week, that just seems so messy to me!
Since he gets lunch at daycare during the week, we only have to deal with lunch on the weekends. We usually keep it pretty simple and do a brunchy kind of lunch spread, with avocado toast, scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and cheese.
Sometimes we switch it up with a vegetarian quesadilla, grilled cheese sandwich, or a tortilla roll-up instead. Again, I like to include 2 kinds of vegetables or a fruit and vegetable choice with this meal.
When I pick up from daycare I always have a piece of fruit and a water bottle with me. I used to take more substantial snacks, but then dinner time was always a battle. When I switched to just fruit and water we became much more successful at getting dinner in, so we’ve stuck with that routine.
On weekends we tend to do morning activities and pack a snack in the stroller for the way home. I pack nuts (almonds, which I roast myself to avoid all the added salt and fat), fruit, rice cakes, and smoothie pouches for emergencies.
We also make a big batch of stove-top popcorn (topped with nutritional yeast) on the weekends, and have it as a family snack in the afternoon.
Dinner tends to be our most frustrating meal of the day. I’m told that our son eats really well at lunch time, so I try not to stress about it too much. Some days he eats a big dinner, other days he eats nothing at all.
I like to batch-prep dinner items for my son, because he usually eats earlier than we do, and often we’ll just have a salad for dinner while he’ll want something a bit more substantial. I make batches of stovetop mac and cheese and freeze it in silicon muffin cups so that I can just pull out as single serving whenever I want. Same goes for vegetarian risotto (I love this Baked Pumpkin Risotto – no stirring!) and veggie-loaded mashed potatoes.
Veggie-cakes are also a good choice, whereas vegetarian “meatballs” tend to be hit and miss. I make (and freeze!) these Broccoli Quinoa Nuggets, which are basically a complete meal if he’ll eat a couple of them.
I serve dinner with a choice of vegetables along side, like steamed or roasted broccoli (he’ll almost always eat “trees”) carrot sticks, or slices of kohlrabi.
I’m a firm believer in balance and moderation, so I do give my kid sugary sweets from time to time. He really didn’t have any before the age of one (and completely refused to so much as taste his first birthday cake!) but now he’s wised up.
He knows that we mostly limit sweets to the weekend, but will also negotiate for a weeknight cookie now and then, and I’m okay with that. We have a healthy and super active kid, and I want him to have a healthy relationship with food, so I don’t put sweets up on a pedestal or make a big deal about them.
We also make sure to share our treats, and he in turn will offer me a bit of even the tiniest chocolate, which is just the sweetest thing. I think it’s a good approach to treats, letting him know that they’re special in that way – that they’re enjoyed together.