Switch up your idea of “traditional”
The dish: Porridge
The details: “For a very long time, feeding my son breakfast was a challenge,” says Shino. The breakthrough: She discovered he wanted salty, savory dishes in the morning. “He preferred to have fish and rice, or even some pasta, rather than French toast or pancakes.” She now makes porridge — a rice soup — with bits of fish, chicken or veggies instead. (Get her miso porridge recipe here.) An Asian tradition, it may seem strange because it’s not a part of our culture, but it is easy. You can make the brown rice porridge the night before and add leftovers, like small pieces of chicken or meat, in the morning and reheat.
Try new kinds of noodles
The dish: Sesame noodles
The details: Kids love pasta. And that’s okay, but look for a variety of types of noodles, especially buckwheat, kamut, udon, which deliver protein, fiber and other nutrients and antioxidants. Just like the Barilla in your pantry, you boil water, add the noodles, and toss with sauce. To make super-fast sesame noodles: Add ground flaxseed, ground sesame and a little bit of sesame oil to buckwheat noodles. Toss with julienne cucumber and carrots and a little bit of shredded chicken. Bonus: sesame noodles can be served room temperature, unlike macaroni and cheese or spaghetti and meatballs.
And soup up your mac and cheese
The dish: Brainy mac and cheese
The details: Shino’s recipe for this toddler favorite plays on the same classic flavors but relies on whole foods, not a packaged powder. She melts three kinds of cheese (cheddar, Romano and Parmesan), adds ground flaxseed and wheat germ, and tosses in some grated carrots and grated red pepper. “It still has the same color palette so it’s the same yellowish/orangey dish that you would get with a package, but it has calcium, protein, DHA omega-3 fatty acids and some beta-carotene,” notes Shino. All your toddler will know is it tastes delicious.
The dish: Bento box meal
The details: A bento serving style appeals to toddlers because the portions are small and varied enough to stay interesting.Mika Shino, author of _Smart Bites for Baby: 300 Easy-to-Make, Easy-to-Love Meals That Boost Your Baby and Toddler’s Brain _(DeCapo Lifelong Books/August 2012) arranges small meatballs, rice balls, chicken or pork cutlets, and finger foods with fresh fruits and vegetables. “The hope is that every time my son opens up his lunch box, he’s surprised, intrigued, and talks about his food with his friends.”
Another portable idea
The dish: Yummy yam balls
The details: Roast yams and apples for about 45 minutes (or until they are real mushy). Then mix with cottage cheese and shape into mini balls that kids can hold with their hands. These sweet snacking spheres pack a lot of nutrients (beta-carotene, fiber, calcium), says Shino, and don’t contain any artificial sweeteners or added sugar. Make a whole batch and store some in the freezer to bring with you to parks and other outings.
Rock a rice bowl
The dish: Domburi
The details: Domburi means “deep bowl” in Japanese, says Shino. It’s a one-dish meal with different layers that keep kids interested as they eat. Start with rice as a base, then add sauce or gravy, some sautéed vegetables, and a protein, such as shredded chicken, on top. (Get Shino's recipe here.) Because it’s layered, all the juices get soaked up by the rice on the bottom. “It’s a home run every time,” says Shino. Plus it’s versatile: You can vary the sauce, the vegetables and the protein to suit your child’s tastes.
Forget fish sticks
The dish: Fish croquettes
The details: Start with a mild-tasting fish, like haddock, and mash it up; then add breadcrumbs, flaxseed and wheat germ. Shape into croquettes and panfry. “It doesn’t have that fishy taste or texture that your child may not like,” says Shino. Instead, it’s crunchy (a big hit with kids) and contains DHA omega-3 fatty acids — a nutrient necessary for brain development.
And nix the potato chips
The dish: Veggie chips
The details: Root vegetables are fantastic, says Shino. When you slow roast them, they come out almost like potato chips (if potato chips had fiber). “They’re crunchy, crisp and very beautiful if you use different-hued veggies, such as yam, beets, purple potatoes and carrots of any color — green, yellow, purple and, yes, orange.” Use a mandoline to make thin slices, then toss them with a bit of sea salt and olive oil before roasting.
Give tempeh a try
The dish: Tempeh crackers
The details: You may have heard of tempeh — it’s usually used as a meat substitute or tofu stand-in. But Shino has a delicious take on the fermented soy product that is a great source of protein, DHA omega-3, vitamin B12 and probiotics. She slices it and slow roasts it to make crackers. She serves the crackers with a drizzle of honey on top and swears her son devours the snack! (Get the recipe here.)
Make “fruit rolls” out of veggies
The dish: Slow-roasted carrots
The details: You know those packaged fruit rolls that are so popular with toddlers (and can also get pricey)? Instead of getting those, try slow roasting carrots for a similar snack. (Yes, seriously.) Slice carrots thinly and roast them for about two hours at 300 to 325 degrees. They turn out really chewy — almost like those fruit rolls, says Shino. And since antioxidant-rich carrots are naturally sweet, they’ll taste like them too.
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