On Feeding a Toddler

Cari Faye requested a post about what I feed Gooplet so she could get some ideas for her own little one. Dear readers, if you would like to save yourself a lot of time, know this: by and large, Gooplet eats what we eat.

But if you have some time as you coast toward the weekend, read on, with the simple warning that this post is long.

I swore when Gooplet was born that this blog would not turn into a mommy blog, and I think I’ve done a good job with that. But this particular post is venturing dangerously close to mommy-blogger territory. So with it, a disclaimer. This is what I did for my kid. Because I’m his mom. And I know him best. It doesn’t have to be what you do with your kid. You know him best. This is working for us, so I share in hopes it gives you some ideas about what to feed your toddler, should you need them.

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And the second disclaimer is this: my kid is the worst sleeper who ever lived. The rules that well-meaning bloggers and sleep gurus everywhere list online (and they are largely the same) do not often work for him. I fully embrace that you might be in a similar situation with your child and food. You might have done all the things the internet says to do and still, it’s hot dogs or bust. I get that. It’s nothing you did or didn’t do, just like I know (in my finer moments) I am not the reason my kid is a horrible sleeper. He just is. I get it. I do. I promise.

Phew, that’s out of the way.

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Now what does Gooplet eat? Like I told you, whatever we do. But of course, it’s more complicated than that. First, let me give you some basics.

  • I try to make sure he eats a balanced diet over the course of the day, rather than meal by meal. Which means there are times when he eats all fruit in a meal, and all carbs at another. If he’s had a lot of milk to drink, we ease up on the cheese and yogurt, but if not, bring on the Stonyfield pouches.*
  • I put a lot of options on his tray, and none of them are ever dessert. If we are out and about, and he spots a cookie, he is going straight for it, and that is great. But at home, I have total control over what he eats, and so graham crackers and Honey Nut Cheerios are about as sweet as we get.
  • Once the options are out, I don’t care what he eats so much as I care that he eats. This is a personal decision. I have one mom friend who serves what she serves and that’s it. And that works for her. And it’s great. I can’t risk my kid waking up because he’s hungry, when he wakes up 800 times at night anyway, so if he’s not eating the two things I put on his tray, I will try something else…
  • ….and then I will put the food he didn’t eat back on his tray the next day. And maybe again in two days. And if he keeps saying no, I will keep putting it in front of him. But I won’t make it a thing if he still isn’t interested.
  • I feed him food I don’t like. Though I’m much less picky than I used to be, I have some serious food preferences. But where my diet may be lacking, his doesn’t have to be. Just because I don’t love blackberries doesn’t mean it’s not worth buying some for him to try.
  • And note to self, come back and post about deconstructed dinners. I am a firm believer in what Dinner a Love Story calls the deconstructed dinner. See Jenny’s takes on them here and here. See my take on them in another post because this one is long enough.

Now let’s get specific.

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Gooplet eats what we eat. But maybe not all of what we eat, and maybe not at the same time. Let me explain.

At some point during our move from single ingredient baby food jars (don’t even talk to me about making your own food) and foods that have texture and multiple ingredients, Gooplet became interested in what my husband and I were eating at each meal. So we just put pieces of it on his tray. Sometimes he went for it, sometimes he didn’t. But he kept showing interest, and even if we thought he wouldn’t like something, we figured, what’s the worst that can happen if we send some his way? (Answers to this question include: he doesn’t touch it at all; he drops it on the floor; he says, “No, no, no.”) And in just over a year of eating solids, Gooplet has gone from loving bananas, to detesting them, to loving them again. From only wanting avocados, to not touching them, to asking for, “More ah-cado.” From eating Chex by the cupful, to a preference for oatmeal for breakfast. From eating whatever meat we share with him, to not touching meat at all right now. But he’s growing, and if it’s anything like bananas and avocados, he’ll come around again. More than I want him to eat any one specific food, or type of food, I want him to continue to see a variety of foods in front of him.

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Here are our go-tos, meal by meal. Hopefully it’s obvious he doesn’t eat all of these at once, and that there are days, and lots of them, with copious amounts of Goldfish in between meals.

Breakfast: fruit, and lots of it (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, bananas, peaches, pineapple, grapes, you name it), pancakes, toast with peanut butter, cheese, overnight oats, an English muffin with avocado, or if he’s truly lucky and I need something sweet, Nutella, yogurt, lots of green smoothies from a sippy cup with a straw (though I hate cleaning them), egg bakes in which sometimes he goes crazy, and sometimes I pick out the veggies and meat in the egg bakes and he only eats them, toast with peanut butter, and cereal by the handful when we can’t think of anything else.

Lunch: this shouldn’t even be its own category because lunch is whatever little bits of food I have saved in the fridge because he didn’t eat them at breakfast or dinner the night before. I have been known to rip apart a good cheese or turkey slice here, but nothing fancy happens.

Dinner: risotto, any sort of pasta with sauce (sometimes he just eats meat sauce), grilled chicken galore, salads, especially if they are drenched in dressing, green beans, broccoli, tacos and taco-bowl-type situations, mac and cheese (duh), Mediterranean chicken and couscous (yes, the little grains fly everywhere), pretty much anything that has pesto, meatballs, pulled pork, pizza, um, and lately we’ve had a million barbecues and he straight up eats the rolls because he wants nothing to do with hot dogs or hamburgers. Also I can’t stress enough that we eat a ton of chicken around here.

*But if you can find me a flavored yogurt without sugar as the second ingredient, I’ll switch to what you use!

Pasta Plans

During the summer I visited a local Italian market near my parents’ house. It’s the most wonderful place. The husband and wife owners make pot pies each week that you have to order in advance because they sell out so fast. Whenever I’m in town I get 4. Two to eat right away when I get home, and two for the freezer.

On my last trip, I chatted with one of the owners for a bit, and also ended up buying a bunch of short cut, dried pastas. (That’s a lie – Wooden Nickels treated me. Thanks, Wooden Nickels!) I’m thinking the rigatoni I got will be used for a Boursin cheese, bacon, and pea type of situation, similar to this, but I still haven’t found a night with 20 free minutes to make dinner yet!

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In the meantime, dear readers, I leave you with Bon Appetit’s 19 Easy Pasta Recipes for Emergency Dinners. I’m loving the sound of all of these, but particularly the orzo and pink lady apples one, and the freezer veggies + a chili lime burger!

On Not Doing it All (Again)

On the one hand, it’s a compliment to hear “How do you do it all.” Because having the question directed at you means that the asker believes you do do it all.

I try my hardest to smile sincerely at anyone who asks me that question, but in truth, my gut reaction would be to burst into hysterical laughter. I don’t do it all. I don’t even do half of it. What is it, anyway?

But I do understand where the question comes from, and perhaps I’ve even asked it myself a time or two. I think what we’re really asking when we ask, “How do you do it all?” is How do you do this one thing that I can’t seem to even begin to think about?

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For me, that thing is often entertaining. And while cleaning up from this week’s Sunday dinner, I realized one way I make entertaining easier for our family.

Last week’s dinner was a big one, with ten guests in attendance. And while I always work to keep the menu as simple and low maintenance as possible, the truth is, cooking for 10 people is a bit of undertaking no matter what you’re making. So one way life looks easier after entertaining is in my leftover game. Dear readers, I’m going to brag for a moment when I tell you that my leftover game is strong. After Sunday Dinners, I take whatever salads we have on hand (which in this case were this and this), add some shredded rotisserie chicken, and call it a complete meal. Fancy it is not, but it’s certainly worth it to avoid another big night of cooking right after having guests.

In Which We Discuss Serving Vessels

While I was reading the best reader comments on Cup of Jo the other day, I loved the one about not putting out enough chairs for your guests when they come over. It makes everyone cozy up and make friends, even if they’re initially feeling a little awkward.

whaaaaaaaaat.

(I can’t even with these pizza fries.)

Which reminded me I read a somewhat similar tip about serving food when you’re entertaining. I’ve completely forgotten the source, but they said to choose containers a bit too small, so that it looks like you have a surplus of whatever you made, as opposed to leaving something in a container with room at the top.

Peach and Prosciutto Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette - Cookie Monster Cooking

(A late summer peach and prosciutto salad is sounding just right.)

Dear readers. This is hysterical because I am notoriously awful at judging how much space there is for something. Filling Tupperware and other such storing and serving vessels is always something I miss the mark on, but I’ve been keeping this tip in mind and trying to plan a little better for our next Sunday Dinner.

Wings, Three Ways (Part 2!)

Dear readers, we’ve done it before and now we’ve gone and done it again. At a recent Sunday dinner we went wild and grilled wings three ways.

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It’s funny because if you asked, I would tell you I don’t love wings, but I think that’s because if you asked, I’d be picturing restaurant wings, fried, dripping with sauce that’s far too spicy for my liking, and tons of grease. My stomach twisted just thinking about it.

But these wings aren’t those wings, nor are they any wings we’ve made at home. Wings on the grill are a zillion times better. And this time around, everyone had a different favorite, so let me link you to all three.

Wing 1: All Recipes Grill Master Wings

Wing 2: Food Network Garlic Parmesan Wings*

Wing 3: All Recipes Detroit Hot Honey Wings

*It should be noted I snapped a picture of this recipe in an issue of my sister-in-law’s Food Network magazine, but figured I’d never actually make it. When people want wings, they want heat, and there’s none to be found here. But. I’m so glad we went for it because these ended up being faves of mine and some other folks too.

 

In Which We Finally Have Friday Night Meatballs*

Remember Friday Night Meatballs? If you’ve read the blog once or twice, surely you’ve seen me link to it before. Bottom line: a family realized they weren’t connecting with neighbors and friends as much as they wanted, and so they were intentional about making it happen more, and now they can’t imagine life without it.

I read it and we lived in someone else’s house. And then we lived in our own house, but it wasn’t finished. And then, by the time it was finished enough to start something new, we put a new baby in it, and everything I knew about routine, order, and planning was turned on its head.

But now. Now it’s time! Except now there’s this little person who is always here, and who goes to bed so early that I don’t know that Friday Night Meatballs is a real possibility. Except the great thing about Friday Night Meatballs is that it so obviously doesn’t have to be Friday night meatballs. Duh, Jennie. So we have Sunday Dinner. Want to come?

Classic bruschetta becomes a bonding activity when you turn it into a serve-yourself bar. The colorful elements also stand out at the table, functioning as decor. See more at What's Gaby Cooking »   - HouseBeautiful.com

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Here are the rules:

  • We don’t clean our house before you come.
  • We will most likely serve you with disposable plates and flatware so we don’t have to do the dishes after you leave.
  • It will be frighteningly early so we can put our kid to bed at the normal time.
  • We will absolutely take you up on your offer to bring something.

I promise, it’s a blast despite all of those things. Because like this article from my foodie pen pal suggests, eating and talking with people shouldn’t be hard. I’ll share some of our favorite menus soon.

*But really, we have Sunday Dinner.

That Little Extra Something

When friends are over, I used to do my best to pull out all the stops. I was known to make four last minute trips to the grocery store to make justonemorething to take the table from full to bursting. And then Gooplet came around, and simply gathering friends around the table seemed like enough of a win. If my husband can grill and I can pull off a side or two, what more do we need? (Answer: nothing!) But it’s still nice to take a classic and give it a little hint of something special.

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That’s exactly what this Caprese salad with hot bacon dressing is. Yep. Hot*. Bacon. Dressing.

*Except mine was room temperature bacon dressing, and I served it over a bed of arugula.

Cheese Day Saturday [tater tot breakfast skillet]

A while ago, The (Not So) New Girl introduced me (virtually) to her pseudo-cousin, someone who she said had a passion for all things cooking and cookbooks, and reminded her a lot of yours truly. Many a recipe-link/pin/email later, my foodie pen pal and I finally met up last weekend! We went to have brunch with The (Not So) New Girl, and wasn’t it a surprise when we discovered that each of us brought something with cheese.

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My contribution was a riff on How Sweet Eats’ tater tot breakfast skillet, but we all know these days I can’t be bothered to follow a recipe to the letter. Here’s what I did (and did again when I made this approximately 8 days later, yes it is that good):

Preheated the oven to 375.

Sauteed chopped onions, mushrooms, and a red pepper till soft, then added 3 minced cloves of garlic for the last minute or two. Put that mixture in the bottom of a well-greased baking dish.

Cracked 8 eggs, and added 2/3 C whole milk. Poured the mixture on top of the veggies.

Sprinkled 8 oz. of grated extra sharp cheddar on top of that.

Layered a bag of frozen tots all over the top.

Baked it for 45 minutes, and then ate way more than anyone ever should.

Meal Planning – for a Month (ish)

Dear readers,

Dear readers!

I am SO SO SO SO excited about today. We’re still talking all things meal planning, but today it’s not me rambling at you, it’s CARI FAYE! Cari Faye, of not-cooking fame! She’s sharing some insight on her own meal planning process, which is vastly different from mine. Because, again, say it with me now, there is no right way to meal plan! I plan every week. Cari Faye plans by the month.

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As someone who is a picky eater (scratch that – I have a discriminating palate), meal planning is an easy task.  There are only so many things I’m willing to eat, and  even fewer things I’m willing to spend time in the kitchen preparing/cooking/etc.  Our weeks usually go as follows – Sunday night through Wednesday night is home cooked meals.  Thursday night is some grab bag assortment of stuff from the freezer (I’m talking frozen ravioli, bagel bites, chicken nuggets – total kid food) and the Friday night and Saturday night are reserved for carry out.  Home cooked meals for 4 nights equates to 2 different meals with leftovers for 2 nights.  As someone who finds cooking to be a total chore, this makes it more manageable by only cooking every other night.

2 different meals = 1 meal of chicken and 1 meal of beef.  My beef recipes include meatloaf and meatballs.  My chicken recipes include gourmet things like shake and bake and corn flake chicken.  There’s 2 weeks worth of dinners right there.  The third week is usually baked ziti week – a meal that lasts for 3 nights instead of 2 (score!!) and my husband’s favorite.  That week we have an extra night of carry out (my favorite).  And then we start back over again in week 4.

In the summer, we get to rotate in things like hamburgers and grilled chicken, which I love because it’s tasty AND I don’t do the grilling (although this means I’m the one cleaning dishes; everything in life is a trade off). In the winter, the slow cooker is used ALL. THE. TIME.  BBQ chicken, coke chicken, any chicken recipe I can find.  Yes, the only thing I cook in my slow cooker is chicken (told you I had a discriminating palate).

After giving birth to our daughter and going back to work full time, I decided I really did not even want to spend 2 nights a week cooking dinner.  I now take 1 weekend a month and spend a day preparing enough meals to put in the freezer to last for a month.  This seems to be working well.  While defrosting meatballs and microwaving them isn’t quite as tasty as the freshly cooked version, it’s so much easier for us right now.  And easy = winning.

Don’t even ask me about sides.  I suck at those.  For many reasons, but the main one being I only eat foods that are beige.  So we rotate between tater tots, mashed potatoes, rice and macaroni and cheese as our sides. No joke.  In the summer, we eat corn on the cob!  And sometimes I’m feeling adventurous and will heat up some string beans out of the can, because those are the only vegetable I like.
Lessons you can take away from this?
1. Being a picky eater makes meal planning so much easier
2. As long as you don’t mind eating the same 6-8 meals on repeat, meal planning is a win
3. Tell your husband whenever you go out to eat to order the thing on the menu he loves but you will never cook for him.  this way he still gets to eat what he likes too! (For my husband, this ends up being a lot of pork and seafood.)

Meal Planning – For a Week

Let me walk you through the story of this week, dear readers. Tomorrow, we’re talking to Cari Faye, who plans out a month at a time.

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Monday was a leftover night. We fed people in some capacity for both lunch and dinner on Sunday, and thus, our refrigerator runneth over. I had some tomatoes and mozzarella mixed with pesto, so for dinner, I added cooked pasta, corn, and a little chicken for my husband, and we called it dinner. If we hadn’t had anything in the fridge, it would have been a “frozen stuff from Trader Joe’s” night, because Gooplet and I had plans with friends, and then I was out for the hour before dinner.

On Tuesday (today), I’m re-purposing our leftover sausage, onions, and peppers from Sunday Dinner, adding some cheese, and making an egg-bake. I rarely look at recipes for them anymore, but this is a good starting place. Since it’s just a matter of throwing food we already have together, I can make this on the spot right before it needs to go in the oven.

And then on Wednesday, which is always my busiest evening, we’re eating leftovers again. Yep! If I’m truly on my a-game I’ll roast some veggies to keep working on over lunches and dinners for the rest of the week, but that only happens about half the time.

On Thursday, I have a pretty quiet day, so I’m using some of naptime to make spaghetti pie. My favorite dinner!

On Friday, with any luck, I’ll get to make salad for lunch, and get something in the slow cooker for dinner. I didn’t make cassoulet like I planned last week, because I couldn’t find good kielbasa. So that’s an option (which still requires some grocery store searching), or I can pull the chicken thighs out of the freezer, and put them to use in another capacity.

Saturday is a grill night for my husband, with any number of my family members joining us for dinner.

And on Sunday, we’ll be going to our friends’ for Sunday Dinner, so no planning on my part! The timing on that works out beautifully, as we will have just said goodbye to our guests.