What Parents are Asking #3

how to sneak veggies into toddler food


1. What are the best bedtime snacks for toddlers?

It’s best to avoid too much sugar before bedtime, and unfortunately, many toddler snacks tend to be sweetened. Aiming for a blend of carbs, protein and fats with as little sugar as possible will keep bellies full longer and help your little one lull off to sleep. Try whole grain crackers and a cheese stick, or a piece of whole grain toast topped with cottage cheese. A low sugar cereal eaten plain or with a little whole milk is also a good choice. A few foods are known to have a sleepy effect, like bananas and oats, and warm foods are often calming on the body and mind. Try a fresh banana or warm oatmeal muffin topped with nut butter. A bedtime snack should be kept light so as not to upset or overfill the tummy which can interfere with a restful night’s sleep. Many times, your toddler is not hungry but putting off bedtime or is just thirsty. Offer a bedtime story and cuddle to see if the request may have been more about anxiety than hunger. Try a cup of water to rule out thirst. When you do offer a bedtime snack. keep it small and simple and be sure to brush teeth afterwards to avoid cavities.

2. How can I keep my toddler busy while feeding the baby (without using TV)?

If you are a breastfeeding mom of a baby with a toddler running around, you know you must master the art of multitasking. The reality is that even though you need to feed baby, your toddler still very much needs mama too and doesn’t much like to be left alone, so what’s a mom to do? Here are some strategies that might work for your toddler, or might work one day and not the next, but they are all worth trying. Soon you’ll find a rhythm that works best for your family, and as everyone settles in, it will get a little easier.

Stories, stories, stories: If you can manage, make nursing time storytime with a stack of your toddler’s favorite board books and picture books. If you cannot be hands-free enough to read, you can simply tell freeform stories, either made up ones or actual stories from when your toddler was a baby or from when you were little. Feel free to also let your toddler take the lead with a story. You can use some prompts like, “tell me a story about what your stuffed animal did while you were sleeping last night”...and listen as your toddler takes the stage. 


Timing is Everything: While you can’t always time when baby needs to be fed, there are often predictable rhythms to your day that you can sometimes use to your advantage. For example, try and line up baby’s feeding time with your toddler’s nap. This way you can nurse baby in a rocker in toddler’s room while they are falling asleep. Of course, this is not always doable. Look for times when toddler is engrossed in an activity, like a craft, coloring, building or pretend play, sit on the floor with them and nurse baby.  Of course, you can also set up an activity to try and “entertain” your toddler while you nurse, but it’s often easier to just harness the times when they get into a play flow on their own. You can also try and coincide nursing with toddler’s snack time, so everyone is eating together. Finally, if there is a time of day that you have more help, ie your partner is available or grandparent or friend, take the chance to go and nurse baby and soak up some one-on-one time while your toddler is enjoying the company of another grown-up.

Get them Involved: Finally there is nothing that toddlers love more than to mimic and copy what you are doing in the form of role-playing. Give them the tools to “feed their baby” alongside you. You can give them their own baby doll and bottle or use a stuffed animal. If your toddler is into it, let them prepare food for baby in a play kitchen, change their baby’s diaper, carry their baby in a wrap or sling and so on. Some toddlers respond better to helping in real life. You can try and get them involved by giving them jobs while you are feeding, like asking them to go pick out a book for baby, bring you a burp cloth, sing a lullaby to baby, tell baby a bedtime story, bring you a cup of water or snack, or anything that can keep them busy and feeling proud and useful.  

3. How can I sneak more veggies into my toddler’s meals? 

If you are like many parents and have a toddler who is refusing to eat veggies, take heart. You are not alone, you’ve done nothing wrong, and your child will be okay. It takes a lot of time and patience for acceptance of new foods, and toddlers warm up to vegetables at different paces. Being that children’s brains are wired to accept sweet foods over bitter ones for survival purposes, it’s only normal that vegetables may take longer to embrace than, say, fruits. Your job is to not give up or accept the fate of “my child just doesn’t eat vegetables.” Even though on the inside you may be pulling your hair out and thinking your child can never grow on buttered noodles alone, it’s important to try and keep a cool, low-pressure, low-stakes attitude as much as you possibly can. Remember the long-game which is to instill a love affair of vegetables for life and not just how to get them to eat one single bite today. 

Yes, there are a million and one ways to “sneak vegetables” into your toddler’s diet, but I think there are a few problems with this approach (if it is your only one).  The ultimate goal is to instill a love of vegetables. At the end of the day, you want your child to know which vegetables are their current faves and which ones they are still learning to like. Ideally, they could also say their names and identify them. If vegetables are always snuck in, it can send the message that vegetables are not delicious on their own. It also doesn’t give the toddler a chance to know what vegetables they like or don’t. It can also seem kind of subversive to serve vegetables to your toddler without them knowing it, like you’re trying to get one over on them. That can quickly turn into a power struggle and a loss of trust. Finally, even if they are gobbling up hidden vegetables, they will not know it and continue to self-identify as a non-vegetable eater. In my opinion, the best ways to start your toddler off on the right foot with veggies is with total transparency and these methods:

Modeling: Using your toddler’s desire to do what you do and be like you, it’s important to model eating vegetables alongside your toddler at any chance. And not only model eating vegetables but modelenjoyingeating them. It’s not enough to say “Look mommy ate one, now your turn,” Toddlers are very smart and will see right through that. Simply continue to serve yourself vegetables as snacks and say “I’m making myself a snack. Do you want some?” Or don’t even offer, but just start eating it yourself, and say “Oh yum, I love red peppers. These are so crunchy and juicy. I just love them.” Serve yourself vegetables that sincerely bring you joy. If you are choking down a salad for a diet, it is not going to look enticing to your toddler. Be authentic. Nothing is off limits. If you could eat a whole bowl of boiled brussel sprouts and butter, give your toddler that same chance. Your toddler will pick up on your genuine enjoyment of the food and will be more curious to try it. The other important modeling time is eating together and serving yourself the same as your toddler whenever possible. Talk about how delicious it is and savor the food yourself. Start a solid tradition of sitting down to family mealtime, and even snack together when you can. 

Language and Assumptions: Watch the way you talk about food and the assumptions you make for your toddler. This is all so easy to do and totally understandable, but try and be vigilant in catching yourself. Be sure not to make any public declarations in front of family or friends about your toddler’s food preferences. For example, watch out for saying things like, “Squash? Oh no, Sam won’t eat that.”  You may even be saying that to yourself at the grocery store and so certain veggies never make it home in the first place. Do you assume your child won’t like a vegetable that you don’t like? Do you assume your child won’t like a vegetable because they didn’t like it once or even three times before? Try and wipe the slate clean every single time. Offer a vegetable over and over as if it is for the first time. If you notice they are still refusing it, you can simply say, “Oh you must still be learning to like that veggie.” And then talk a time when their tastes had changed like, “I remember you used to not like cheese when you were 2, and now you gobble it up. I bet you’ll learn to love green beans too as you get older. They are my favorite.” Keep assuming your child will like the vegetable. Keep speaking extremely positively about not only vegetables, but also about your toddler. Praise them openly about how they always try new foods and how they are learning to love vegetables (even if they don’t yet). Remind them of times when their tastes have changed, they have enjoyed a vegetable, or they ended up liking a food they didn’t think they would. All of this language will reinforce that learning to accept foods is a process, and gives them space to continue to redefine their likes and dislikes. 

Dig in!: My next strategy for truly building a lifelong love of vegetables is to help participate in the growing, preparing, cooking and serving of them. There is nothing quite like the magic of pulling a carrot out of the ground or watching a seed sprout. If you can, grow something. It does not have to be a major undertaking (though feel free if you can!). You can take an egg carton, fill in with dirt, and plant some seeds in each container and watch them sprout. You can put an avocado pit in water and watch it grow. You can get one container, fill with potting soil, and grow a single tomato plant. You could have some potted herbs on the windowsill in the kitchen. In addition to growing your own food, visit a farm and pick fruit and vegetables. Visit a farmer’s market and chat with the farmers and let your toddler pick out the vegetables. Take your toddler to the grocery store and see if they can find three vegetables you ask for. Make it fun! Seeing how food is grown, where it comes from, and being able to identify it, is all part of the acceptance process and builds excitement around the ingredients. The next step is preparing and cooking it. They are a ton of ways that toddlers can help in the kitchen. Let them shell peas, shuck corn, and pull kale off the ribs.  Let them put the smoothie ingredients in a blender and blend it up. Let them top a pizza. Let them pick out a recipe from a cookbook. Let them stir a pot. Let them plate some food and serve it. The more hands-on they are in the whole process, the more invested they will be in liking and eating the finished product. Of course, this all involves cooking at home and from scratch, which is not always possible, but every little bit helps!

Tie in Culture: Food is not only sustenance, but it is part of our memories and our cultural and family history. Building lore around certain dishes can definitely help with toddlers feeling like they are part of the family or part of something bigger when they eat certain dishes at certain times. You can talk about how this was your favorite meal when you were three, or this is what your grandma used to cook, or what you ate on a special holiday, etc. Building traditions, stories and memories around food and making vegetables a reward can go a long way. For example, you can say, “When I was little and played in the snow at grandma’s house, when I came in, your grandma would always have piping hot sweet potatoes fresh from the oven waiting for me. It was the best ever. Today after building our snowman, we can eat sweet potatoes together.” You can celebrate your family heritage by saying things like, “This is a special food from the Philippines, where grandpa was born. He used to eat this dish a lot when he was a little boy. He used to cook it for me. Now you get to try it and tell him what you think.” 

These are my tried and true methods for raising a healthy eater with a positive attitude towards food. My kids are 6 and 9, and my 9 year old made us all carrot ginger soup for dinner the other day. Last night I served coconut curried lentils with spinach, and everyone happily gobbled it up. This is not to brag but to give hope. It wasn’t always like this, of course. Now I have the perspective of a few years under my belt and see how these methods work over time. It won’t happen overnight. Be patient. Stick with these methods best you can. Perfection is not necessary! And as you are cultivating these positive attitudes, and you just need your toddler to take a  bite of vegetables that day, go ahead and do some sneaking too. Buy vegetable-based pastas and pasta sauces, add them to smoothies, muffins, pancakes, breads, soups. Serve them cut in fun shapes. Try them raw or cooked. Serve them with dip. And all of the ways… but never give up. Your child loves vegetables; they just might not know it yet. :)

It's never too early to get started. Introducing vegetables in your baby's food will help familiarize baby with savory flavors from the beginning. Try Amara's Introduction to Vegetables Pack. Each flavor can be mixed with breast milk or formula to help with acceptance of new vegetables. They also have super simple finger food recipes on the side of every box that your toddler can help make. Happy feeding! 

veggie baby food

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