How Do I Provide Kids With Nutrition and Variety?

We got a great question about whole foods for kids and we passed it on to one of our Expert Moms this week:

“I have been taking steps towards being a more “natural” mom and am encouraged by women who write positively about a natural lifestyle. I loved your nutrition articles and am wondering what kinds of lunches you feed your kids. I have a son, 18-months, and often times find myself struggling to give him some variety during the afternoon meal. Dinners don’t tend to be a problem, and maybe my quest for variety is what the issue is. How do you vary your menus while still offering whole foods?”

Carrie Willard, Natural Moms Talk Radio

I struggle with lunches too! In fact I recently posted on my blog that I needed ideas for more creative and fun lunches. I ended up stumbling upon a blog post from a blogger I admire, with lots of great tips, mostly in the comments. The post is here.  While you may not need to eat gluten free, there are still dozens of awesome ideas!

It’s interesting that in many cultures, lunch is the main meal of the day. We tend to eat a light lunch here in the States, and then a hefty dinner. Recently though I’ve been switching this around to reflect what our bodies probably need: more calories in the middle of the day when we’re most active, and lighter fare for dinner. When I made this mental switch lunches got easier, because now I plan better for the mid day meal when I do my meal planning and grocery list.

Oddly, serving more food has made lunch planning simpler for me. I think more in terms of making an actual meal (like I would with dinner), instead of just slapping something together at the last second.

At the same time, I think we moms make things harder on ourselves by thinking we need to have lots of variety.

While we do want to eat lots of different vegetables to make sure we’re exposing our kids to new tastes and meeting our nutritional needs, this can happen over the course of a week/month and at different meals. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. When I’m feeling mentally overloaded, I often ask my family what they would like to eat. They always pick the same things! Especially when we have little ones as you do, they would probably prefer we spend less time in the kitchen and more time on the floor playing.

A toddler’s appetite, as you know, can vary widely from day to day depending on different factors, so I would suggest you keep it simple for now. (How I keep my “quickly growing into a man 14 year old” fed is another blog post altogether!) A simple snack tray of small bites of cheese or meat for protein, cut up veggies and fruits, bean dips such as hummus with pita are fun, nutritious and easy to put together. If your toddler is like mine, he loves to dip things. There are lots of fun dips you can make with yogurt, sour cream, and mashed beans. For a toddler, a little dip and something to dip with (veggies, fruit, cut up bread) is a meal.

Start a page of lunch ideas you like in your planner, or on your computer or phone if you prefer. When I come across recipes and ideas on blogs and places like Pinterest, I use Evernote to keep track of them. This makes it easy for me to plan my meals and grocery list because it’s searchable.

This is such a fun time with your toddler because he is open to so many new things and you can get him going on a path to healthy eating with no struggle or pickiness (at least most of the time!). Don’t be afraid to try something exotic if it’s what you love. Bon appetit!

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