My husband and I love to cook and share meals. So I was excited when our first baby, Eli, was old enough to start eating "real food." I envisioned making him healthy meals from scratch and enjoying them peacefully as a family of three.
Like many things related to parenting, it didn't go as planned. Most of our meals in those early years were chaotic and very, very messy. My husband, Sam, worked evenings back then, so I was often on my own for dinners with Eli, who is now 11. Sometimes he hungrily devoured, and then spit up, entire bowls of rice cereal — while I ate crackers. Other times, he fed himself fistfuls of yogurt by smashing his chubby fist into the bowl and then rubbing it on his face, from forehead to chin. I wasn't sure he'd ever successfully get food into his own mouth.
But it got better. The first time we really enjoyed a meal as a family was at an unexpected place: a TGI Fridays somewhere between Binghamton, N.Y., and Burlington, where we stopped on the way home from a visit with grandparents. My chicken salad and Sam's cheeseburger were nothing special, but we were happy to be eating something that someone else had prepared and we wouldn't have to clean up.
For his part, Eli, who was about 16 months old at the time, loved the wooden restaurant high chair and the chance to practice "chatting" with our server. He probably scattered more spaghetti around the table than he actually ate, but he managed to get most of a meatball into his mouth on his own.
Over the years we've learned that flexibility and a sense of humor are key to success when it comes to feeding very young kids. With that in mind, here's a healthy, tasty and adaptable meal you can make for little ones. You'll probably want to dig in, too. Enjoy — and don't worry about what ends up on the floor.
Egg Squares, Fruit Salad & Toast Bites
click to enlarge
Makes 3-4 kid-size servings
- Cooking spray or olive oil
- 6 eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- A few slices of whole-grain bread
- Butter to taste
- A handful of red grapes (cut into tiny bits), berries, sliced bananas or oranges
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
- Spray a shallow 8-by-8- or 9-by-9-inch roasting pan with cooking spray, or brush lightly with oil.
- Beat eggs and milk in a mixing bowl until frothy. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake on the center rack for 15 minutes, or until the top of the eggs puff up a bit and are set in the center.
- Let them cool briefly before cutting them into small squares.
- Make a few pieces of toast and butter them well. Stack them on top of each other and, using a bread knife, cut them into small squares.
- Arrange each plate with three or four toast squares on top of each other next to several egg squares. Scatter the fruit around the plate.
Pro tip: Add some grated cheese and salsa to your own baked eggs.
Sweet Potatoes & Sticky Brown Rice
(Makes 3 kid-size servings)
- 1 cup short-grain brown rice
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced to ½-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 avocado, cut into bite-size pieces
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Pour the rice and 1 ¾ cup water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Let simmer over low heat for 35 minutes.
- Scatter the diced sweet potato on a large, rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Drizzle the olive oil over the top, and toss the cubes to coat.
- Roast them for 15 minutes or until they’re tender enough to pierce easily with a fork. Transfer to a bowl.
- When the rice is ready, arrange a small scoop on a plate with a handful of sweet potato cubes and a few avocado bits.
Pro tip: If you are sharing this lunch, I recommend adding a little Sriracha and some chopped cilantro to your plate.
Making Baby Food
Recently, I've started making food for babies as young as 4 months old at Burlington Children's Space. Here's what I've learned:
- Get a decent food processor. It will make prep work quick and easy. We have a high-quality KitchenAid at BCS, and it is glorious: fast, quiet and super powerful. At home, I use a $50 Hamilton Beach. It's not as fast or quiet, but it gets the job done.
- Bananas, peaches, pears, butternut squash and sweet potatoes are great first purées. Peel and cut the fruit or veggies into 1-inch pieces. You can mash ripe bananas with a fork; simmer any of the others in a saucepan of just-boiling water until they are soft enough to pierce easily with a fork. Drain, reserving some of the water in case you need to thin the purée. Blend in your food processor until very smooth, adding a splash of water if necessary.
- Freeze your purées in ice-cube trays, then pop out the cubes and store them in Ziploc freezer bags, so you can easily thaw one at a time.
- When your baby is ready for blends, usually around 8 months, add mashed avocado to any of the purées for extra vitamins, fiber, healthy fat and protein.
- For baby-food inspiration, visit my favorite blogs on the topic: loveandduckfat.com and mashyourheartout.com.