How (and What!) We Feed James

toddler meal ideas

I’ve always loved to cook and feed people, so I imagined that feeding my children would be a similarly lovely experience—and in many ways, it is. Cooking for James is one of the great ways I’m able to nurture him and teach him (mostly by example) and I love that. So far, James seems to be a pretty great eater. He’s game to try anything and likes a wide variety of flavors. What a gift, right? The first time I tried sushi I was in college and James had it last week, along with a number of other things I came to love later in life, like Indian food. Seeing him try all these cuisines and flavors is a serious joy to witness, but it doesn’t mean he’s always down for anything or that he likes everything we put in front of him.

There are plenty of nights where he’ll eat part of the meal but not all, or when he doesn’t seem to like anything. Take the other night for example, I made him what I considered a really delicious meal, a stir fry with flavors not unlike ones he’s used to eating, and he took one look at his plate and lost it. Just lost it. After we took him out of his seat and he calmed down he ended up eating some yogurt instead. All this to say, even with an adventurous eater, mealtimes are not without their challenges. What James likes today, he may flat-out refuse to eat tomorrow, and that seems to be the hard truth of feeding toddlers. Everything changes, constantly. Still, we stay optimistic; we keep trying. We offer healthy foods over and over, adding in new things frequently. And most importantly, we try not to get discouraged or put too much energy behind wanting him to eat a certain food or a certain way. The calmer and clearer we are around food, the better James responds, the more empowered he feels, and the fewer power struggles we have.

We recently read some of the eating philosophy of Ellyn Satter who talks about the division of responsibility in feeding. As parents, it is our job to decide what our kids eat and where they eat, but we can’t force anything beyond that. Our children, even babies, get to decide how much and whether they eat the food we give them. We should try to make mealtimes pleasant, eat as a family when possible, provide nutritious and tasty food, and be considerate of our children’s preferences. When parents live up to their responsibilities in feeding, children will usually live up to their responsibility with eating.

toddler eating oatmeal
Eating oatmeal

That isn’t to say we are constantly all sitting down around the table and eating home cooked meals chock full of superfoods. Sometimes we give him a hotdog and a veggie pouch for dinner when we didn’t prepare anything. Sometimes we get him a donut when we go through the Dunkin drive through for coffee on a Saturday morning. Oftentimes he eats dinner before us because he likes to eat before 5 p.m. But in general, we try to keep a good routine of meal and snack times and offer a wide variety of nutritious foods. As he grows, we hope he continues to develop a positive relationship with food.

feeding a toddler
Enjoying his favorite popsicle from the ice cream truck!

The only thing I truly care about is raising James with an intuitive, balanced approach to food and eating. I offer him healthy home cooked meals constantly and his diet is full of fruits and veggies, but I’m far less perfectionistic and controlling than you might think. I’m not dogmatic about him eating unprocessed or zero sugar because to us, that’s just not real life. I want to set him up to eat confidently and freely, with a mind toward nutrition but without ALL THE FOOD NOISE and the obsession that so many of us are burdened with.

WHAT We Feed James

As for what we feed him, it’s mostly meals that Daniel and I eat ourselves. Every meal has a fruit and/or vegetable, and those rotate all the time depending on the season. Thankfully, I haven’t found a fruit or veg that he doesn’t like. The only food he consistently refuses or spits out is eggs in any form. Daniel has a mild egg allergy so maybe James does, too.

yogurt with granola, sliced apple, and grapes // whole wheat pancakes with fruit and maple syrup // bagel with cream cheese and fruit

Breakfasts
Yogurt with granola or, if we don’t have granola, I mix the yogurt with a crunchy cereal like Cheerios or CHEX and raisins, whole wheat pancakes, oatmeal (either overnight oats or regular hot oats), bagel with cream cheese (and occasionally lox—he loves it).

mac and cheese with veggies, sweet potatoes, and grapes // turkey and cheese sandwich with grapes and cucumber // buffalo chicken salad with green beans and cucumber

Lunches
The two main things he eats for lunch are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat or grilled cheese on whole wheat. He also loves chicken salad (shredded chicken breast with mayo and celery) and I’ll add hot sauce, making it buffalo chicken salad, and he LOVES it. I don’t know if it’s all the spicy food I ate when I was pregnant with him, but he really enjoys spicy foods. Occasionally he’ll have leftovers from dinner the night before or I’ll make him a quesadilla with mashed beans and cheese.

baked haddock with sweet potatoes and green beans // pasta with meatballs and broccoli // deconstructed stuffed peppers with avocado

Dinners
As I mentioned above, James eats what we eat (for the most part) and we have different things all the time: meatloaf, pasta, chili, roasted chicken, hot dogs (my favorite are Applegate brand), pizza, stir fry with tofu or chicken, salmon or baked haddock…you name it.

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I’d love to hear from you: How (and what) do you feed your kids?

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