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An Exploration of Feeding Children

I’m a new mom, and being a Co-op employee and long time vegan, feeding my baby is something I think about a lot. He’s only eight-months-old, but because we are (mostly) following baby-led weaning, I’ve already begun to explore what foods I can introduce to him that are nutritious, tasty, and fun—all in an attempt not only to nourish his body, but to help him become a healthy eater as he grows up. My family has seen a lot of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, and I want to give him the best shot at avoiding these diseases. He has a seven-year-old stepbrother that we have on the weekends, and we make good efforts to help him along this food journey too.

My baby is in a great place—mostly breastfeeding and steadily increasing his food intake. He’s very excited about food, and will eat nearly everything we put in front of him. From what I’ve heard, this may not last that long, so I’m taking in all I can to figure out how to keep things progressing. I thought I would compile some of the tips I’ve found and share them here.

  • Shapes: Evidently, kids love things in fun shapes. So whether it’s using a cookie cutter to shape sandwiches or watermelon, or just slicing veggies into stars, triangles, and cubes, kids go nuts for this stuff.
  • Dips: Giving kids something to dip into helps too—just adding peanut butter to veggies or giving them salad dressings or hummus. Ants on a log works for a reason.
  • Re-name: Give the food a fun name, like “Tiny Trees,” “Dinosaur Leaves” or “Gamma Radiation Green Beans.”
  • DIY: Giving kids the opportunity to create or help with their own meal can also help—asking them to stir final ingredients together, measure flour for muffins, tear kale leaves apart, assemble their own tacos, or make rice balls. Messy but fun!  
  • Model Healthy Eating: This is the most important factor—you demonstrate through your own choices what eating healthy looks like. Not so easy for all of us.  
  • Concealment: I saw hiding or blending food into familiar recipes as an option. Sure, it’s a great way to increase vegetable consumption, but not a great way to get your kid to make the choice themselves. Perhaps use this in combination, or ask them to help with it—like add the pureed sweet potato to the muffin mix.  
  • Organize and Plan: Prep veggies and fruits so they are readily available for snack times, plot out your meals and make sure you have a few easy meals in your rotation.

Those are the tips I’ve found, and following are recipes I’ve tried and liked. Of course, I’m just starting this parenting journey. Many of y’all have been on the journey for years! I’d love to see your tips and recipe ideas—if you use social media, post your ideas/tips and add #WillyKid so we can all share with each other.

Peanut Sauce
Adapted from theppk.com
I tried this sauce on my baby, and he loved it! Sucked the sauce right off the tofu.

  • 1/2 c. natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. chopped ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp.hot pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. sweetener
  • 2 Tbs. tamari or soy sauce

Directions: Pulse all the ingredients in a blender until smooth. Serve as a dip or a sauce! Try on sautéed tofu, broccoli, and noodles or rice. Or use in Dragon Bowls (see below).

Baked Chickpeas!
Yummy and versatile.

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 Tbs. oil
  • 1 Tbs. nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Directions: Preheat oven to 400ºF. Toss all ingredients together and spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake for 20 -25 minutes, tossing the beans once or twice during baking. Bake longer if you like them more crispy. Play with seasonings!

Mini Lentil Meatballs
Adapted from theppk.com
I’ve had fantasies of making this for my children for years. At last! Don’t let the long list fool you—it’s very easy. Kids can help with the ball forming!

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 small onion (tangerine sized), peeled
  • 1 1/2 c. (15 oz. can) cooked lentils, rinsed and drained.
  • 3 Tbs. nutritional yeast flakes
  • 2 Tbs. vital wheat gluten flour
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • 1/2 c. seasoned breadcrumbs

Direction: Using a food processor—pulse the garlic until finely chopped. Add onion and pulse until minced. You do not want any big pieces. With a spatula, transfer the onion/garlic mixture to a bowl and set aside. It’s ok if you don’t get it all, just most of it.

Next add the lentils, nutritional yeast, vital wheat gluten, soy sauce, tomato paste, olive oil and water—pulse until everything is mixed, then puree them until smooth, scraping down the sides as you go. Dump this mixture in with the onion/garlic and then add the breadcrumbs. Mix really well with your hands for about 2 minutes. This helps activate the gluten to bind the balls.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Roll the meatballs into cherry sized balls—you should get about 32 balls. Preheat a large skillet over medium heat and pour a thin layer of olive oil. Don’t crowd the pan; fry the balls in two batches. You should be able to tilt the pan and roll the meatballs well enough to get coated in oil. Cook until browned (about 5 minutes).

Transfer all the meatballs to a baking pan. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan every once in a while to toss the meatballs so they cook evenly.

Toss with tomato sauce of your choice and top your pasta! Be careful not to break the meatballs whilst you toss them.

Dragon Bowl
A customizable bowl that contains a protein, grain, and veggie, served with a sauce. These are super easy to make gluten free, vegan, or paleo if needed. It can be made with leftovers or scraps! This could also be a great DIY meal for a kid—have a nice spread of veggies and let them build their own bowl.

  • Pick your pre-cooked grain. Examples: Rice, quinoa, steel cut oats, noodles, grits.
  • Add pre-cooked/prepped veggies. Examples: shredded carrots, cubed avocado, roasted pepper strips, steamed green beans, cucumbers coins, steamed edamame, cooked spinach or collards. Remember the tip above regarding shapes—bust out the mini cookie cutters!
  • Top with protein: Sautéed Tofu, Chickpeas, fried egg, leftover meats.
  • Add sauce! Either drizzle on top or serve on the side for dipping. Examples: the Peanut sauce from above, a cheese (or Cheeze) sauce, salad dressings.

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