Toddlers: Almost instant nutritious meals

I have 11-month-old twins that have always been small. After an episode of diarrhea, they are even smaller. My husband and I both work full time and meal times are always very hectic. Do you have any suggestions for quick, easy meals that will help them put the weight back on? Baby food is very convenient but I'm feeling that the boys should be "moving on."

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

You are correct in feeling that it is time for the guys to move on. Baby food will no longer provide the textural stimulation that they need to develop more mature chewing and swallowing techniques. To not offer more solid food now, may result in them refusing it later.

Do not be surprised if the weight is very slow in going back on your twins. Weight gain tends to slow down very dramatically toward the beginning of the second year and with it their appetite. Serving nutrient dense food will help some. Also, because they have such small stomachs they can't eat a lot of food at one time. Nutritious snacks will have to be used to fill the gaps. Meal time is a great time for the family to come together before heading out into a hectic world, or to regroup after a busy day. It is worth your while to try and take the 'hectic' from your meal time so that you can all focus on each other. Fortunately, babies aren't too fussy or demanding, especially if they are introduced to a wide range of foods early. Therefore, make 'variety' a key word in your diet. It is also fortunate that what a one year old likes to eat is about as easy to prepare than at any other time in their life.

Simple food prepared simply is their favorite. Kids at that age tend to be separatists, and so fancy casseroles and elaborate dishes are out of the question. They like the cheese bits in one spot, the cheerios in another, and the carrot pieces in another. In many cases, it is taboo for any of them to touch each other. They like little pieces of cut up food that they can pick up and feed themselves, or something so clumpy that it will stick to their spoon on its perilous and roundabout journey to their mouth.

Your basic guideline for each meal should be: 1 serving of a protein rich food, 2 servings from the fruit and vegetable group, 1 serving from the grain group, and 1 serving from the dairy group. Don't worry too much if they don't all make it. Snacks are a great way to fill in what was missed at the previous meal. In the case of your twins, get a daily diary of what they eat at day care so that you can tailor their meals at home to round out their daily diet.

You can prepare a meal for them quickly and easily but recognizing those foods in each group that lend themselves to little or no preparation time. For example: From the protein group, purchase ground beef, turkey or chicken, cook it quickly in the fry pan and they can finger feed themselves the small bits of meat, tender fish cooks quickly (about 10 minutes at 425 for 1 inch thick fish) and can be flaked for easy finger food. On the weekends you can make a meatloaf, cut it into fingers and keep refrigerated to serve during the week, or freeze for later use. On weekends you can also make mini meatballs that freeze well for later use.

Other ideas are chopped hard boiled eggs or tofu chunks.

Cheeses -- the already grated kind -- (Muenster, and mild Cheddar are kid favorites), plain yogurt that you mix with baby food fruit puree (it's much less sugar this way than if you purchase the already sweetened variety) , large curd cottage cheese, cream cheese spread on a tender muffin (make a large batch of mini muffins and freeze them for easy defrosting and use later on) or on a piece of bread would be an energy dense food for the twins.

From the fruit and vegetable group, serve soft, ripe, peeled fruit such as bananas, peaches, melon, mango, papaya, and pear. Give your twins soft-cooked vegetables cut into pieces that are easy for them to hold and to bite off of. Once they are able to eat cooked vegetables begin to introduce washed grated raw vegetables, and larger pieces of raw vegetables like carrot sticks and cucumber sticks that they can nibble off of. From the grain group -- pieces of toast, bread, whole bagels for teething on, teething crackers, tender muffins, cut up pieces of pancake and french toast, little pieces of ready to eat cereal that are low in salt and sugar and have no nuts, pasta in small fun shapes and sizes, and a daily serving of an iron fortified baby cereal is essential (make it thick enough so the boys can get it to stay on their spoon as they feed themselves.) Now, how to put it together into an almost instant, and very nutritious meal? Here are some meal suggestions.

  1. Grated mild cheese, cooked whole wheat pasta shells, tender cooked broccoli florettes, apple apricot juice
  2. Crumbled cooked ground turkey, baby food jar of winter squash, mini muffin, sippy cup of milk
  3. Cheerios, ripe banana sticks, yogurt mixed with pureed prunes
  4. Firm bread or toast to dip into any baby food puree (vegetable or fruit), large curd cottage cheese, cooked green beans
  5. Cream cheese on a mini muffin (or finger of banana or pumpkin bread (can be store bought), ripe peach cut up into piece they can hold, milk
  6. Meat loaf finger, ripe melon, cooked brown rice (pressed together into a little ball), milk
  7. Baby cereal mixed with milk and fruit, bagel for teething on
  8. Ripe pieces of avocado, Macaroni and cheese ( 1 cup cooked pasta mixed with 1/4 cup grated cheese, 1/4 cup cottage cheese, a pat of butter, a little milk and heated for a couple of minutes to melt the cheese and butter), cup of milk or juice

Lots of these suggestions contain foods that are nutrient dense and will help with weight gain. Be sure to choose the full-fat dairy products and the richer varieties of meat. Liver is a very nutrient-dense meat, and if cooked properly makes a great finger food that is easily gummed or chewed.

Have fun with those two little boys!

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