One of my main aims for helping parents is to offer quick and simple ways to make healthy eating practical. I often talk about easy ways to boost nutrition and add “extras” into meals, and I recently shared my top supermarket buys for feeding kids.
I’m all about offering tips that are realistic for parents to take on board. In this blog, I wanted to share some of my top healthy “hacks” for feeding toddlers that I’ve learnt not only as a nutritionist, but as a busy parent as well!
Add dips to snacks and meals
Dips are one of my favourite ways to add a little bit of fun to a meal and also extra nutrients. Even as adults, having a sauce, dressing or dip adds so much in the way of flavour to our meals, and it’s the same for kids. There are so many different dips you can use to vary it up.
Some dips that I love to use are:
- Yoghurt – I love to use yoghurt as a sweet or a savoury dip – either mix together with nut butter, stewed fruits or add some lemon juice, paprika or other herbs and serve alongside veggie sticks, savoury muffins or toast strips
- Tahini – tahini is a great non-dairy source of calcium and also a perfect way to keep up allergen exposure to sesame – you can blend it with a little yoghurt or lemon juice to loosen it and serve with veg, pasta, savoury pancakes or on oatcakes
- Cheese – cream cheese, ricotta or mascarpone are all great bases for a savoury dip. They are great mixed with some herbs and olive oil and served with some savoury muffins. You could even mix them with some nut butter and serve alongside pancakes as an alternative to yoghurt
- Hummus – you can make this with chickpeas or any type of beans as a great plant-based source of protein, fibre and iron – try my butterbean hummus recipe
- Tinned fish – mashing up tinned mackerel or sardines and adding in some yoghurt and lemon juice can make a really simple and nutrient packed dip or spread to serve alongside some bread and veggie sticks
- Pesto – another great one to serve with bread or pasta / cous-cous or even just with some veggies to add a little colour and variety
- Veg pate – blend together any mixture of veg you like, with some herbs and spices and it makes a great dip or spread!
Sprinkle ground nuts into meals
Nut butters are one my favourite store-cupboard staples for feeding kids and I love to have a variety in stock. However, another great way to use nuts is to simply grind some and sprinkle them over practically any meal. It’s an ideal way to use up mixed nuts you may have lying around. Simply add them to a blender or a food processor and grind them until they’re really fine, with no large chunks.
Nuts are a good source of protein, iron, poly-unsaturated fats, selenium, zinc and vitamin E. When they’re ground into a powder they also have very little taste which means you can add them to most meals, both sweet and savoury for a super simple nutrition boost. If you grind up mixed nuts, it’s also an easy way to keep up allergen exposure to lots of different nut types.
Use mixed nut butters
As I mentioned above, different types of nuts offer different nutrients and so varying them up is a good way to make the most of the nutrition they offer. Buying mixed nut butters is a great way to do that, and it also means you can keep up the exposure to different nuts in your little one’s diet quite easily. Mixed nut butters aren’t always that readily available but you can find them in certain health food shops or online!
Blend lentils into tomato sauce
Lentils are a great source of plant-based protein, iron, fibre, B-vitamins and potassium. One really easy way I like to add these into meals is by simply cooking them into a tomato sauce and then blending it all up together. Any type of lentils would work, including tinned or pre-cooked pouches. I like to use red lentils by cooking them directly in the sauce as I find that they cook nice and quickly and they don’t alter the flavour too much. My top tip for making this go even further is to batch cook the sauce and freeze into an ice cube mould. You can then take them out in usable amounts when you need them. Add to pasta and serve with some cheese and vegetables or fruit for a quick, balanced and nutritious meal!
Add fruit into pancakes
Adding fruit straight into the pancake batter and cooking it all together is an easy way to make everything in one go and adds variety to the flavour, nutrition, texture and colour.
My favourite fruits to use are bananas, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. You can either add chopped fruits into the pancake batter when frying, or blend them up with the other ingredients.
Including some whole, can help little ones become used to different textures. When cooked, blueberries will become softened and should be safe for even younger babies, but do make sure they’re squashed before serving.
Drizzle olive oil over foods
Olive oil is a good source of calories and poly-unsaturated fats, both of which are really important for growing children. It’s a great oil to use in cooking, but I also love to drizzle it over meals, just to add a little extra. Adding a drizzle of olive oil along with a bit of cheese or nutritional yeast is a quick way to add not only nutrition but also flavour, particularly to veggies which can be a little bland when steamed!
Mix wholegrains with white
I’ve written before about offering fibre to babies and toddlers, but a really simple way I like to boost fibre intake in little ones is by mixing it in with white varieties. For example, cook white pasta along with brown pasta or serve strips of white and brown bread together. This can add a little extra in the way of flavour as well! I also love to mix in pasta made with lentils or peas as another way to boost protein and iron content of a meal!
I hope these tips help you when you’re looking for ways to add more nutrition and variety into your little one’s diet. Do check out my blogs on adding extra nutrients to your child’s meal for more of my practical tips.
For plenty of in-depth, practical advice for feeding toddlers as well as loads of simple, delicious family meals, my new book: