Cooking for your toddler
Toddlers should eat the same foods as the rest of the family but with a variety of textures and flavours for balanced nutrition, says baby chef and mumpreneur, Nkechi Idinmachi.
However, there a few pointers to note- a toddler’s stomach is smaller than that of an adult, considering their inability to eat as many portions as an adult per mealtime, it is important that their meals are condensed in portions that are nutrient dense to enable them get the nutrients they need to meet their daily dietary needs.
The baby cook enthusiast, who is a mum to a preemie with multiple food allergies, said that with a bowl of rice and stew, an adult can still get the nutrients necessary which won’t be possible with a toddler as they are not patient to sit still through the meal.
“So, for my son to have a balanced meal, I might make his own stew differently – shred the chicken and sauté with some veggies and tomatoes. I might also go ahead and cook his white rice in coconut milk, sprinkle some fish powder or crayfish, just to ensure that each bite of food is rich in most of the nutrients. Sometimes though, everything goes in the blender and is pureed if the mealtime begins to stretch longer and I feel that he hasn’t eaten enough.”
While further sharing her experience, Idinmachi stressed that it is important to introduce foods in appealing ways to children to help them adapt easily. “I started introducing my son to plantain, beans, yam, potatoes and most of the other foods that we eat in the house from around eight months old but of course made specially using my bespoke recipes. Now we just tweak the regular family meals for him.”
She, however, said that parents shouldn’t give their children every meal they consume because they now accept foods. “We must take care to ensure that their meals are carefully prepared, nutrient dense with no added sugars, zero monosodium glutamate and very little salt from age one. Parents should also watch out for their kids’ reaction to different foods, just so they can catch any potential fatal allergies on time. Foods like honey should not be given to kids younger than age one.”
On what should be considered before cooking a meal for a toddler, the mum of one said that feeding her son is beyond keeping him full. It’s about providing his body with the essential nutrients from all classes of food, to ensure that his body is adequately nourished. Each food item is carefully considered and picked based on their value and contribution to his nourishment. Bearing in mind that my toddlers’ senses are fully functional, his meals are made in such a way that they appeal to them.
“I ensure that they are flavourful by using fresh herbs and spices, like curry and scent leaves. These are easy to find in the market and to grow at home. Sautéing ginger and garlic first in oil before adding other ingredients infuses the meal with so much flavour.
“I also consider colours before cooking. I think about how to add some red, green and yellow. Also, if I were to eventually puree the food, what would the end color be? As an adult if I’m served a meal that is not visually appealing I will find it difficult to have a taste of it, same with our kids.”
Idinmachi added that the base for pureeing the food is also very important because if water is used you run the risk of losing all the flavour and taste you have added to the meal. Coconut milk, bone broth, chicken stock or beef stock are some of the liquids that I use to puree, they introduce extra nutrient and flavour to the meal.
“The time of day is also very crucial. I serve sweet meals like fruits, homemade cookies and smoothies in the morning as they are high in glycemic index and have the tendency to make kids “hyper.” I want my son energetic in the morning and late afternoon but never before bed or naptime. So, I plan his meals accordingly.”
On what foods are suitable for toddlers, she stressed that healthy food that includes a wide variety of fresh foods from the five food groups are suitable for toddlers. You don’t need to look too far to find them. They are mostly foods that the family already eats. They include:
• Vegetables – Ugu, efo, okro, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, Ewedu
• Fruit- Mangoes, pears, apples, oranges
• Grains- Millet, fonio, guinea corn, rice, corn
• Dairy- milk, yoghurt
• Protein- Chicken, beef, fish
Each food group has different nutrients, which your child’s body needs to grow and function properly.