Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Don't Know How to Feed My Child

Very typical lunch for R: garbanzo beans, rice cakes, Japanese
squash-flavored crackers, mixed vegetables, water. She eats
this at least 2-3 times a week. 
One of my biggest anxieties in parenting right now is R's diet. I said before that she wasn't picky and that food isn't a big issue for us. That's technically true: she eats whatever I give her (mostly, of course she has preferences to some extent just like an adult does) and has a good appetite.

But I constantly feel like I'm failing her because what she is offered is inadequate. She eats quite a monotonous diet: cheerios, raisins, beans, milk, mixed vegetables, crackers, rice cakes, apples, yogurt, bread with jam...Nothing is fresh really (beans are canned, vegetables are frozen, etc.) and so it's mostly heavily processed and full of weird chemicals. Then there's all the meals out, where the food is mostly greasy, oily, highly salted or otherwise not healthy (like french fries for dinner, which is what she had on Tuesday). Then there's the frequent candy she gets (whenever I want some, often daily).

It's better than my diet (which is basically highly processed carbohydrates and sugar), but that's really not saying much. I am passing on all my crummy food habits, which makes me feel very sad.
Poor R has no idea: she thinks it's tasty!
Part of the problem is that I don't cook (and B is only home for dinner, but he's been too busy lately to make it). I keep thinking I should start, but haven't. It's complicated by the fact that 1. we don't have an oven 2. I have no cookery skills, so anything involved is out and 3. shopping for food here is a huge hassle. Recently I bought two vegetarian cookbooks (since we don't eat much meat), but haven't done anything beyond that. Just looking at all the directions in cooking language speak made me feel tired and overwhelmed.

What do other people do to feed their toddlers? How do you even pull off making/planning a whole selection of nutritionally sound, varied meals (without an oven or any skills)? I really don't know. It seems like many toddlers I know are quite picky (and thus their diet is limited for that reason). I haven't asked my IRL friends about it because honestly I'm too embarrassed to admit I have no idea how to feed my child properly.

Any suggestions?


  1. I often feel the same way. I try really hard, but they're picky (one more than the other). I especially worry about vegetables, because one of them will eat only peas, so that's what they usually get. Almost all of their food is simple, like strawberries, instead of complicated cooked dishes, because that's what they prefer. But overall, I think their diet is ok. We rely A LOT on fresh fruit. They like tons of different kinds. I also give them fresh fruit before we go out to eat because of the French fries, etc. I don't know if you're more concerned with getting her nutrients or expanding her tastes, but if it's the former, I suggest smoothies and muffins. (Do you have access to an oven somewhere and can freeze stuff? I couldn't live without an oven!) They're easy to make, and all sorts of healthy stuff can be shoved in. We make banana-zucchini muffins with wheat germ all the time. Smoothies can have fruit and greens. Pasta sauce can also contain tons of good things. I do the thing where I cook and puree stuff (kale, cauliflower, sweet potato), freeze it in cubes, and then add it to cheesy pasta or marinara sauce or bread recipes or whatever.

    You're lucky she eats mostly anything. Quick, get her used to stuff now, before she becomes picky! :)

    1. We don't have an oven (they aren't used in local cooking so don't come standard w. apartments here). I could buy a toaster oven I guess? We do have a blender but it's not nice and such a trouble to use/clean. Maybe I will buy a good one for Christmas: B wants a food processor I know. (They are twice the price here so it has to wait until we are back in the US).

  2. I understand your problem. My mom cooked for the family, so I did not learn until I was an adult. One way of starting can be to make hands-off cooked dishes. For example, rice in the rice-cooker topped with edamame, some sauce and some cut-up fresh veggies. Another idea is hard-boiled eggs, tomato slices, and bread.

    To hard-boil eggs, put a few eggs in a pot of cold water (so that they are covered + an inch or so), and turn heat on max until the water boils. As soon as the water is boiling, turn off the stove, close the lid, and set a time for 10 minutes. After the times goes off, pour off the hot water and replace with cold. Done.

    One thing you will notice about the above dishes is that only one thing is being cooked at a time (rice, eggs). Once you get those down pat, you can increase the number of components to make the timing work out.

    Three big skills you can work on next are using a knife well, boiling (drop into hot water without splashing yourself), and frying. The most important thing about frying is to add oil to a cold pan (NOT leaving it empty on a burner), and adding food to a hot pan containing hot oil.

    Overall, using recipes with just a few ingredients and focusing on asian-inspired dishes will make shopping easier.

    Have you considered asking your husband or a friend teach you how to prepare a particular dish? I know it can be hard to ask for advice, but it's helpful to see what the tips and tricks are that most people don't even realize they need. At the very least, try looking online for beginner recipe videos so that you can see how it is done.

    1. A rice cooker! I totally need that! Plus hard boiled eggs: that's a great idea: even I can make those I think.

      B did teach me how to make pasta sauce. I should get him to teach me a few more tricks I think (like pancakes maybe?).

    2. I admire your ability to learn from your husband - I get very frustrated when taught by family (co-workers and friends are not a problem, though).

      Rice cookers are fantastic, and small ones are fine for a family of 3 without taking up too much space. Maybe you can get a slightly fancier one that has a veggie steaming basket? Then, you can make rice and veg, throw on a can of beans or some eggs, top with gojujang or oyster sauce. Done! If you follow Jessica's advice, you can just make sure you have components from each category, and add whatever packed of mixed spices you feel like.

      Also, consider making soups - noodles or rice, throw in some veggies, and some flavourful sauce. Things like vegetarian chili, while from a can, can also be good and easy.

      This blogger has really great recipes (healthy, fast, and appear kid-friendly): (pantry bean salad I always make).

      Good luck!

      PS: It would be great to follow your adventures with this, I think!

  3. I don't think anything is wrong with frozen vegetables- we give Nora frozen (heated of course) broccoli/peas/carrots all the time. You could try a wider variety- throw spinach in tomato sauce or eggs. I always find fresh vegetables a pain to work with.

    Maybe learn some easy dishes that are also healthy? What comes to mind is pasta/noodles with veggies and some kind of sauce (canned is fine). That's super easy. Or an omelet? With cheese and various veggies inside? That's very fast too.

    Otherwise, I would just make more of an effort to buy fresh fruits, which are easy to chop up. I'd imagine in Singapore they must have a wide variety of year-round fruit available- perhaps try some of these out. I try to start all of Nora's meal with some kind of chopped fruit and I try to get something different every few days (chopped grapes, bananas, berries, kiwis, mango, etc).

    You could also make smoothies. I hear these are a big hit with toddlers! You can blend just a banana, some spinach, and some frozen fruit with milk and/or juice. Easy way to get some hidden veggies in there!

    1. R loves fruit,and you're right Singapore has pretty much every variety you could imagine (including many not available in the US). Starting meals with chopped fruit is a great idea.

      I don't know how to make omelets. But B does (and going by previous suggestion) maybe he can show me how. Pasta is a good idea too.

  4. I shoot for a grain, protien, veggie, and dairy at every meal. I make a ton of rice or quinoa in the rice maker, then store it in the fridge as she goes through it. veggies are usually frozen too, but some times I'll do a fruit (which can just be raw). for protien it is mostly beans. Canned beans really don't bother me, but I have used a pressure cooked to cook my own beans. It takes about an hour and an entire bag of beans is cooked to perfection. As for dairy we do cottage cheese, whole fat greek yogurt, and cut up cheese. I usually just make as much things in bulk as I can (lots of beans, lots of rice/quinoa) and then store it and reheat it for several days so that I'm not cooking every day.

    I guess what makes it interesting is I add seasoning/flavors. I have both chicken stock and marinara sauce that I have frozen into ice-cubes, so I can easily add a table spoon of tomato sauce to her rice. Ginny also likes spicy food, so I will add chili powder, or curry powder. I'm not fantastic as the spicing thing, so I'll read packages of flavored rice at the store, and then make it myself. My current favorite is quinoa with garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, a little chili powder and then a drizzle of olive oil at the end.

    I probably sound fancy but I'm not. Beans + rice is very nutritious, as it is one of the only ways to get a complete protien with out eating meat. Also - I didn't know this until my husband told me, but apparently quinoa is a super food. lol. Go figure.

    Don't feel bad though, we go out to eat probably 1-2 times a week, and sometimes Ginny will end up just eating french fries, or else one of us has to order a dish with rice - which is messy to eat. :/ I also still give her baby foods (like the pureed fruits and veggies). I don't know if you can find that ready made.

    Also, I second the smoothie idea. I don't own a blender, but if I did I would probably make smoothies. My friend makes them every day and Ginny drinks them when I'm at her house. They are usually very spinach-y too, so I'm not a big fan but the baby doesn't mind.

    1. I really like the guidelines you suggest: I think it will help me find things less overwhelming.

      I find cottage cheese gross, which is why R hasn't had it. But after all her tastes aren't the same as mine: I will see if she likes it. Cheese is really expensive here so it's not a common item in our house. I must have eaten quinoa at some point (after all, I used to be in a vegan food coop) but can't remember what it tastes like. Will have to give that a try.

  5. ok I have no idea what is available to you but our grocery stores carry pre-made (or frozen) meals that are organic, healthy, and contain most of the health factors like wheat, fruit, veggies, etc. I actually used to be a pretty crappy eater until a few years ago when I got pregnant. And then it's like a light bulb went off in my brain someplace and I changed 180 degrees. Now I'm a health food fanatic, esp when it comes to P. I do find that it is SO difficult to find the balance though - working, running to pick up toddler, running home, attempting to assemble a healthy meal. I do rely pretty heavily on either meals made ahead of time, my slow cooker, or grocery finds like avocado, natural chicken nuggets, nitrate free turkey dogs, Cheese, etc. P seems to be relatively happy with the choices (she eats a variety but she eats like a freakin' bird...2 bites and she's done).

    1. I will have to look into frozen food. It's mostly weird here of course (not actually weird, just weird to me, anchovies in chili sauce or whatever) but I'm sure there's some less strange stuff too.

      I actually bought chicken nuggets but couldn't figure out how to make them (I know, this is really sad) and B had to do it instead, meaning the purpose was defeated. Turkey dogs are an idea though...