This year Diego turned two. This year Diego’s favorite thing to say is “no mama”. Like any other kid, Diego would love to have candy for breakfast and sometimes doesn’t want to eat vegetables. But I know just how good they are for him. I’ve shared some of my favorite toddler friendly recipes before, like these veggie egg bites, or healthy snack swaps here and I got so many requests for more. Diego luckily hasn’t been too picky but I wanted to offer some tips, routines, and recipes that really help turn a picky eater into a healthy eater and include the ENTIRE family.
So I interviewed Kezia, creator of The Whole Food Diary, wife, mother of two, and a lover of eating good whole foods that nourish our bodies. She creates the most incredible recipes (even sweets) that you wouldn’t believe are just using whole natural ingredients. Here are her most important tips to getting your little ones and whole family to eat healthy and love it!
Why is it important for children to eat healthy?
The way we eat sets us up for life. Both in the long term with our eating habits affecting our health, but in the day tovday. I can feel in my own body how much more energy I have when I fuel my body with good, health food and I want to give the same to my kids!
When I spend time investing in them getting healthy food even when it’s not convenient for me, I know I’m investing in their long-term health, their knowledge of how to feed themselves will stretch into the rest of their lives, and their health in the current season too, which as a parent I really want to see!
What are best tips for introducing fruits and vegetables?
- Eat together around the table
- Have everyone eat the same thing
- Get excited about the food and talk about how you love it (eat it with enthusiasm!)
- Find produce in season to get best versions of each vegetable. If we’re buying them at the farmers market or even the grocery store, we talk about them from the moment we buy them and how we’re excited about eating them. Mindset goes a LONG way! If we don’t personally like a food we’ll just keep our mouths shut! – kids pick up on those comments.
- Preparing food with kids is a great way to get them invested. Sometimes they’ll even dive in for a taste while we’re preparing the food, which I always let happen – my son adores cabbage because he first ‘stole’ it while we were preparing a slaw together!
- Find fun ways to prepare them. If raw carrots don’t go down well try roasting them with garlic, or honey and sage, or try having something fun to dunk them in. Or try adding them to something else like blending roasted carrots in hummus to introduce the flavor in a new way.
3 top tips for the mother of a picky eater
- Don’t freak out! Picky eating comes and goes, and there are absolutely ways around it, don’t doubt your parenting or your child’s health – just find your strategy and be patient! They pick up on our stress and if the table becomes a stressful place it won’t encourage them to eat well!
- *Try to cut out snacking. I know, it’s a convenient thing for our lives as parents but trust me, the hunger that builds between meals is an amazing thing when it comes to actually being hungry. There’s a massive difference between wanting food at a meal and being hungry in the way that kids eat. If they want food, they’ll take just what looks safe and good and fun. If they’re actually hungry they’re way more likely to eat foods that they might seem ‘picky’ about when they’re not hungry.
- Start to explore new ways to serve foods. My son went through a phase where he wouldn’t touch an orange. I didn’t make a big fuss, or force him to, but I didn’t just stop serving them either. I knew he wasn’t liking them so I blended whole oranges into smoothies (just two oranges in a blender) and served them like that. He instantly downed two oranges. Once he was happily drinking that regularly I reintroduced whole oranges. Or take kale. My son doesn’t like large leaves in anything. But I don’t just leave them out, we cut them small and add them to stir-fries where he can still see and taste them but they’re prepared in a different way. So try foods raw and cooked, cooked different ways, alone or mixed into/with something they already live, add different spices, add a slather of nut butter or let them dunk foods in things like hummus, dressing etc to make them exciting! And remember too it can take a lot of times of trying a food to love it, so keeping on giving a food excitedly isn’t futile – they will get there!
*I’m always nervous about making blanket statements like this – some pickiness can come from sensory issues and other things, and when I talk about this with people I always say things like ‘if they’re growing fine’ and ‘if they’re pediatrician is on board just because the concept freaks Americans out but it’s very normal in Europe, and I always want to cover my bases 😉
Do you have any routines that help with teaching healthy habits at a young age?
I said it earlier but kids really learn by watching so I think when it comes to food, eating together with them is the single best thing you can do. I also think that setting aside real meal times to focus on food is a great practice to start from the beginning so they’re not distracted but learn that meals are a time for food. I also think involving them in the whole process of meal planning, shopping, growing, preparing food is an incredible thing if you’re able to do that. I sit with my toddler and we write a meal plan together, he doesn’t contribute much but he sees me ask his dad if there’s anything particular he wants to eat that week, and then I ask him too. He says the same few things every time but he’s involved. When we’re in the store he’s with me, pulling down levers on bulk bins and learning the process of where food comes from. If he picks up something in the store that we don’t need, or isn’t a healthy option, we talk about it in a relaxed way so he’s all the time learning about the whole process. Then when I’m preparing food he’s with me 90% of the time and I’m not scared to let him jump in – yes he’s cracked a few eggs onto the floor, but now he can do it himself and he’s not scared of the idea of preparing food, which I think and hope will carry into the rest of his life. . When they learn where food comes from and how to prepare it well
What are some healthy items you always buy at the grocery store for your kids?
We eat very simply and our kids eat what we eat, we don’t really buy any ‘kid’ foods or pre-packaged snack items but some things we all love that are great kid foods are – A range of nuts and seeds! Those make up a massive part of our food budget! They’re great for adding protein to a quick meal or making quick lunch plates as we don’t eat much meat/dairy, and if we need to take food on the go they’re great energy that we can transport in a little bag or tin. We also use them to make nut/seed butters which we use in so many ways as a healthy part of our diet.
Fruit. – We always have lots of fruit on hand, apples or bananas and nut butter are a go-to dessert or even breakfast!
Oats – Oatmeal is an easy, budget-friendly and healthy meal that we can whip up to start the day. And everyone can add their own healthy toppings as well as changing up when we put in the oatmeal to change the nutrients we’re getting but also the flavors so it’s fun, functional and great fuel for all of us!
What are some tricks to “hiding” vegetables?
Pick vegetables that have a more bland taste and then add them to foods that are full of other flavors. Anything where you can blend the veggies in makes them even easier to ‘hide’ too so I love smoothies for that and you can’t see them, and can’t feel the texture either!
My kids’ (and husband’s) FAVORITE smoothie that’s full of good ingredients but taste like a milkshake minus the scary green color some kids don’t like is what I call the Kid’s Chocolate + Veggie Smoothie.
Here is how you make it!
- 1 tbsp almond butter
- 1 ripe banana
- ½ cup steamed and frozen diced cauliflower*
- ½ cup steamed and frozen diced zucchini*
- ¼ cup cocoa
- ¾ cup almond milk (or any nut milk)
- ½ cup loosely packed spinach aka a small child handful!
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp vanilla
- chopped almonds to top (optional)
*Tip: keep these in bulk in the freezer for whenever you want to make a smoothie!
Slice the banana and add it to the blender with the almond butter, steamed frozen veggies, and almond milk and blend until combined. Add the almond milk, cocoa, and spinach and blend again until it’s smooth then finally add in the cinnamon and vanilla and give it one last blend. Taste and add more cocoa, and vanilla. Pour into two glasses, add chopped nut to the top and serve!
Do you have any go-to kid friendly but nutritious snacks (that you buy or make)?
Blends of simple nuts and seeds are our primary go to. We don’t buy pre-packaged snacks as we are pretty much a plastic-free home but we make our own nut/seed blends and they’re our go-to snack if we need one. Bananas and nut butter are also very convenient and another go to. If we want something more ‘treat’ feeling we make apple nachos which we can load up with fun (but also healthy) toppings like hemp seeds, dates, granola nut butter drizzles etc or a simple banana sweetened banana bread that’s also full of flax seeds, quality nutritional ingredients like eggs and spices, and no extra sugar.
How do you maintain a healthy diet with picky eaters while traveling or on-the-go?
I think in those more rushed moments and stressful times you have to choose your battles! I’m not going to use a week when we’re traveling to try and get in a food that I know isn’t a favorite! When we’re traveling I make sure I’m loaded up with love but also clean items so that we’re never caught without and having to grab something that’s not ideal in a pinch. And I bring the clean version of treats like homemade, real food cookies and bars, so that for example when we’re on an airplane and the snacks go round I have a great healthy option. No, they’re not eating spinach, but it’s also still real food.
What is your favorite recipe you’ve created that is a healthy twist on a not so healthy treat?
Drumroll… the recipe that was a SMASH (literally) and is not even available on my blog anymore is this Dairy-free, Grain Free, Refined Sugar Free birthday cake we made for my son’s 1st birthday. No bad ingredients and all the yummy taste I promise.
- 1 cup dates
- 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup cocoa
- 3/4 cup blanched almond flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- opt: pinch pink salt
- 1/2 tsp vanilla powder
The night before: Set a can of coconut cream in the fridge to separate out. Make sure you have a full-fat version, not a ‘light’ one.
An hour before: Put the pitted dates in a small bowl and just cover them with hot water. Leave them to soften up until you are ready to bake! Occasionally dates are very very soft if so you can omit this step.
- To start the cake, transfer the dates and 2 tablespoons of the soaking water into a high powered blender with the egg yolks and melted (but not hot) coconut oil.
- Blend them up until you have a completely smooth paste. Scrape the smooth mixture out into a mixing bowl.
- In a separate bowl, sift the cocoa, among flour, baking powder and vanilla together. Gently fold this into the blended mixture.
- Add the egg whites to a clean dry bowl and use an electric whisk to beat them until they are sturdy peaks, it will take about 3 minutes.
- Take a good-sized dollop and add it to the cake batter, using a metal spoon gently fold it in. It won’t want to distribute evenly but work with it, gently folding. Starting with a small amount loosens the cake batter so you can add the rest without beating out all the air.
- When the first dollop is incorporated, add the rest of the egg white and again, gently fold it in until it’s all just combined!
- Spoon the batter out and gently spread it into a lined 8.5-9″ round cake tin.
- Pop it in a preheated 350°F oven for 20 minutes. Every oven is different so check it after 15-16 minutes, you want it to be just springy to the touch, and to have an inserted skewer come out clean – then it’s done.
- Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool.
- When the cake is completely cool, use a 3” diameter round cutter to carefully cut four circles from the cake. Options: 1) cut around a wide mason jar lid, 2) use a DIY 3” paper circle, 4) you can use a larger diameter cutter and get 3 circles depending on the height of cake you want. 5) Just bake a double batch, and divide into 2 8.5-9” pans for a full sized cake.
Note: Yes you will have to ‘extra’ cake from cutting out the circles, but if the cake is for a baby’s smash cake, then you need a bit to taste too, right? I do.
What are your favorite resources for recipes for busy moms?
As a mom I think the simplest way to feed our kids healthy food is to get them on board with eating the food that we’re already cooking for ourselves. So I think finding recipes that you love that (a) make great leftovers so you can cook extra and save it but (b) also work for kids are the winning recipes!
For kid specific foods though, I think for free things hit up Pinterest and Instagram! There are a ton of amazing moms on there giving tips and tricks and recipes, and if you’re really pushed for time, there are actually some amazing meal delivery services offering special kid-sized meals that are actually healthy.
Where can everyone find the rest of your recipes?
There are lots of recipes posted on our blog www.thewholefooddiary.com, as well as on Instagram @thewholefooddiary and for baby foods @thewholefoodbaby. We also put out a baby/toddler food ebook earlier this year with 50+ recipes and ideas that we used to feed our son whole, real foods from 6 months until he was just eating what we ate at about 2 years. It has all our tips and tricks, things we found helpful as well as more in depth chapters on snacking, routines and some other helpful topics.
Call Me Lore readers can get 15% off The Whole Food Baby eBook or anything in the store with the code “LORENA”.
We also have ebooks with real food versions of some healthy treats: one on healthy baked doughnuts The Whole Doughnut, one with 20 homemade ice creams with real food ingredients – The Whole Scoop, and most recently 30 recipes for a range of healthy treats (which have all been so great for introducing to a toddler!) The Whole Treat. You can find them all at thewholefooddiary.com/shop
I’m a wife, mama, creator of The Whole Food Diary, and self admitted ‘crunchy’ girl. I’m a born and raised Londoner who adores the city but I’ve come to thrive in the slower country life. I now live in Northern California with my husband Jared and two babes: 2 year old Clayton Oak and 6 month old Rosemary Gold.
We’re on a journey as a family to find what healthy looks like for us, which started at loving our bodies with what we love to eat. It’s taken us on a winding road to living respectfully towards the planet in all our purchasing and life choices and we’re on our way to being a zero waste home, or as close as we can get!