By Leena D. Saini
My toddler wants crackers. Just plain crackers. She wants them for breakfast. She craves them for lunch. She’d prefer to eat them for dinner. Sometimes she wants peanut butter or raisins with them, but mostly she could nibble on just crackers and call it a meal.
Why is my 3-year-old suddenly such a picky, one-ingredient eater?! She used to eat everything and now she just wants to nibble on things here and there, calling every meal a “snack.”
According to pediatricians, most toddlers go through erratic eating phases, eating the same thing again and again, or snacking all day long. Although this is a normal (albeit frustrating) toddler phase, it is still important to offer a diversity of foods to your little one.
Why? For one, establishing good eating habits starts at a young age. Offering different fruits, veggies and other healthy options at each meal allows your little one to get used to sampling new things. Over time, eating healthy and diverse will become second-nature. Secondly, you will be raising an adventurous eater! Studies show that children who are exposed to a wide array of flavors (different ingredients AND different herbs and spices) are more likely to remain open-minded to new cuisines when they are older.
Thinking Outside the Plate
Getting toddlers to actually eat, however, does require some fun and creativity at times. Since my daughter, Kirina, was so fond of her snack meals, I had to think of a fun way to present her food. I instantly thought of an old tiffin carrier I had in the back of my cabinet.
Tiffins for toddlers? Yes!
For those unfamiliar with this genius and versatile invention, tiffins are stainless-steel lunch carriers often used by office workers in India. Each tiffin contains small, separate bowls with lids that are stacked on top of one another. The bowls are held together by a clip and the lid even doubles as a small plate. You are able to keep each food separate and there is space for small portions of salads, dals, fruit, yogurt, or anything else you can think of.
How perfect for a toddler! Packing small amounts of food in a fun container makes every meal feel like a picnic and a surprise for your little one. If you don’t have a tiffin, try a bento box, muffin cups, or even ice-cube trays. Fill them up with little bites of fruits, veggies, dals, subjis, rotis, parathas, rice, yogurt, or anything else you can think of that’s healthy and diverse. The idea is simply to keep it small and simple. And always remember that it’s ok to season your child’s meals. A pinch of cinnamon sprinkled on fruits or fresh mint with cooked peas goes a long way to make food tasty and original.
Here are some of Kirina’s favorite tiffin meals. Use them for inspiration and substitute your child’s favorite fruits, veggies and proteins.
North Indian Tiffin
Sweet Sooji Kheer with Bananas
Aloo Paratha (rolled-up into bite-sized pieces)
Cucumber Ribbons with Lemon Juice
South Indian Tiffin
Bite-Sized Veggie Utthapums
Creamy Curd Rice
Shredded Carrots with Lemon and Jaggery
Cinnamon Apple Shreds (or applesauce) with Raisins
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches (cut into shapes)
Creamy Yogurt with Clover Honey
Rice and Veggie Balls or Avocado Sushi
Cucumber Ribbons with Lemon Juice
Creamed Corn with Coconut
Sweet Sliced Grapes
Herbed Cheese Spread with Crackers
Ham and Swiss Cheese & Cucumber Roll-Ups
Fruit & Veg Tiffin
Vegetable Bread (mash together boiled potatoes, chopped veggies and seasoning of choice, spread on buttered toast)
Carrot Shreds with Raisins
Fresh Fruit (cut into shapes for fun)
Cheese and Tomato Quesadilla
Guacamole or Salsa
Whole-grain Tortilla Chips
Warm Corn with Basil
Baked Spaghetti Squash with Butter and Parmesan
Hard-Boiled Egg Slices with Paprika
More about the author
Leena is a lawyer, mother, foodie, head chef (for a husband, three-year-old and 6-month-old) and emerging baby food cookbook author (tentatively titled “Masala Baby: Global Cuisine for Tiny Taste Buds”). Obsessed with introducing diverse/global ingredients, herbs and spices to babies from their first spoonfuls. Making baby food better, one meal at a time.
From my little one’s high chair to your little one’s, bon appétit!
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