My relationship with food has always been solid. What can I say, I love food! I plan my day around mealtimes, love to cook, thankfully don't have a sweet tooth and adore fresh fruit & veg. I also adore eating out and sampling new cuisines (I had a ball and spent a fortune at Taste London last week!) Having such a passion for food meant that it was really important to me that my little one also enjoyed food and sampled a variety of tastes and flavours from a very young age.
Before you're a mum it's easy to think that you will or won't do certain things at mealtimes. TV for me is the thing I aimed to avoid. However, like most mothers, I am more interested in my son eating, than worrying about how Peppa & George's adventures are distracting him into doing so. I know this isn't ideal and it doesn't happen at every mealtime (thankfully never when we are out) but, sometimes you just gotta do what's best for your little one at that moment.
One of the biggest surprises to me, as a first time mum, is how everything, even the smallest things can impact on mealtimes. Teething, a cold, being overtired or just a bit grumpy, all impact on mealtimes and how much (or how little) my son chooses to eat.
I am lucky, Harry is, generally a great eater with a big old appetite (he is after all my son) and I do try where possible to introduce different flavours and textures. Harry is very much a sensory baby, he loves to feed himself and loves to get messy at mealtimes. This is something I actively encourage. Things like yoghurt, peas & jelly all go down very well with him and encourage him to eat more.
Here is a short little list of the best foods, for toddlers like Harry who need a little stimulation in form of taste and texture at mealtimes...
- Baby carrots
- Giant cous cous (wholemeal is available)
- Sweet potato wedges
Snacking is a funny thing. I always thought I'd be anti snacking. What I have come to learn is that there is a time and a place for snack. We attend a lot of play groups, these tend to be in the morning and tend to exhaust Harry. Just as we finish these classes I tend to give him a little snack, usually fruit (so as to not spoil his appetite for lunch). Grapes cut in half are quick to prep and easy to transport so this is a firm favourite of mine. If not fruit, a rice cake or two tends to do the trick. Harry is obsessed with the marmite flavoured rice cakes. I found them in Sainsbury's (haven't been able to locate them anywhere else) and they are most certainly up there with Harry's favourite snacks. It's funny really, so many adults can't stand marmite, they find the taste too strong (I am a lover) yet my 16 month old boy, can't get enough! He also loves olives and gerkins so I guess he just loves strong flavours...
Afternoon snacking is a different story all together. In the afternoon we can have a little more fun. Now I know the world has become obsessed with this sugar amnesty, I however am not a believer. I was raised to enjoy everything in moderation and decided from day one to encourage the same belief in my children.
I remember when planning Harry's first birthday a friend asked me if I was making a sugar free cake for the babies and toddlers. This really shocked me. It's a birthday, and cake is part of a birthday celebration and as long as children aren't eating cake daily or too regularly, I just don't see the problem. Harry loves cakes and chocolate and ice cream (oh my!) and is offered such indulgences sporadically, as an appropriate treat. On holiday, at a friends house, on a special day out and so on. In fact, when he once suffered with tonsillitis, the only thing he would eat was chocolate buttons (he hadn't eaten for a week as his throat was so sore) he would sit and suck them with a big smile on his face and I have never been happier (judge away)
On a day to day basis, I do try and offer a variety of snacks, firm favourites are berries, Goodies alphabet biscuits and the Annabel Karmel cheesy mini bread sticks. I also bake quite a bit and love offering Harry homemade snacks, peanut butter cookies and healthy blueberry muffins go down a treat with my boy (recipes available upon request)
Recently I was sent some new snacks to try, made by The Fabulous Bakers, they are utterly delicious baked treats (flap jacks bars, popcorn bars and muffins) that are jam packs full of natural yummy flavours.
Harry's favourite in the range are the baked berry oat bars, mine the apricot, almond and white chocolate popcorn bar.. divine! Not quite appropriate for a toddler as the chunks are a little hard, if looking for a treat for the little one I'd opt for the flap jack bars or muffins.
What I really love about this brand is the natural flavours that come through when trying each different product. They use only natural ingredients, nothing artificial and you really can taste the difference. They taste so fresh and flavoursome and despite their honest approach to baking, they don't come with a hefty price tag, which makes them even better.
I guess the overall message I am trying to share is that while mealtimes can be a bit stressful, even frustrating at times if you have a difficult eater, a little fun and variety can make a big difference. At Taste London last week, I let Harry have a taste of pretty much everything I had and he loved it. We all revert to our firm favourites, fish fingers, smiles and so on when we don't have time to think, let alone cook, however, try and encourage a playtime (if that's your thing, and you're ok with mess) at dinner time, it makes a big difference. And when it comes to snacking, don't be afraid of the new things, try flap jack bars and cupcakes bursting with variety and texture, and if you're little ones don't take it something immediately there is no reason to not try it again at a later date.