Meal times so easily become a battle field when we are cooking for little ones. We spend hours preparing a nutritious meal but it all ends in tears with a toddler tantrum at the tea table.
Are there any simple guidelines we can follow when cooking for little ones? I would say after many years of experience and many tantrums, mine as well as the kids, that it is possible to take some of the tension out of cooking for little ones.
My first rule when cooking for little ones is don't cook. Or at least cook less. Children love raw foods and they are very healthy. Keep some cut up carrot sticks in the fridge. Washed, peeled and sliced into finger sized pieces they make an excellent snack.With a little houmous, or peanut butter maybe, they are extremely nutritious. Raw food really is good for children.
On the same principle why not try homemade smoothies. They can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge. This is one of the simplest ways of getting children to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. You can also turn smoothies into a kind of ice pop by freezing them. They are lower in sugar than commercially available products.
A thing we easily forget when cooking for little ones is that they have small stomachs. They need to eat little and often. The large meals we habitually prepare for adults are just too much for children. They simply cannot wait four hours from one meal to another. You need to have lots of healthy food in small portions ready to hand.
When it comes to the main family meals the single biggest problem is vegetables. So many small children will not eat vegetables, especially green vegetables. The answer is to get creative. Sauces exist for a reason. Broccoli was surely made for garlic butter or cheese sauce.
Some people will object that children will not eat garlic. But if they are introduced to it slowly they will. It will soon become a favourite and it is very healthy. The same is true of cheeses.It is worth introducing children to variety of cheeses. They might not like them all but they will develop a taste for some. Cheese is a valuable source of calcium and vitamin D which are important to growth of strong bones and teeth.
It is important to introduce children to what we think of as "adult" tastes because that is the way to ensure that their diet is varied. You will also avoid the trap that so many parents fall into of having to cook two meals. One word of warning here: when cooking for little ones never add salt. Salt is very bad for babies and small children.
Many of the problems associated with cooking for little ones can be overcome by cooking with little ones rather than just cooking for little ones. That is to say let them help you in the kitchen. I know that will make twice as much work and twice as much mess, but it will be worth it in the long run. Cooking for little ones should be about introducing them to the world of food and encouraging a healthy relationship with food. It is better for a child to learn that a muffin is something you bake with care and love rather than something you grab in a hurry and eat without thinking. You can guarantee that the peas they have shelled themselves will be eaten and not left on the plate.
Even after we have done all these things there will still be time when the kids simply will not eat the meal you have lovingly prepared. This brings me to what is perhaps the golden rule when cooking for little ones. At this point you must resist the temptation to scream at them and throw dishes across the kitchen. Their refusal to eat is not a reflection on you or your cooking. They are only human and so are you. The best solution is to learn to make soup or keep some chickens in the backyard. They will always eat what you cook. Well, nearly always.
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