All atwitter about bread, cheese, and other foods toddlers sometimes forget to reject

I turned her post-nap snack into a muffin tin meal as she'd refused to eat lunch. She's been sick, so I stacked the deck with things I thought she'd eat. She ate the pineapple, and quite a few cheesy pita pieces! I even had to reload. Despite adding a ton of honey to the plain yogurt, it was a no-go. Duh.

Stella’s best buddy is a sweetie-pie of a kid who sits peacefully in his high chair (or even a shopping cart) for long stretches. He is breastfed. He happily and without urging will eat anything that his very dedicated and health- and eco-conscious mom puts in front of him. He’ll use a toothpick to precisely nab chunks of plain, steamed broccoli or carrot and dip it into his little bowl of 100% healthy and amazing Almond Ginger Drizzle dipping sauce, and go back for more. Then he’ll eat plain yogurt as a side dish, and move on to polish off  the leftover avocado from lunch, and a few pieces of chicken and suddenly, he’s chowing down on brown rice.  He also wakes up several times a night. His mom is lucky to get one three-hour stretch of sleep each night.

Stella has about a five-minute highchair or shopping cart seating limit, won’t even touch a food that’s been offered to her previously the same day (even if she loved it), gets impatient with a fork (nevermind a toothpick) so will quickly resort to eating mac and cheese by the fistful, and regards plain yogurt as a form of shiver-inducing torture. She also (92% of the time) sleeps through the night. She and her bud are both happy and healthy. They both have areas that are challenging. I try not to compare them, but relish the sometimes hilarious differences. It’s hard not to smile in amazement at their wildly different temperaments, which somehow go together perfectly. Just like Almond Ginger Drizzle and broccoli.

Because I do have to put in a bit of an extra effort to provide Stella with an adequate, healthy-ish diet, and more so because I absolutely love to waste time, I actually have a second Twitter account. I use the ambitiously named Toddler Recipes Twitter front for the purpose of sharing any possibly helpful toddler feeding “tips.” It’s just that whenever I find a new snack or meal for Stella, or ways to make existing snacks and meals healthier or somehow better, I want to share such revelations. Instead of just dancing alone in my kitchen.

Some of my suggestions, all of which are based on my own feeding successes with one storied little eater, are really odd. Like, a couple times a week, I bake a sweet potato while Stella naps (poke holes in it with a fork, pop it in a 425-degree oven on a baking sheet lined with foil for about an hour). After she’s had some time to fully wake up and play, I peel it and pop it in the food processor and start handing her spoonfuls. It’s still warm. It’s incredibly sweet. And because of the way all of this unfolds, it’s an event! She asks for more, more, more. On Saturday, she ate most of an entire medium-sized sweet potato (or is it a yam?) and I was so pathetically happy I almost burst, but I didn’t, because I’d made a big enough mess already. I’d compare the pride and thrill I felt to that of getting a large raise. I wish I were kidding. I can now fill a ramekin with the puree and put it on her little table and she’ll scoop away, eating most of it with glee. The point? Toddlers are weird. Don’t be afraid to try random outside-the-highchair ideas. Whatever works, man. Whatever works.

Admittedly, many tips are really obvious but may be easy to overlook when you’re busy trying not to go insane. Cut up a 100% whole wheat pita pocket into quarters, pop a piece of cheddar into each (I often splurge on raw cheddar), toast for a few minutes, and voila! “Cheesy pitas’ that can be cut up into little, appealing bite-sized shapes, like pterodactyl, or the always-popular triangle. Use mozzarella and tomato sauce to transform grilled cheese into a worthy foe for pizza. If you’re feeling ballsy, throw some veggie in there! No, not all my ideas involve bread and cheese. Though I do think that good quality whole wheat bread and decent cheese can take a picky-ish kid far. Really, some of my tweets involve… (wait for it)… carrots! On rare occasions, spinach! Once in a while, I’ll just remind people to not force things, simply to “offer.” And definitely don’t obsess. Because I need to re-tell myself these very things from time to time.

Of course, she went straight for the turkey bacon. It's uncured, organic, yadda yadda. Just don't compare it to real bacon and it's delicious.

I have to retract at least part of my previous endorsement for Super Baby Food. It always felt like a bit too much work to be sustainable… too much thinking. The best ideas are fun, and don’t require spreadsheets for tracking and planning purposes. “Let’s chart Stella’s vitamin A intake, shall we?” UGH. Anyway, case in point: A long time ago, I stumbled across the idea of “muffin tin meals” on a friend’s wonderful craft-centric blog: Well I’ll Be a Monkey’s Mama. Now that Stella is old enough to not immediately grab any nearby container and dump its contents on the floor (usually), I decided to give it a try. I needed to do something, because we’re in the midst of a very rough eating stretch, due to nagging illness. During our recent ER visit, I learned that Stella lost a pound during her first cold in April.The 20-month-old girl whose 18-month-sized jeans are so baggy, I have to round up a search party to find her butt for diaper changes. Well, she’s a week into her second nasty affliction this month and that means that after weeks of weight loss, she’s still eating notably less than usual. Anyway, I think the muffin tin magic did help. At the very least, I felt better knowing I’d made a little bit of an effort without pressuring Stella to eat in any way. She didn’t polish it all off (no surprise there), but she actually sat down at her little table to eat, after noticing it and announcing her intention to “Sit DOWN!” I’m chalking it up as little victory–one of the many that I am too pumped about not to share on Twitter or with anyone who will listen.

In closing, a confession. Sometimes, I purposefully don’t put in too much effort when it comes to Stella’s meals. Especially with our feeding history, it’s incredibly deflating to spend significant energy and time on planning and cooking, only to have Stella eat zero point zero percent of what I’ve lovingly prepared. I pick my battles. I invest time where I think it will pay off. And once in a while, I take Stella out for ice cream and just enjoy life and eating without worrying or trying at all. Sometimes, that’s the very best recipe.


  1. Jessica · April 27, 2010

    Hey, I was was just reading aloud your post to Mark – and I saw your shout out. Is it sad that I was super-excited? Did you see my fb status tonight? I put spinach in a smoothie tonight – so if Stella likes smoothies try it! Logan wouldn’t touch smoothies when he was younger but he’s into them now. Anyhoo, I put about 1/2 a blender full of baby spinach (loose) and a splash of OJ. Blended – then added in a banana and frozen mango. Couldn’t taste the spinach (too bad L wouldn’t drink it after all) little bugger. But it was yummy for me!

    • amberhj · May 1, 2010

      You were reading my post aloud to Mark? I’m the one who is super-excited! My writing was interesting enough to be read aloud. Who knew??? I’m totally going to give that smoothie recipe a whirl (ooh, good pun). Glad you enjoyed it, and I bet Logan will come around! Thanks!

  2. kathleen · April 29, 2010

    Great post, Amber. Really helpful ideas and perspective, and well written as usual. I’m with you on the not putting a ton of effort into meal prep for the wee ones. It’s not worth it when they’re so unpredictable. Keep up the good work and I wish you continued patience!

    • amberhj · May 1, 2010

      Why thank you, Kathleen. Seems like we’re really on the same page. I like the idea of re-purposing parts of the adult meal. Wish I’d done that more when she was beginning on solids. Actually, I have a family cookbook that recommends utilizing components of the main meal for baby–like, say, if your main meal contains potatoes, just reserve a bit of the potatoes after they’re cooked but before they’re seasoned and mash them up. That sort of thing. Or check out the book “Baby Led Weaning” which advises forgoing purees altogether and just putting finger foods out from the main meal. I think it’s genius, but it really all depends on the temperament of the kid. Again, “whatever works!”

      Thanks for the encouragement and I wish you continued patience as well–hope the little guy gets back into his napping routine.

  3. olga · May 1, 2010

    oh, thank you thank you for also being a bread-and-cheese mama. and there IS something about the triangle shape (easy to bite?). we let zander discover thick, small-brand, few-ingredient tortilla chips this week, and he’s been walking around yelling “more cheep! more cheep!” when awake.

    will try the muffin tin (“hi ho the muffin man, the muffin man…”), but the sweet potatoe wouild likely be a bust and i’d have to eat it all by myself, preferably chased with a nice cold microbrew.

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