Your toddler will be raring to go, and ready to try many new experiences. It isn’t always easy to keep up with an energetic toddler, and to ensure he’s getting all the nutrients he needs. But it’s not as hard as you may think to keep things going on the run, whether he’s in day care, at nursery school, or dining with friends.
Q: How can I be sure my child gets a balanced diet when she is at day care?
A: It can be difficult to work out what your little one is eating at day care, unless you send her with a packed lunch. Most day cares will happily provide details of the weekly menu plan, and most will contain a good balance of healthy foods. Several studies show that young children can be more adventurous when eating with friends, so she may end up trying and eating a wider variety of foods than she would at home. If she eats all three meals at day care, talk to the staff to see what she is eating regularly, and where the shortfalls might be. If it appears that she isn’t eating well at day care, consider sending in a packed lunch, and ask that anything she doesn’t eat be returned to you so that you can see what is actually going in!

Q: Can you give me some ideas for a fun but nutritious packed lunch?
A: One of the easiest ways to make sandwiches more interesting is to use different types of bread. Mini-bagels and wraps (flour tortillas) are also good for sandwiches. I like to roll slices of bread with a rolling pin so that it is thinner for sandwiches. You can then use cutters to cut the sandwiches into fun shapes. There are plenty of sandwich filling ideas . If your child doesn’t eat sandwiches you could try deconstructing the sandwich and making fillings, such as cream cheese and peanut butter, into dips (stir in a little milk to soften the consistency). Give strips of ham and cheese plus mini-rice cakes, unsalted crackers, or cold cooked pasta to eat with the dips.

On Packed Lunch Ideas I have suggested a range of healthy lunchbox ideas. As it is often a rush to get yourself and your child out of the house in the morning, each of these can be assembled in less than 10 minutes.

To help keep lunches cool, invest in an insulated lunchbox or bag and cold pack that can be frozen every night. Add a juice box each day as fruit juice counts as one of the five-a-day fruit and vegetable requirements. Snack-sized boxes of raisins are also a good addition.

Q: Is it OK to rely on jars occasionally?
A: There is no reason why the occasional jar of toddler or baby food can’t be used for the sake of convenience. Problems begin when you over-rely on them, or use them exclusively. In this case, babies and toddlers become used to the bland flavors and the over-processed texture, making the transition to family food more difficult.
Q: Why are jarred foods so appealing to babies and toddlers?
A: First of all, babies who have been weaned on to homemade baby foods don’t seem to have the same interest in jarred foods—probably because they seem tasteless in comparison to their normal fare. However, little ones whose first tastes have come from jars do find them appealing because they are completely unchallenging. The flavors are often bland, they lack the vibrant colors of freshly made fruits and vegetables, and there tends to be little texture. Furthermore, while baby foods for very small babies do not usually contain salt or sugar, jarred foods for toddlers may contain both, as well as other ingredients, such as flavorings, which obviously makes them more attractive.
Q: I have very little time to cook in the evenings, but don’t want to rely on ready-made meals. Can you suggest nutritious recipes I can make in a hurry?
A: Homemade burgers are easy to prepare. It’s a good idea to make a batch of these and freeze them on a tray lined with plastic wrap. Once frozen, wrap each one in plastic wrap and store in freezer bags so that it is easy to take out as many as you need. Grilled chicken yakitori is also a quick, delicious meal for the whole family. Try the Cheese and ham pit-zas—these take just 15 minutes, so are the ultimate fast food. Try the very quick-to-make Chicken quesadillas, too, which the whole family can enjoy. It’s a fantastic idea to make a large batch of Hidden-vegetable tomato sauce; it can be used in lots of different pasta dishes and as a pizza topping too.

Did you know…

that fussy eaters are almost always willing to try new things if their friends are doing so, so why not invite another mom for coffee and add a few different goodies to the menu? Try meeting up with friends and their toddlers at different venues, such as a restaurant or park, to see if this sparks an interest in something your toddler may not have tried before. Picnics with other toddler friends can provide a wonderful opportunity for your little one to try a variety of different finger foods.

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