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12-18 Months: Toddlers on the Move - Flavors from Around the World (part 1) - Pesto Pasta with Chicken and Cherry Tomatoes

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Family meals offer a great opportunity to encourage your toddler to try new foods, and to experiment with new tastes. Too many people assume that babies and toddlers want bland, tasteless meals, when, in fact, most of them love to try new flavors, and have sensitive palates right from the word go.
Q: My toddler’s food seems a little bland. Do you have any ideas to help me spice it up?
A: The idea that you can’t add herbs and spices to a toddler’s food is long outdated. It’s absolutely fine to experiment with different flavors and textures, to make your toddler’s diet not only more exciting, but to introduce her to a more varied diet.

Some little ones might find hot spices difficult to manage, but focusing on more fragrant options, such as coriander, lemongrass, thyme, cardamom, cinnamon, dill, and oregano, are all good options. Consider adding some fruit juice, such as lime, orange, apricot, or even grape, for flavor, or seasoning with a little ground black pepper, some wine (as long as it’s cooked at a high enough temperature to evaporate the alcohol), a little mild curry paste, coconut milk, sweet chile sauce, soy sauce, or garlic. Consider offering some unusual combinations, such as adding fruit to meat or vegetables to puddings; not only will you be bumping up her nutrient intake, but you will be adding flavor, texture, and fiber to old favorites. The greater the range of flavors to which your toddler is introduced in the early years, the more expansive her palate will be.

Q: How can I encourage my toddler to try new tastes?
A: The great thing about hungry toddlers is that they’ll normally eat what’s put in front of them. So when your little one is tired out from time at the park, nursery school, or a play date, have a bowl ready, full of whatever healthy, new tastes you want your child to try. She’ll dive in before she has a chance to ask for anything else! See the tips for making food extra-tasty .
Q: What are some good ways to introduce new spices and other tastes?
A: If your toddler is used to plain purées and bland meals, she may be a little more reluctant to try new tastes. Little ones also have an amazing ability to spot anything that looks different, such as a sprig of dill, or a sprinkling of chopped basil, and may pick out the offending items. At the outset, try using herbs and other spices to flavor food while cooking, and then strain them out before serving. Another option is to purée them into a sauce, so they are not immediately obvious. Once your toddler is accustomed to the taste, you can leave in increasingly larger bits of seasoning, until they are accepted. I find that pesto is popular with little ones; see the recipe Pesto Pasta with Chicken and Cherry Tomatoes.

There are many ways to make meals flavorful, and encouraging an appreciation of different tastes will help your toddler to develop a healthy approach to food in general.

Q: My toddler wants to eat the same food as the rest of the family. Which family meals are appropriate?
A: Good choices include pasta dishes, such as spaghetti bolognese, lasagna, and macaroni and cheese. Consider trying chicken satays with rice, tiny beef burgers, fish cakes with potato wedges, and a fish pie with a cheese sauce. Simply make sure that salt is kept to a minimum, and everything is cut small and cooked well for your toddler to manage without choking.
Q: Are restaurant meals appropriate for my one-year-old?
A: Introducing your toddler to different tastes at restaurants is an excellent way to encourage both an appreciation of food, and a wider diet. Every different culture uses unique herbs, spices, and other flavorings and, in reality, none of them are inappropriate for little ones. While we might balk at offering a toddler a spicy Indian meal, children around the world are brought up on similar fare with no ill-effects. I would, however, avoid foods that have high levels of fat, sugar, or salt, are deep-fried or raw, or contain MSG (an additive).

Dining out

Eating out with your toddler can be fun, but it’s a good idea to make sure you arrive at the restaurant well before her usual dinner time, and to avoid busy periods, which can result in delays. Bring along a selection of finger foods and some distractions, such as crayons, to keep her busy while she waits, and ask for her food to arrive as soon as it’s ready.

Did you know…

that children love to try food from different cultures? Take your child out and let her try delicious stir-fries, grilled chicken satays with peanut sauce, mild curries, thin-crust vegetable-topped pizzas, spaghetti bolognese, lean chicken kebabs, grilled fish, and breaded fish balls. A word of warning, though: if your child suffers from food allergies, it is often difficult to avoid cross-contamination in some restaurants, so when in doubt, steer clear.

Pesto Pasta with Chicken and Cherry Tomatoes

Children seem to love pesto, even those who shy away from green foods! Making your own is easy and it keeps very well, although you can use 1/3 cup pesto from a jar instead. Vegetarians can replace the chicken with cubed fresh mozzarella.

10 minutes

13–17 minutes

NOTE

A family of 4–5

  • 10oz pasta, such as farfalle, fusilli, or spaghetti

  • 1oz bunch of fresh basil, stems discarded

  • 1/2 garlic clove

  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

  • 6 tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tsp extra

  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1–2 tbsp boiling water

  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

  • 1 heaping cup cooked chicken, shredded

  1. Cook the pasta in boiling water according to the package directions. Meanwhile, make the pesto: Put the basil leaves in a food processor with the garlic. Process to a purée, then add the pine nuts and process until the nuts are minced, stopping and scraping down the sides of the processor bowl as necessary. Keep the motor running and trickle 6 tbsp of the olive oil into the processor. When all the oil is mixed in, add the Parmesan and salt and pepper to taste, and pulse three or four times to combine. Add just enough boiling water to thin slightly.

  2. Drain the pasta and set aside. Put the extra 1 tsp oil in the empty pasta pan and add the tomatoes. Cook them gently until just softened, 2–3 minutes. Add the pesto and chicken and heat through for 1–2 minutes (the chicken must be piping hot). Add the cooked, drained pasta and toss everything together. Spoon onto serving plates and serve with extra Parmesan.

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