As your toddler grows older and her social net widens, she’ll begin to make her own friends, and undoubtedly be influenced by them! Parties, too, may be a more frequent occurrence in your child’s life. With a little creativity, you can continue to offer nutritious, delicious food, and broaden your child’s palate in the process.
Q: My child is starting to have friends around for lunch; do you have any good ideas for toddler-friendly meals?
A: Most little ones won’t want to spend a lot of time at the table, and will want to eat their food quickly and get on with the fun. It makes sense, therefore, to offer small, manageable portions of food that look fun to eat.

Pasta is always popular with little ones—spoon a hidden vegetable sauce on top or add chicken meatballs. For kids at the older end of this age group, you can make a little pasta “bar” with some grated cheese, cooked peas, corn, little meatballs, diced chicken, tuna, olives, and tomato sauce so that they can create their own pasta masterpieces.

Other good ideas are platters of toddler-sized sandwiches with fruit and some mini-muffins or fruit and oat bars, mini-meat or fish balls (see Chicken meatballs), mini-burgers, marinated chicken skewers , individual fish or shepherd’s pies, or even a baked potato with one of any number of toppings. Little quiches or mini-pizzas  make a nice treat too.

It can sometimes be difficult to encourage fussier eaters to eat their vegetables, but supplying crudités with a tasty dip alongside is a solution.

Q: Should I call parents to check that visitors don’t have food allergies?
A: In reality, it’s up to the parents of allergic children to contact you if there are problems with food, and even send their own if there is potential for a reaction. However, if you are having a child around for the first time, it’s best to check. Some parents might just assume that everyone knows their child is allergic, and forget to mention it.
Q: How can my child explain to her friends that she doesn’t eat meat?
A: I would suggest that she doesn’t need to do this herself, and that you can advise parents or carers of this fact in advance. There are plenty of child-friendly meals that do not include meat, including pastas, salads, sandwiches, and soups. If the adults are aware of your child’s diet, they can make the appropriate choices without any need for explanation.

If your child does find that she’s in the position of having to refuse something because it is meat or it contains meat, you can encourage her to explain that she either doesn’t “like” meat, or that her family doesn’t “eat” it. Most young children aren’t self-conscious enough to mind saying that they like, or don’t eat, different things.

Your child may slip up and eat meat on the odd occasion, and even start to demand it—whether or not you allow this is your choice. But if you are staunch about your vegetarian beliefs, then simply explain to your child that you have different eating habits in your family.

When you invite her friends over, avoid offering anything that might put off the average toddler. Stick to a vegetarian meal that most children would eat at home, such as pasta with tomato sauce.

Q: My child’s third birthday is coming up—do you have any ideas for healthy party foods?
A: Traditional birthday party food doesn’t have to be unhealthy, and you can create delicious cakes, muffins, and cookies using honey, molasses, and brown sugar to sweeten them, or add grated carrots, zucchini, apples, or pears to make them moist and nutritious.

Pretty, tiny, and brightly colored are the order of the day, and you’ll be a step closer to getting them to eat what you want. Platters of fresh fruit with a little chocolate sauce for dipping are fun, as are bite-sized pieces of fruit threaded onto a straw. Little pizzas with faces on English muffins or mini-pitas can “hide” quite a few veggies in the toppings.

Fresh fruit popsicles are perfect for outside parties. Smoothies offered in tiny shot glasses are ideal for offering a boost of nutrition, and some much needed fluid.

One-bite sandwich squares are most appealing to little ones, as are mini-bagels. For filling ideas, see Sandwiches for Toddlers. Create tiny salads inside a baby lettuce leaf, with just enough for one or two bites. Breadsticks with hummus, cheese straws, and chunks of cheese are always popular.

Did you know…

that you can make healthy versions of more traditional kids’ foods? Serve fish goujons or chicken fingers rather than “nuggets,” mini-burgers, and pasta with tomato sauce. Although your little one may express interest in the less-healthy foods that his friends eat, the trick is to never give in. If you always offer healthy, nutritious food, he’ll develop a taste for them, and see them as familiar.

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