Giving advice about children´s food is as useless as giving advice about unsuitable boyfriends. Just as all unsuitable boyfriends are the same, no two toddlers are alike, and just as your friend will not leave the fascinating cad just because you say so, so your precious darling will not like cabbage with nutella just because your friends´little one does.
Also, embarrassingly, my daughter doesn´t have the dazzling, cute and varied diet. She eats most the same things every week, which is fine, really. Novelty is not the number one priority to a two year old who would only be too pleased to live off ice cream.
No. Pía eats whatever we eat, more or less. Usually her dinner is what we had for lunch, which may be soup, risotto, pasta, beans or lentils. Two nights a week she has eggs, in the form of omelette, and they usually have some steamed broccoli on the side. A good get out of jail free card is a cheese toasted sandwich. And on Friday nights we make pizza, which is a great opportunity to smear everything with flour.
In fact I´d say that cooking for a toddler is the same as cooking for an adult. It´s the logistics that are different. The important thing is not to be caught off guard, and to always have on hand things that can be turned into dinner while they´re in the bath, or even when they´re already in the high chair, wet hair slicked back and smelling of soap. The thinking parent´s best friends are the ziplock bag, the tiny plastic container, and the freezer.
I aim to have a few or all of these stashed away, in kid friendly portions, or in big bags for the plain stuff. They make life a lot easier, and all you have to do is squirrel them away as you make your own stuff, to be prepared like a good Boy Scout.
Many of them are meals in themselves, but many times I use them to help out leftovers from the fridge. A few beans and a couple of broccoli florets, simmered in stock, make a great soup. A bit of ham and a few peas and you´re only minutes away from great fried rice. The beauty of it is that even a couple of spoonfuls of something can be bulked up into a child size portion.
1- rice. white or brown, just make more than you´ll need and put it in a big ziplock bag. When it´s frozen, drop it from shoulder height so the grains sepparate, and there you are, ready to scoop out as much as you need for fried rice, or for soup. This goes also for quinoa, barley or any grain you like.
2- polenta. Let it congeal, slice it into squares and pop them in a bag. When you want to eat them, either thaw a couple of squares in the microwave and dust with parmesan, or else grill/broil them until brown and crunchy. Great with vegetables or any saucy pasta topping prepparation.
3- soup. Pureed or chunky, any kind seems to go down well, and is a great place to throw in a lot of vegetables they might otherwise peer suspiciously at.
4- Stock. So good for you, so delicious, will make everything better. And it´s the best thing when they´re feeling under the weather.
5- tomato sauce, or pisto. Don´t bother with the ice cube thing, it´s better to freeze it in small containers and then pop them out and into a big bag.
6- macaroni cheese. Pía´s favourite, and also a good vehicle for vegetables in the cheesy sauce
7- risotto, either rice or barley.
8- meatballs. Cooked or uncooked, these will pep up mostly anything. Likewise, sausages, which can also be used as quick meatballs by taking off the casings.
9- fishcakes. Fried or baked til crisp, they´re irresistible, and a great way to use up leftover mashed potato.
10- cooked frozen broccoli. Yes, I know the texture isn´t great, but it´s the only way if you´re really pressed for time. Likewise carrots, and peas, of course, but you don´t have to cook those, just blitz them in the microwave as they are.
For the rest, Pía loves a whole lot of things that I didn´t eat until I was much older, but she usually only wants them if they´re on my plate. And sometimes she loves eveyrthing and sometimes she doesn´t, and there are three bowls of porridge days and days when she hardly eats, but I roll with it. There are no rules; just remember, don´t make a big deal about it, don´t be offended if they don´t want it, and try to give them properly delicious things, because they just work better.
I´ll leave you with a recipe, if you can call it that, for a cold smoothie. You need:
11- frozen sliced bananas, which are great to have on hand for this or for banana ice cream, and fresh berries. Or else a fresh banana and frozen berries. To these you add liquid, either milk or juice or a mixture or both, and a spoonful of honey. Blend, serve with a couple of straws, and call it a milkshake. Toddlers are maddenning, but their saving grace is that they are also gullible.