Seafood and shrimp are probably not the first things you think of when planning a meal that toddlers and kids will like. But pasta is. And this shrimp penne pasta recipe blends the two so perfectly that it is solely responsible for my kids’ love for shrimp.
When I make shrimp in another recipe, my boys turn their noses up at it (because it’s new). I quickly remind them, “Remember shrimp is in that pasta dish you love with the creamy tomatoes?!” They exclaim, “oh yeah!” and give it a try. Winning.
This shrimp penne pasta recipe is not only easy, but it has all the comfort and deliciousness you need for a well loved family meal. It’s been on rotation in my house for years and I finally decided it needed to be shared with you all. Because I know how tough it can be to find recipes. Especially one that your kids will like, and you will love as well.
Don’t let the ease of it fool you, it packs lots of robust flavor in a short amount of cooking time. The sauce alone is mouthwatering! Most importantly, this shrimp penne pasta can be easily thrown together on a weeknight after work.
1cubeChicken Bouillon (can be replaced with vegetable or omitted completely)
3/4cupHeavy Whipping Cream
1/2cupWhite Cooking Wine
1/4cupParmesan Cheese (plus extra for sprinkling on top)
1/4tspcrushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook per package instructions. About 8-10 minutes for al dente.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, shrimp, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Cook stirring frequently until the shrimp turn pink. About 2 minutes per side. Using a slotted spoon or tongs- remove shrimp and set aside.
Add the can of tomatoes, chicken bouillon cube, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes (if using). I do not use the red pepper flakes anymore because I have young kids that don't like spicy, but it adds a nice kick. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Make sure the bouillon cube completely dissolves.
Add the white wine, heavy cream, and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to medium-low. Simmer for 8-10 minutes until the sauce thickens.
Add 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese, the cooked shrimp, cooked pasta and remaining salt and pepper (if needed). Toss together until all ingredients are coated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cooking is one of the household chores I enjoy most. Coupled with my love of making printables, these meal planning printable guide was born. I’ve seen the rewards of meal planning, but I’m not always consistent with it. Having the right tools like this meal planning printable kit and ensuring it’s one of my habits has been essential in becoming more successful. One of the most important rewards for meal planning (for my household) is saving money at the grocery store. When you have a shopping list directly tied to a meal plan, it keeps you focused at the store.
People talk about it all the time, but why should we meal plan? There are so many reasons! Which is why it’s something most of us will benefit from, regardless of your goals. It helps save money, helps your family eat healthier meals and takes away the daily stress of figuring out what and how to feed your family.
The stress part alone is worth it to me, but we are also on a budget and finally I don’t want my kids to get used to eating out all the time. You don’t have to make traditional “healthy” meals like salads every night. The majority of stuff you cook at home will have better ingredients (and therefore overall healthier) than what you buy in a restaurant.
What is Important to your Family?
Step number 1 is to consult your family. Usually, I pick three different proteins and base our meals around those. We like to have some variety, while still rotating through some of our favorite meals. Think through as a family what your main preferences are. Are you planning around dietary needs, budget guidelines or easy and fast meals?
Next, write down your family’s favorite meals. You may have some already and add more as you try out new recipes. These are golden. And you’d be surprised how you can forget if your family loved a meal. The hustle and bustle of life is real. Last year, I stumbled on a recipe again that I had completely forgotten about. It was one that was loved by everyone so clearly had to go into our regular rotation. I added it to our favorite meal list, so it won’t be forgotten again.
Every week will be different. Maybe sometimes you’ll want to try something new, or your family is craving something specific. Then there are those other phases of life where you just go to the recipes you know how to make and your family loves. For me, that is most of December leading up to Christmas. There is so much going on that I want to think as little as possible about what I’m cooking.
Start with What You Have
Having a freezer and pantry inventory help so much! Because those items will last you longer than a week, so it’s easier to forget if you still have a certain spice or canned tomatoes for a recipe. Write those out first, and then each week you can take an inventory of what else you have.
One of the easiest ways to save money, is to take inventory of what you have in the refrigerator that can go bad. If I have veggies, I’ll plan to put them in omelets, or salads, taco bowls or fried rice. With fruit, you could make a fruit salad, yogurt parfait, or freeze for smoothies. Whatever I decide, I plan for those items early in the week so they get eaten and not end up in the trash can. i.e Throwing away money. No bueno.
Look at Weekly Sales Online
Most grocery stores have their weekly circular online, listing their sales for that week. I go to the meat section first, since they are usually the most expensive part of the meal. Based on which are on sale, I look at the recipes I have and pick what I will cook for the week (you can also plan for two weeks, month or whatever works best for you). We also do at least one night a week meatless. It’s usually whole wheat spaghetti with a veggie sauce because it’s easy.
If you’ve never shopped at Aldi and are on a budget, you must start! Easily one of the best ways to save money on groceries. There are not many name brand products, but you learn their brands and they are just as good if not better sometimes. While their stuff is already priced low, there are also weekly ads for additional discounts.
Write it Down in your Meal Planning Printable!
Pick a day for planning and grocery shopping- they can be different or the same. For you to stick with meal planning, there has to be time carved out for it on a regular basis. Use your meal planning printables to write down all your meals and shopping list for the week. You can laminate and hang it up in your kitchen, or print it weekly.
That’s it! Starting to meal plan can be tough. The steps are simple, but starting anything can be challenging. We have to work on making it a habit first. Which takes practice.
Another fun way to approach meal planning is having themed days. It also gives you a framework. Especially if you don’t have a list of favorite meals yet, it narrows down all of the different recipes out there. For example,
Wednesday: Instant Pot
Other ideas can be Asian, BBQ, American, Chicken etc. You can choose your favorites and it will give your planning a framework to work with.
Our meal planning kit has everything you need to get started on your meal planning. Including a one pager meal plan sheet and a more detailed form with a separate shopping list. I have the basic one hanging up and fill it in as I think of recipes. Then I use the more detailed sheets when I sit down to fully plan the week out.
Hope you find these useful! Let me know in the comments if you have other advice or questions!
Sweet potato is one of the best first foods for baby! It’s stocked full of nutrients, super tasty and easy to cook in a variety of ways. I’ve already included it in my baby food puree recipes, but with my third baby I decided to try some baby led weaning. The first foods I gave him are almost exactly as I did with purees. Started with avocado slices, then banana pieces followed by sweet potato and apples. Baby led weaning sweet potato wedges is the first recipe I tailored specifically for him. It’s super easy and can be modified to a puree or served to your whole family.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
If you already know what baby led weaning is and are just interested in the recipe, feel free to skip this section! I want to give a little context to the basics of blw (baby led weaning) and my stance on feeding babies. Most importantly, feed your baby however you like. 🙂 There is no absolute right way to go about this and like most things, can depend on your baby and your family’s needs.
Baby led weaning is essentially skipping purees all together and going straight to finger foods. “Weaning” is a little misleading, should be baby self feeding but the term was coined in the UK where it started. Babies have to be sitting up so essentially at least 6 months, able to grasp objects and have outgrown tongue thrust of pushing food out of their mouth.
There are some moms that are 100% baby led weaning and never looked twice at a puree. That is obviously not my stance as I started with purees for both my other boys, and I’ve also done some purees with Rhys (my third) as well. Originally I was going to skip purees this time, why not experiment since I had a whole other baby! 🙂 But he was not sitting up at 6 months, or 7 and did not have a general interest in feeding himself. So in addition to one meal that was a finger food he could self feed, I also did a couple meals of purees. Now that he’s 8 months and sitting up perfectly, he has a better handle on self feeding.
How do I Know if I Should try BLW?
One of the biggest advocates for blw is that you don’t have to cook extra food, your baby gets exactly what you are already making and it’s easier for the whole family. Since I prep my baby food a month at a time, it’s never been a huge chore for me. Just one afternoon and I’m done for the next 30 days. Easy peasy, as my 5 year old loves to say.
The other arguments for blw were enough for me to give it a try. First off, feeding babies purees originated when it was recommended that babies start getting food at 4 months. This age is too young for most babies to be sitting up and be ready for table food. That recommendation is slowly starting to go away, as more and more doctors and dietitians are saying there is no benefit for starting that early. If you think about it, what were babies eating before the invention of blenders and mashed up food? They ate what their family ate.
Additionally, advocates for blw explain that babies can self pace and learn essential skills of feeding themselves. I’ve always started this by 10 months, but with blw you can start earlier. The food is cut into bigger pieces since your baby has not developed their pincer grasp at this point. And since they are just getting used to eating food, biting off a big piece is safer than putting a small piece in their mouth that they can immediately swallow.
Tips to Follow if using BLW
Baby is sitting up at a 90 degree angle. This position is important for them to chew, swallow and digest the food properly. So if you were advised to start feeding food to your baby at 4 months by their pediatrician, do not start with blw.
Always monitor your baby while they eat. Do not leave them unattended while trying new foods.
Don’t put the food in their mouth for them. If they are not eating, you can cut off a small piece and pre load it on a spoon.
Baby Led Weaning Sweet Potato Wedges
One of the best things about this recipe, and sweet potatoes in general. They can be modified very easily! You can mash them into a puree for your baby if they are not interested in the wedges. Or you can sprinkle a little salt and feed them to your older children and spouse. A variety of spices work well that helps introduce flavor variety, which is a great thing to do for babies! Just nothing spicy and no honey- after that, options are endless.
Sweet Potato Wedge Recipe
Step 1: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Step 2: Wash your two sweet potatoes. Grab a cutting board and knife. Cut the sweet potato in half lengthwise. Cut those halves again. Then again until you have 1 inch wedges.
Step 3: You can do this step in a bowl or right on your baking sheet. Lay out your wedges and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg all over. Toss to evenly coat.
Other spice options: Only cinnamon, add a smidge of pepper, smoked paprika and cinnamon, cumin and cinnamon or an italian herb assortment (oregano, basil, rosemary). *You can add a little salt after cooking for family members over the age of 1, but added salt is best avoided for baby as much as possible.
The cinnamon and nutmeg remind me of Fall and Thanksgiving, they always come out delicious. But feel free to play around with your favorite spice or herb combination.
Step 4: Make sure you spread out the sweet potatoes evenly on the baking sheet- don’t overcrowd.
Step 5: Roast for 25 minutes.
Step 6: Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Storage: Baby led weaning sweet potato wedges can be eaten right away, but also keep well for a later date. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days or in the freezer for 1-2 months.
Rhys is a fan. 🙂
Enjoy! Would love to hear your thoughts or modifications below!
This Instant Pot Applesauce is so easy to make! You can cook it up in minutes! Since there is no added sugar, it’s a perfect snack for anyone in your family- including babies and toddlers. Freezer friendly and easy to throw into yummy muffins as well.
It’s mid October and beautiful in Chicago. After living in Texas for years, it’s great to actually get a Fall- even though we won’t talk about what happens after. :-/ The fall activities are some of our favorites- pumpkin patches, getting ready for Halloween and seeing the leaves change colors.
One of our favorites, that we’ve made a yearly tradition, is to go apple picking. It’s always a great time and the boys enjoy everything- from picking apples to corn mazes and petting farms. This year we went with a couple other families. All the kids are running around picking apples and I’m engrossed in a conversation with the other moms. Then, my 5 year old pops up from around a tree and shows me a bag FILLED with apples. “Mommy, look! I’m seeing how many I can pick and fit in here!”
Oh man, there were so many. We didn’t want to burst his little heart so we bought all of them, and the huge bag his brother filled up. If that wasn’t enough, guess who dropped by with tons more apples the very same day?! Their grandma. Lol. All good problems of course, but I knew we would have some spoiled apples if we didn’t do something with the majority of them. That is how this Instant Pot Applesauce was born, and it was sooo easy to make. An instant classic with everyone from the baby to the parents.
This post contains affiliate links, please refer to my disclosure policy for more information.
Why use an Instant Pot for Applesauce?
I’ve made applesauce a variety of ways. It’s been a favorite for all 3 of my boys, from babies to the present. On the stovetop, in a steamer etc. – it’s always been included in my baby food puree meal preps. The Instant Pot applesauce version was just as good, if not better, and a lot easier. I didn’t have to wait for water to boil and I could blend them right in the pot.
There are some spices in this recipe, but no added sugar. You can easily omit the spices if your family does not like them, but it adds a nice depth to the flavor. Also, if you prefer to sweeten with sugar, taste it first and add as needed. I personally have never done that with applesauce I make, the added sugar in store bought varieties is a big reason why I like to make my own.
The key to making applesauce great without extra add ins, is to use a variety of apples. Mix some sweet Red Delicious, Gala and Honeycrisp with a few Granny Smith or Jonagolds for a more tart taste. Any variety would work well. We used 3-4 kinds that we had picked, but I love mixing Gala and Granny Smiths together. Whichever are your favorites!
How to Prep the Apples
Don’t know why I haven’t invested in one of these! But if you have a johnny apple peeler, this step will be super easy. It will core, peel and cut your apples.
Since I have an apple cutter, I peeled them first and then used it to core and slice all of them. Which was pretty simple still.
Cooking the Apples in the Instant Pot
Toss the apples into the water and lemon juice. Top with your spices and set to high pressure for 5 minutes. Let it release naturally for 10 minutes, before finishing with a quick release. Smash with a potato masher or immersion blender. That’s it!
Storing Your Applesauce
The applesauce will keep 7-10 days in the refrigerator or up to 2-3 months in the freezer. I made a lot! So I put some in small containers, some in bigger and a bunch in reusable pouches that work well with all my children. Some of them went in the fridge and I froze the rest to use in later weeks. I did use some of the applesauce in a muffin recipe and they were sooo good! I will share that recipe soon.
I didn’t jump on the Instant Pot band wagon right away. I figured I already had a crockpot and a rice cooker, why did I need something else? After this thought process for a while, I saw one at a price I couldn’t resist. Guys, the hype is legit- there’s so much you can do with it. It’s been fun to try new recipes and I’m consistently shocked how quickly I can make dinner. And it still tastes good! With a new baby, a toddler and a preschooler- finding quick toddler friendly dinners for the Instant Pot became my mission.
We all know toddlers aren’t the easiest bunch to please. There are highs and lows with dinner time for sure, but I’ve had a lot of success with the following recipes. My son Ellis is still two though, so while he may love something the first time- he may shun it the next day as a leftover. I don’t let this get me down, that’s just how life with a toddler is.
Our rule at dinner is that they have to try everything twice. I’m not going to force them to eat it all, but I’m also not making them a separate dinner. So they know there is no asking for something else AND it’s the last time they eat for the day. We go directly to bath and brush teeth from dinner.
As we’ve been consistent, they know their boundaries. Just like anything they try new- you are not allowed to look at a new dish and say you don’t like it. It may become your new favorite- which has happened!
All that to say- there is no magic bullet or recipe for getting toddlers to eat at every meal. It comes with lots of repetition and clear boundaries. And even then, it’s not anywhere perfect. But it’s a system that works for us.
Having an Instant Pot (Amazon aff link) has been a game changer for me in finding toddler friendly dinners. Relieved a little bit of the stress, especially when I’ve forgotten to defrost chicken. You can still cook it frozen! These 20 have been the most successful with my young children, so I knew that I had to pass them on to other moms as well. Enjoy! 🙂
“This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency on behalf of Sistema®; however, all opinions are my own.”
With the start of a new year, getting back to planning ahead is one of our big goals. I’m all about doing a meal prep for the week or even the month on Sunday. Mornings are so hectic and there is also a lot in our nighttime activities, so why not get school lunches out of the way as well? It’s really simple. All you need is a little time and organization to have your whole family’s lunches done for the week. When you are done, there is an extra sense of relief that is amazing!
Right now I am 8 months pregnant and with the craziness of the holidays- we got a little off track. Which then led me to feel more frazzled. My meal planning fell off and it greatly contributed to my stress. The mornings were lots of rushing and running around- okay, we always run around a bit but there was extra running. My family wasn’t eating as healthy and we were spending more money on food— that we didn’t really have to spend (reminder from my budget master husband). That is all I needed to remember why meal planning worked so well.
Those phases of life happen to all of us, for various reasons. I don’t even have to say this is great for “busy moms”. Seriously, we are ALL busy moms. Anybody can use a system to make their lives a bit easier.
I’m pretty excited about how this meal prep went. So I’ll break it down into steps and also end with an amazing printable of ideas for what to feed your kids on the go- especially when filling Bento boxes.
Step 1: Gather Materials
Pull out all the containers or bags you use to store lunches. We recently found this line of Sistema containers at Meijer and they are perfect for make ahead lunches. The price is so good that I was able to buy various types and quantity of containers. Then pack them all up for the week without worrying about having enough or washing mid week.
The Sistema containers check all my boxes in what I require also! They can go in the microwave, dishwasher, fridge or freezer. And they are BPA and Phthalate free. With all the different varieties, they make a perfect system for lunch meal planning.
*Sistema will be running a 20% off food storage promo at Meijer from 2/24-3/2/19 and 3/24-3/30/19. So mark your calendars!
You know best what your family likes. That will help dictate what to have on hand. I got 3 Sistema Bento boxes because my boys are obsessed with them. If they have various food items, it’s almost like they think they are just snacking instead of eating a meal. Who knows, but it works! We rounded out with a few sandwich containers, snack catchers, a soup mug and a salad mix.
Step 2: Plan a Loose Menu
Start by making a list of 5-10 lunches that you can rotate weekly or bi-weekly. You don’t have to have animal shaped sandwiches or seasonally themed displays. Kids like simplicity so stick with the basics, especially at first. I have various items from each category that I know myself and the boys like. For example, about 3-4 fruits, 3 vegetables, some snacks, grains and dairy. This helps me make sure I’m making well rounded meals. Rotating through similar items makes it easier to shop for also.
Make sure to check out the printable at the end of the post that has a full list of ideas to include in lunches, separated by category. It can be hung up in your pantry or kitchen for an easy resource or inspiration.
Step 3: Involve the Kids
This will look differently based on how old your kids are. I have definitely noticed that my boys are more interested in their food and lunches if they have had a voice in what gets included or helped cook some of the items.
My 4 & 1/2 year old Miles helps to mix ingredients for recipes and pick out the items to put in his lunch. I steer him with questions like, “Which fruit do you want? Which vegetable?” so he can’t just make a lunch of strawberries and goldfish. My 2 & 1/2 year old Ellis helps mix ingredients (with assistance 🙂 ) and can help pick a couple items. He tends to lose attention quickly so I don’t have him help as long as Miles. Also, he ate all of the blueberries from one of the lunches when I wasn’t looking. So yeah, he needs a bit more monitoring.
As Miles gets older, I’ll have him take over chopping some of the fruit and vegetables, assembling his sandwich and eventually in charge of his lunch in general. Ellis will follow right behind.
Those are ways I integrate them based on age and personality. Like most things, you decide what the best ways are for your kids to help. And it may not look the same for all of them!
Step 4: Get Organized & Prep all the Food
After you have all your containers organized, take out the food items you’ll incorporate in the week’s lunches. This week we added muffins that we made that day and a veggie soup because it has been soo cold. You can definitely just do cold items and not cook, but these were our special adds this time.
This step is where the majority of the work happens. Chop up all your fruit and veggies. Assemble sandwiches, pinwheels, bagels, and anything else you are including that week.
These banana zucchini muffins are super delicious. Followed this recipe but left out the sugar and added a little extra banana and applesauce. They are still sweet and a great compliment to a sandwich or salad.
Step 5: Assemble Containers
This is the easiest part! You have all your stuff prepped and just need to assemble your different lunches. Here are some of ours for the week:
Miles assembled a couple and helped put some toppings on his yogurt.
Can’t have a lunch prep without a homemade lunchable. A variety of this is always rotated in our house. I’ll change up the types of crackers, cheese or any of the items to keep it interesting. In the Sistema Multi Split to Go.
This Sistema salad container is everything! I love that I can separate certain items- especially croutons or other things that could get soggy. There is a place for dressing and cute silverware so it really encompasses everything I need.
** This was for me when we go straight to gymnastics or soccer at lunch time pick up. No, my boys don’t care for green olives but this pregnant mama does. 😉
Some of our sandwiches for the week. These sandwich containers are a perfect size for just packing a sandwich or something small, so I got a few of them.
We’ll pair them with fruit, some snacks and one of the muffins we made. Since my boys are young, they often share a sandwich.
Sistema large Bento box with half a sandwich, muffin, clementine, trail mix, apples and peanut butter. My boys would sometimes share a box like this.
*You can sprinkle lemon or pineapple juice on cut apples so they don’t brown.
Square Bento box with a turkey cheese pinwheel, tomatoes, apples, grapes and yogurt with honey (in green container) and granola.
Square Bento box with bagel, carrots, granola bar, goldfish and strawberries (underneath granola bar).
Voila! All set!
I also have cuties, muffins, and other sides sitting next to the containers or pantry for easy access in the morning. Enjoy this prep- your mornings will thank you.
Download this reference sheet of over 60 easy lunch ideas! Just fill out the form below to access the free resource library.
Packing lunches for daycare, preschool or anywhere on the go present a whole new challenge for feeding toddlers. We figure out how to create healthy, yummy meals at home but packing lunches to go can be confusing at first. It doesn’t have to be though! These 12 toddler lunch ideas for daycare or preschool will give you some ideas for packing easy lunches for your little ones.
When Miles started camp this summer, he got really excited about his new lunch box and picking out some of the items he was going to have. I would give him simple choices- like bananas or strawberries, carrots or cucumbers, etc. They don’t have to be elaborate meals. Just get a few foods in each food group at your weekly grocery trip and rotate them around for the week.
**Make sure you scroll to the end of the post and download your own list of easy lunch ideas! Has over 50 items you can reference to create even more yummy lunches.
Aim for a Balanced Meal- Each lunch doesn’t have to be perfect, but it helps in figuring out what to include if you think about having something from each food group and making it as colorful as possible. They won’t always include everything and that is okay, but aim for a protein, grains, dairy, vegetable and fruit to round out the lunch.
Include your Child- Have them help with lunch preparation. It can be in the simplest way as making a few easy choices or actually helping make items like sandwiches. Don’t include lots of things they have never seen, but once in a while I like to add something new along their favorite. And I don’t give up after the first day!
Be Patient and Relaxed- Don’t take it personal if it doesn’t all go well. But lunch won’t always come back completely eaten. They may not even touch their vegetables- but that doesn’t mean they won’t tomorrow! Repeated exposure to certain foods usually helps a child be more comfortable and give it a try. It is a long term process, little by little they start to eat different foods. The quantity isn’t a perfect science either- their hunger will also change daily based on how active they were or how large their breakfast was.
This post contains affiliate links for your convenience, meaning I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you!
Best Toddler Lunch Boxes
You do not have to get a special lunchbox. I personally have loved these and my son Miles in particular gets really excited about taking them for lunch. You can use tupperware or any container, but I have loved these for a few reasons. The compartments just make it so easy to include different food groups. It only requires one container instead of multiple. And they don’t leak! Easy for them to eat out of and easy for us to clean- win, win.
YUMBOX Original Bento Lunch Box– I’ve loved these- the design is really cute and functional. The bottom of the container is labeled with the different food groups to help you organize your meals. They are also lightweight and easy to wash.
Bentgo Kids Lunch Box– My other favorite. They are more suited for sandwiches than the Yumbox, so I usually grab one of these if I am putting something bigger in their lunch. It is a little heavier, but it fits in our Pottery Barn lunch bag a lot easier than the other.
The problem with feeding kids is that it’s constantly changing. Right when you figure how to feed your baby, they grow into one year olds needing completely new foods. They develop a favorite food, to then completely dislike it a few months later. Then there are the phases when they refuse to eat complete food groups… or forget food groups- eat anything! If your 2 year old refuses to eat, or you have a picky eater at any age- try these tips today.
This post is sponsored by Happy Family Brands but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.
Our Current Phase
Prepping ahead is how I best manage food in our house. If you have been reading this blog for a while, that probably doesn’t surprise you. 🙂 I like doing a month’s worth of baby food and also a large breakfast meal prep to make sure we have healthy whole food options ready on a daily basis.
But life happens! I’m pregnant with our third son and the sickness throughout the first few months has been UNREAL. Like everyday lingering nausea over here. It completely threw me off in so many ways. I went into survival mode and extra prepping was just not happening as frequently.
This led me into a habit of just grabbing whatever was around- especially for those hectic mornings or afternoon snack time when the boys are always exclaiming they are “starving!”.
And man! Do kids pick up on your changes or what? I had to do a reset and think about all the things that worked for our eating schedule that needed to be brought back.
Ask for Help
You are not alone if you’ve ever struggled to feed your baby or toddler. Like I mentioned above, unfortunately the phase you are in may not be the last one your child goes through. Like anything with motherhood, support is so important! Ask other moms and your community, as well as go to the experts for advice.
I was so excited when I found out about this new resource from Happy Family Organics. It’s called Happy Mama Mentor and you can hop on to ask any feeding related questions to a group of experts. I’ve already loved the food this brand makes, it’s our go to yogurt pouch since they have no added sugar. And overall, their ingredients are exactly the things you want your babies and toddlers to be eating.
I think this new service is phenomenal and wish it was thought of sooner. They have a team of experts of lactation specialists and registered dietitians- all certified in infant and maternal nutrition and parents themselves! You can chat with them and ask almost any question regarding nursing, feeding babies, toddlers or older kids. So for any phase you may be in- someone can give some fast support and expert advice. The resource is available from 8am–8pm (EST) Mon-Fri & 8am–4pm (EST) Sat-Sun.
The other day I spoke to someone as I was looking for more ideas for healthy snack items. We are often on the go and I need to be able to give my boys something outside at a park or in the car. (Our commute home from Miles’ school is kind of long.) Since they love to snack, it’d be great if they had at least some nutritional value.
Within minutes of asking for suggestions, Rachel sent me a huge list of options. Then she emailed me our chat so I can reference our conversation later. One of the most surprising elements is that she listed items I usually save for meals. These don’t have to just be for meals! An egg muffin or avocado toast are also great snack ideas.
Offer Variety- Including Disliked/Denied Food
Miles- my 4 year old- has gone through several, several phases of food. He didn’t eat meat for almost 6 months when he was 2. He used to dislike avocado but loves it now. Ellis, who is 2, never has really liked corn- but the last couple of months he has decided he loves it and asks for more.
You really don’t know how long a phase will last, or when your toddler will decide they like a food again. So it helps to keep offering it to them. It’s definitely not the biggest portion of food on their plate- but I always gave Ellis a little bit of corn if it was part of dinner. Did the same with meat for Miles- just a small portion and eventually he started eating some kinds and later more.
Meals and snacks should include a variety of food groups and be as nutritious as possible. Like I mentioned above, I needed some more suggestions for how to make our snacks healthier.
Consistent timing also supports good food habits, space them out every 2-3 hours. There was a time when our afternoon snack was too close to dinner and was a big reason my boys weren’t eating as much of their food at dinner time.
Most of us have stories of sitting at the table until our plates were clean. Or at least I do. My sisters and I still sitting at the table after my parents left- trying to sneak food back into the pot or give it to the dog because we didn’t want anymore.
All of the research about picky eating and healthy habits point out that it’s not an effective method. Go figure. 🙂
Instead, offer everything you prepared for dinner, larger portions of foods they like and smaller portions of food they don’t particularly care for. We tell our kids they have to at least try their food but they don’t necessarily have to finish it. We also sit together during dinner as a family. *As much as possible. Ellis hates to sit still, so as long as we can nail him down.
Ellis isn’t as picky as Miles was. He has his own set of fun mealtimes attributes. He gets upset at little things, like if his plate is the wrong color, he’ll toss his food on the floor. It’s beyond frustrating. But if the food goes on the floor- it’s trash and he has nothing else to eat for that meal. We try our best to respond calmly and not yell, that has had the best outcomes.
Same with picky eaters- if they don’t eat the meal prepared, then they need to wait for the next meal to eat.
This takes some time to get used to. None of us want to have kids that are hungry- but if they are healthy and growing as they should, they will eat when ready. And if they get used to acting out or not eating and then being rewarded with a new meal- the behavior continues.
Food is Fun!
Mealtimes should be an enjoyable part of the day. Even though these teaching moments for us parents can make them a bit more stressful. There was a while when I was taking their actions too personal- but it’s really not about us, or our cooking. Just try to enjoy the ride, let your kids have choices in what they eat and even play with their food to experience what it is.
If you have a young toddler, you may be considering a toddler learning tower otherwise known as a kids kitchen helper, kitchen tower or Montessori stool. They can be an investment, which is why I went back and forth for a while if I should get one. Now that I have one, I wish I had gotten it sooner! Let’s go through the ins and outs of a learning tower, and decide if it’s right for your family. Lastly, decide which is best for you from all the options. Because there are lots of different types to choose from these days!
*Updated February 2020 by adding new options and taking away some that are no longer sold. There are even more great learning towers than when this post was originally published!
What is a toddler learning tower??
It’s a stool with rails around the top so your toddler won’t fall. It’s a safe way to have your blossoming baby at counter height. It gives them the independence to climb up and down like a stool does, but with parameters that keep them safe from falling off. They can help you cook, or just watch, play with a toy on the counter, finger paint, play with water at the sink, etc. etc.
Independence, safety, confidence and skill development. My second son Ellis loves loves loves to “do dishes”, meaning he fills all the cups with water and dumps them out- over and over while also soaking the counters. 🙂 He is also really attached to being held or being involved. With my first son Miles, I could give him an independent activity on the floor or his play table while I cooked and he’d be good. My second on the other hand just can’t stand not being in the mix, rightfully so.
I decided to get one for the peace of mind it gave me. I could walk away for a second or be wrapped up in a recipe and not have to worry when my son was doing his masterful dish washing. 🙂 But who knows, maybe this is the start of a wonderful and helpful dish washing son. A mom can dream!
While I bought it for safety, it’s opened up a lot of other ways we can connect. Our kids do need lots of play. But they also need to learn about the real world and the things we do on a daily basis. Since a lot of time for many families is in the kitchen, it’s a perfect way to get them involved young. In this case, the work is the play! You don’t have to worry about how to keep your toddler entertained while you prepare meals. They can be right there with you.
Ideal Age for a Learning Tower?
Right when your son or daughter are confident walkers and can climb up a few steps. Or when your child turns 18 months. It is ideal between 18 months- 3 years old. My first son Miles is a little over 3 and 1/2. He recently became a little too big for it, but he easily uses the learning tower or a regular stool easily. My second son Ellis is 18 months and uses it almost everyday.
Which Toddler Learning Tower to Buy?
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You have so many options now for great toddler towers, that are a safe option for your little ones to help you in the kitchen. The level of confidence your toddler develops when they feel safe is extraordinary. Let’s look at your top choices so you can decide which would fit your family and space best.
The original and most popular learning tower by far. Lots of benefits including a few different colors to match your kitchen, height adjustable, can fit two kids, and you can buy adjustments to make it into an easel later. Cons are that it is large! And not collapsible. As a friend of mine put it, make sure you put rubber around the bottom to protect your toes after constantly running into it. This would matter if you are in a condo or have a small kitchen. If space is not an issue, there are lots of pros for this learning tower that will last for years to come. This one is usually $199 on Amazon.
A little smaller and collapsible, which cannot be done with the Little Partners Learning Tower. Which makes it a better kitchen helper for smaller spaces so you can store when not in use. Has a chalk and whiteboard already on it, making it also an interactive toy for your toddler. Height adjustable as well! Cons expressed by owners are that the quality can be questionable and only comes in white or natural. It may not hold up for as many years as advertised. $150-$200
Some criticism about the original Guidecraft kitchen helper are that adventurous toddlers use the shape cutouts to climb. This model solves that problem as the slats don’t create “steps” for them. All depends on your child’s personality and which you prefer. This one also has the darker wood stain which the original does not. $217
This is a newer learning tower model offered on Amazon, but it already has stellar reviews. It looks almost exactly to the one I bought on Etsy that is no longer available. It’s a great price, compared to the two original learning towers listed above. Does not take up too much space, as it’s about the same size of a regular stool. Comes in white, black or natural. You can paint the natural one if you desire a different color! $89 on Amazon
This helper tower has a very cool feature of also converting into a table for your little one! Called a “step’n’sit”, has 5 color options and clasps can be gold, brass or silver. Cons are you may have to wait a little long for this item because they are made to order. It’s also not height adjustable but the table feature gives it an extra feature for your little one to use. $147 on Etsy plus shipping.
This is a very cute classic toddler tower option. It is very customizable with lots of color choices or you can buy a natural finish to paint yourself. Looks like it uses the Ikea Bekvam stool as a base, is a bestseller and has excellent reviews. I almost got this one because I loved the aesthetic and craftsmanship. Cons are there is a little bit of assembly and the height is not adjustable. $66-$89 plus 50+ shipping costs on Etsy.
This is one of the best learning towers on Etsy. What sets this apart from the other Etsy learning towers and kitchen helpers is that the bar in the back comes out. This is great for when your child gets older. You can use it a lot longer than the traditional learning tower age range. There are different wood stains and paint color options, as well as the ability to laser engrave your child’s name- such a cute feature! $129-$215 depending on color choices and how many names you want to engrave.
What makes this learning tower unique is that it is not too much bigger than a class step stool. Unlike the others of this size, this one does have 3 different height adjustments. It also ships fully assembled and the top bar can be removed when your child grows out of it. Available unfinished or 6 different color stain options. $89-$144 depending on color stain, plus $45+ shipping costs.
You know I like a good DIY project. And I think it took me so long to buy a learning tower because I kept going back to this post and thinking of undertaking this project. But decided that I am just not at the wood cutting/power drill level of DIY yet- maybe one day! If life wasn’t as hectic and I had a garage at the time, this could have been fun. Instructions are super simple and you can see that many have made their own learning tower from this tutorial and loved it. $20-$30 to complete.
Lastly, one more DIY project. If you’re up for a little extra DIY and want a toddler learning tower that looks more like the original learning tower, this post is for you. Again, very easy instructions but doesn’t use a stool as a base so the entire piece is custom.
If you are really wanting a learning tower and these all seem to be out of your price range, make sure to look on Craigslist or Facebook parent resell groups. They are great for resale!
This post is sponsored by Happy Family Brands but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.
Breakfast can be the hardest meal to actually cook and make nutritious. Regardless if it’s supposed to be the most important. I don’t know about you, but when my toddlers are hungry and tired- they are an even bigger handful! Breakfast for one year old toddlers is essential. They have tons of energy, are growing quickly and learning so much throughout the day.
Especially my little one. He’s already spirited so it’s important that his first meal of the day is filling, nutritious and gives him a great foundation for the day.
The problem is that I am still half asleep and my coffee hasn’t set in yet at breakfast time. On top of that, we are usually running late for school because this girl is not a morning person. Not the best setting for a great meal. I’ve been working on this by incorporating a breakfast meal prep on the weekend, to have some already made nutritious meals. In addition, we’ve been trying some new foods to keep the variety interesting.
Breakfast foods are also good at any time of day! So you can use these for lunch and dinner as well.
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I’ve partnered with Happy Tot yogurt to bring you this post and I was so excited when I found this yogurt to add in our rotation! You know I made my own baby food and I’ve been careful (or anxious) about introducing too much sugar in our sons’ diets. In the beginning, I researched formula brands to make sure we were buying a brand with no added sugar and have avoided introducing sugary cereals. The sad part is that it also included avoiding yogurts which are a great breakfast for one year old toddlers. Many brands out there may be healthy, but have tons of added sugar.
I have mostly bought plain yogurt because of this. It could be up to 29 grams!! I’d buy plain and add my own cut up fruit and a little honey. There isn’t always time for all that. Enter Happy Tot yogurt– it has NO ADDED SUGAR. My little mom heart nearly burst! And they come in pouches so we can take one in the car or anywhere we are heading. *That whole running late thing. 😉
My boys love these! It’s a win win for all of us. The loved the taste and eating out of pouches in general :-). And I don’t have to worry about sugar since there is none added or other ingredients since they are non-GMO, organic and made with probiotics.
The only negative is that I didn’t find these when my boys were younger because they also have a baby yogurt variety.
Needless to say, we have incorporated them into our meals. Many people have appreciated finger foods for one year olds and I wanted to take it a step further. Moving beyond finger foods to include some awesome meals that are still easy, but more versatile. These are some of our favorite breakfast meals for a one year old and I hope it gives you some ideas that you can make right away.
Finger foods are convenient in the beginning and we still do lots of “snack” meals. Ellis is 21 months now and is very skilled with his silverware. It can get frustrating and messy, but having them practice early helps develop their pincer grisp and thus ability to feed themselves.
Pickiness happens. But they go in waves. Keep trying to offer new foods and foods they didn’t like in the past; they may surprise you by changing their mind. Of course, it goes the other way too. I’ve had to remind myself to not take it personal when one of my boys doesn’t eat something I put a lot of work into making.
Fruit is always a win with my boys, vegetables on the other hand- not so much. Sneaking them into egg muffins, scrambled eggs, muffins or green smoothies helps ease my mind that they are getting at least some green produce in their system.
Scrambled eggs, strawberries, and cheese. Scramble in some vegetables (what we usually do) and add a side of whole wheat toast to cover all your food groups!
Banana and peanut butter roll ups with a side of Happy Tot Yogurt. Nice alternative to toast and kids love how easy they are to eat.
This is the Texan in me. Breakfast tacos are so so yummy. You can include scrambled eggs, bell peppers, tomatoes, avocado, beans and salsa. Served with banana and a Happy Tot yogurt.
Oatmeal is a favorite around here. We also love these oatmeal muffins and eat them often. Served with cheddar cheese and blueberries.
Green smoothie- has your fruit (banana and frozen strawberries), veggie (spinach), dairy (Happy Tot yogurt) and protein (peanut butter). Add some ground flaxseeds for extra nutrients.
Peanut (or any nut) butter on whole wheat toast, avocados and a cutie. *My son is about 21 months and he can eat the cuties like this now, but I used to cut them in half for at least 12-18 months.
Egg muffin made with cheese, bacon and spinach and a side of Happy Tot yogurt. *These muffins are from my breakfast meal prep. Just grabbed one from the freezer and microwaved for 45 seconds.
Yogurt parfait- greek yogurt, fruit, granola, flaxseed and a little honey.
Banana and sweet potato muffins– these are super yummy and healthy. I used super ripe bananas and left out the sugar. Sweet enough still! Serve with a side of turkey sausage and yogurt.
Whole grain bagel with cream cheese, fruit and hard boiled egg.