Tot-Smart Staples


By Lisa Turner

Small children are eating-machines, and most need to nibble on demand. But few of us have time to play on-call chef for a hungry brood. The trick, then, is to keep your kitchen stocked with simple essentials for whipping up snacks and meals in a jiffy. We sought the advice of five renowned experts about key ingredients to have on hand for kids. Their recommendations follow, along with quick, nutritious recipes featuring these kid-friendly foods.

For Babies: 6 to 24 months
Breast milk (or formula) is the main food for the first six months of life. “After that, introduce a variety of foods one at a time,” says Miriam Vos, MD, pediatric GI and an attending physician at Emory University. The primary focus: easy-to-digest foods with low allergenic potential, says Randall Neustaedter, OMD, author of Child Health Guide: Holistic Pediatrics for Parents (North Atlantic Books, 2005). Avoid wheat, grains, dairy, nuts, corn, eggs and other commonly allergenic foods, and focus on fruits and vegetables. Babies’ tastes are adaptable, so you can train them to love veggies. “Start with vegetables; the sweetness of fruits is so strong that babies are less likely to want vegetables afterward.” Cook hard vegetables and lentils in a steamer or microwave until very soft. And organic foods are critical: “Babies’ livers aren’t developed sufficiently to metabolize petrochemicals,” Neustaedter adds.

Tot-Smart Staples: 6 to 24 months
• sliced bananas
• sweet potatoes (1- to 2-inch dice; steam 10 minutes; mash for babies under 1)
• cooked carrots (1- to 2-inch dice; steam 10 minutes, or buy frozen packaged varieties and keep them in the freezer)
• avocados
• applesauce
• frozen blueberries, slightly thawed (great for teething relief)
• mangoes
• frozen peas
• butternut squash (steam for 6 minutes; mash for babies under 1)
• rice cereal
• lentils, soft-cooked (cook 1 cup in 1 1/2 cups water or broth until very soft, 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the variety)
• canned cannellini beans
• spinach
• gluten-free frozen pancakes
• canned beets
• plums
• frozen green beans (heat to warm; puree in blender for babies under 1)
• oatmeal
• pears
• rice pasta

Quick-Fix Recipe: 10 to 24 months

Rice Pasta with Super Sauce
Makes 2 servings

Small, soft rice pasta is the perfect vehicle for delivering this nutrient-packed sauce to the under-2 set. Make twice the amount of sauce and freeze leftovers for fast future meals.

1 small sweet potato, cubed
2 ounces rice pasta shells
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/2 cup frozen and thawed spinach
1/2 cup frozen and thawed green beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Place sweet potato cubes in a large stainless steel or bamboo vegetable steamer. Steam over boiling water, covered, until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. (Alternatively, steam sweet potato in 1/2 inch water in a medium covered saucepan, adding more water if needed.)

While sweet potatoes are steaming, prepare rice pasta: Bring 4 cups water to boil in a medium pot. Add pasta, reduce heat to medium and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until pasta is tender.

While sweet potatoes are steaming and pasta is cooking, combine diced tomatoes, tomato paste, spinach and green beans in a food processor, and puree until smooth.

Add cooked sweet potatoes, olive oil, oregano and basil to sweet potato mixture, and puree until smooth.

Drain pasta and return to pan. Stir in enough sauce to lightly coat hot pasta. Remaining pasta sauce may be stored in a tightly sealed container and refrigerated for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 2 months.