As a mom of three and bestselling cookbook author, Yummy Toddler Food’s Amy Palanjian knows something about picky eaters. And with almost 1 million parents following her on Instagram alone, she knows a lot about the pressure that social media puts on moms trying to feed their kids. “We’re constantly seeing images of ‘kid food’ online that is completely out of context and I think that’s increased the pressure we all feel for our kids to eat a certain way,” says Amy. She adds : “My kids usually eat some of what I’ve served, depending on what the foods on offer are, but rarely do they all eat everything.”
We asked Amy to share details of her new book, Yummy Toddler Food: Dinnertime SOS, how she really gets her kids (11, 7, and 4) to try new foods (without making dinnertime stressful for everyone), and more.
Congratulations on the new book! It’s gorgeous. How has this been a different book to develop and write than Food Play?
It was a much larger book (Food Play only had 25 recipes and involved no actual cooking) and took about three times as long. I think my son was a year old when I was contracted to write the book and now he’s 4, which shows you just how long of a process it is to write a book.
What does your weekly meal planning look like?
I roughly plan dinners based around what I feel like cooking, what the kids have been asking for, and what I need to make for work. I try to keep things a little flexible (by using lots of frozen veggies that can hang out to the next week if we don’t get to them) since sometimes I want to adjust in the moment.
What are your favorite tips for saving money on groceries?
To start, look at what you consistently aren’t using or are having to toss because it’s going bad, and buy less of those things. Then you can reduce meat a little, which is often more expensive than plant-based proteins, or reduce prepared foods.
But I think cutting down on food waste is usually the easiest place to start. A good option is to buy more frozen vegetables and a little less fresh to remove some of the pressure that you need to use it all by a certain date.
What are your go-to recipes in the book?
We love the Sloppy Joes, the Chicken Noodle Soup, and the Sheet Pan Pancakes!
What do you hope parents get out of this book?
I hope it offers families a vetted, trusted collection of recipes to turn to when they want something quick and easy—and really anyone in the trenches of the challenge of feeding a family and anyone who just wants simple, yummy food for themselves.
What advice do you have for moms with *very* picky eaters?
It really depends on both the personality of the child and the degree of the issue. It also depends a lot on the emotions of the parent doing the cooking and food prep, and also the dynamics of a meal. This is by no means a one-size-all situation, and I think we really need to pay attention to what the kids are reacting to.
Yes, adding veggies into foods can help increase nutrition, but if you do it without telling the kids and they realize it, they may never eat that food again because the trust has been broken. I prefer to look for ways to offer the child more agency and control over their food so they feel safer. Things like letting them help you decide on the menus for the week so they know there will be one or two in the lineup they love. Or letting them serve themselves at the table or help you wash or chop something. Maybe they can pick a dip or a side dish to go with the meal. Consider how you would feel if someone else made every food choice for you and see how you can adjust the power dynamics (while maintaining the structure about when and where meals are).
Who are some of your favorite kid-friendly recipe creators?
I love Jenna Helwig’s books, which are reliable and have a lot of basic recipes for babies and families, and also the Feeding Littles cookbook is great.
What’s next for you and Yummy Toddler Food?
I get that question a lot and while there are some things I’m working on, I really love the job I’m doing right now so it will be more of that!
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