Stocking up on Healthy Toddler Foods at Home

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What should parents stock up on when they have a toddler at home? Here’s a healthy (and sane) plan to help you with your grocery purchases during the Coronavirus with small children.

With social distancing guidelines extended until April 30th and schools and daycares facing extended closures, parents around the country are scrambling to keep the fridge, freezer and pantry stocked. But what foods should you be buying for your family during these challenging times?  

The best foods are those that are nutrient dense and shelf stable, affordable and convenient to prepare.  It’s a good idea to have enough nutritious offerings on hand for two weeks, so you are prepared in case you have to self-quarantine. Here are some essentials that registered dietitians recommend stocking up on. 

Frozen Fruits and Veggies

USDA recommends half our plates should be made of up or fruits and veggies for good health, plus these food groups are a rich source of beneficial vitamins and nutrients for a healthy immune system such as vitamins A and C.  Research suggests frozen fruits and veggies can match, and often beats the nutrition of fresh produce (certain vitamins and antioxidants can be lost with long shipping and storage time). Frozen also helps you avoid costly food waste. Frozen berries (blueberry, raspberry, strawberry) are often more affordable than fresh and filled with antioxidants and vitamin C; frozen broccoli, chopped spinach or kale help you have great greens on hand to deliver nutrients like Vitamin K, iron and calcium. And frozen cauliflower “rice” or zucchini “noodles” make a nourishing, no-fuss foundation for a meal. 

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit provides a natural energy boost in a deliciously sweet and nutritious package-plus a concentrated source of fiber to help promote a healthy digestive system. The rich colors are signs of antioxidants too-such as polyphenols, which can enhance blood flow. Stock up on all-natural options without added sugars or oils. 

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Fruit and Veggie Pouches

When you can’t get fresh fruits and vegetables, are avoiding the grocery store, or need to order online, fruit and veggie pouches are a good option: they pack vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants-and can be counted as a serving of fruit or vegetables. Flavors starring dark greens or oranges  (such as spinach or pumpkin) are supercharged with vitamins A, C and E. Simply squeeze on things like oatmeal or yogurt, or serve with an easy protein option (such as a cheese stick or a hard-boiled egg)  for a  quick, nutritious, and satisfying snack.

Long-Lasting Produce

Minimize costly food waste and save unplanned visits to the store by stocking up on long-lasting produce: apples, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots and butternut squash are hearty options that can last for several weeks. Citrus (such as grapefruit, oranges, tangerines) are another affordable nutritional bounty, packing 100% of the RDA of vitamin C, a vitamin that is critical for a healthy immune system.

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Quinoa, Oatmeal, and Other Ancient/whole Grains

These shelf-stable superfoods are filled with beneficial fiber to help keep blood sugar levels stable longer after meals (as well as support gut health).  Quinoa is a quick cooking and nutritious alternative to rice that contains a whopping 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber per serving, plus micronutrients like zinc or magnesium. Try overnight oats (oats, yogurt and fruit mixed up the night before and chilled in the fridge) for an easy, nutrient-dense delicious time saver.

Chickpea or Lentil Pasta

Pasta is a go-to in moments when we crave ease and comfort: a new generation of pastas made with nutrient-dense ingredients like chickpea and lentil give this everyday essential a nutrition boost with beneficial fiber and protein.

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All-Natural Soups

Whether canned (look for BPA free), boxed or dried, a well-chosen soup lets you get a healthy meal ready in minutes. Choose bean or lentil-based soups for a protein and fiber rich option, or those brimming with veggies like tomato, pumpkin or butternut squash can offer sublime creamy comfort and vitamins A and C. Focus on all natural, low sodium varieties to minimize artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

Frozen Organic or All-Natural Meatballs

Meatballs are kid-friendly, super fast and easy to pull from the freezer.  Veggie, beef, bison, chicken meatballs can a provide quick, versatile protein for meals or snacks. 

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Canned Salmon, Tuna, Sardines and Beans

The USDA dietary guidelines call for 2 servings of omega-3 rich seafood each week Americans over age 2, as omega-3 fats have been shown to help stave off depression and boost mood, fight inflammation, and promote heart health. These seafood choices not only meet those guidelines, they are also are rich in protein. Toss onto pasta, serve with crackers, or mash sardines into dressings for a nutrient boost. Canned beans (look for no added salt) can provide shelf stable, affordable protein in a high fiber package packed with health supporting nutrients like folate and potassium.

Nuts and Seeds

A whole range of nourishing nut and seed options deliver a hefty dose of hearth healthy fats, protein, minerals like magnesium and iron, and the antioxidant vitamin E. Stash nuts (such peanut, almond, sunflower, walnuts, pistachios or pecans) or seeds (such as hemp, chia, flax, sunflower) in the freezer to extend shelf-life. All-natural nut and seed butters can be nutrient-dense foundations for meals or snacks- swirled into breakfast cereal, lathered on toast or crackers, or as nourishing ingredients for home baking projects.

Kate Geagan is an award-winning registered dietitian and nutrition pioneer.  She is a consultant for Earth’s Best Organic infant and toddler foods and has helped millions of eaters fall in love with foods that power a healthy life and a better world.

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