The weaning journey can be a real rollercoaster: one minute you’re watching your baby’s every move as they devour the mushiest, overcooked carrot stick, the next you’re arguing with your three-year-old that the red thing they’re scrutinising is a pepper and they used to eat them every week without batting an eyelid.
Food refusal is a pretty common occurrence for toddlers – much to the dismay of parents everywhere – and it’s something celebrity child nutritionist and bestselling author Charlotte Stirling-Reed is on a mission to help with.
After her first book How To Wean Your Baby became something of a weaning bible for new parents, she’s now set to release How To Feed Your Toddler, which comes jam-packed with recipes designed to intrigue even the fussiest eaters: we’re talking spinach monster pancakes, chicken katsu curry, mini black forest cherry cakes and more.
The recipes push the boundaries in terms of new flavours but also new textures. My toddler gave the sweet and potato bean cakes a go and was totally floored by the breadcrumb coating – needless to say, a few mouthfuls came straight back out again.
“We often talk about toddlers being a little reluctant to try new foods, but quite often new or unfamiliar textures can actually be a bit of a challenge for little ones to accept too,” says Stirling-Reed, who has shared three lunch recipes from her new book below.
If your toddler is a bit of a texture-phobe, like mine, she recommends trying to gently build familiarity to them. “Try offering just a little of a new texture, alongside something they are already really familiar with. Start small and build up as they become more acquainted with the new textures.
“The more variety you offer generally, the more your toddler is likely to be ok with different textures such as stringy, crunchy, chewy, soft and bitty textures.”
Another top tip is to avoid drawing attention to the food or texture being ‘new’ in the first place. Simply sit there and eat it yourself, without making a fuss. “Subtle role modelling can play a powerful role with toddlers,” she adds.
It might sound counterintuitive, but Stirling-Reed recommends giving your little one permission to say they don’t like it by saying something like: ‘that’s ok, you don’t have to eat it’. Keep gently offering the food though, she says, and building that variety of taste and texture as you go. It can take 10 to 15 tries to get a child to readily accept a food.
“The more you offer different textures, the more they will likely build familiarity with them, and the more they may then eventually readily accept them!”
Cheese and tomato loaf
Prep: 5 minutes / Cook: 25–30 minutes / Makes: 1 loaf
What Charlotte says: “This is like a mini focaccia (but takes no time at all!) and packs in the flavours. This was a hit when I was doing the recipe testing and is definitely one for the adults as well as the kids; I’ve even brought it out at a family dinner party recently. As ever with my recipes, you can change up the fillings if you wish. This is delicious (and more balanced) served with some hummus as a dip and some extra veggies or a salad.”
Cheese and tomato loaf
250g self-raising flour
1 large free-range egg or 1 chia seed egg (mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and leave for 5 minutes to thicken)
200ml milk of choice
5 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
20 cherry tomatoes, quartered
100g cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
drizzle of olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200˚C/180˚C fan. Line a 20cm square ovenproof tin with greaseproof paper.
Sift the flour into a bowl and make a well in the middle. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. Pour the milk and egg into the well.
Whisk the mixture together to combine, then add the spring onions, tomatoes and most of the cheese. Stir to mix in the flavours.
Add the mixture to the lined tin, drizzle with a little oil and sprinkle over the reserved cheese. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the loaf is brown on top.
Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then carefully lift the loaf from the tin onto a cooling rack.
Leave to cool a little before cutting into chunks and serving.
This loaf will keep fresh for around 3 days and it is a great addition to your freezer stash. You can grab a few slices and defrost for a couple of hours in time for lunch.
Sweet potato and bean cakes
Prep: 15 minutes / Cook: 20–30 minutes / Makes: 10 cakes
What Charlotte says: “These are a great alternative to burgers or fishcakes, and are packed with amazing flavours and textures. The bean mashing does take a little work, but it’s well worth it, and you can make a batch and keep the mixture in the fridge for the next couple of days or freeze some of the cakes for later. Serve in a bun or just on its own, whichever you fancy!”
Sweet potato and bean cakes
2 medium sweet potatoes (about 400g)
400g tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
400g tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1–2 tbsp tomato purée
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
80g shop-bought or homemade breadcrumbs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 ripe avocado, destoned and skin removed
Preheat the oven to 200˚C/180˚C fan. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Wash and scrub the potatoes and prick them on all sides with a fork. Pop them into a microwave for 5 minutes or bake for 1 hour at 200˚C/180˚C fan until the flesh is soft. Leave to one side.
In a bowl mash the beans until they form a paste. Mix in the tomato purée and spring onions and stir until combined. Scoop out the flesh of the cooked potatoes, add to the bowl and mix.
Shape the mixture into 10 balls, then flatten into 8cm wide patties.
Pour the breadcrumbs onto a plate and dip the patties into the breadcrumbs to coat. Transfer the patties to the tray.
Brush each with a little olive oil and bake for 10–15 minutes each side or until golden and hot all the way through.
Once the bean cakes are cooked, leave them to cool a little (this also allows them to firm up). Mash the avocado with a good squeeze of lime and serve the bean cakes with a dollop of the avocado alongside for dunking for little ones. For older ones and adults, spread some on top of the cake.
Courgette Cornbread Squares
Prep: 10–15minutes / Cook: 25–30 minutes / Makes: 20–25 squares
What Charlotte says: “This is one of my favourite recipes from the book – it’s so tasty and makes a great snack, lunch or side, as well as being fab topped with a dollop of cream cheese and some dill or a spoonful of hummus with some ground pistachios. I love this one on its own though, and it’s now a regular in our freezer. This recipe makes a good amount and packs lots of flavours and textures. I hope your little ones will love it.”
Courgette cornbread squares
50g unsalted butter or dairy-free spread
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
2 courgettes (about 350g), trimmed and coarsely grated
1 large free-range egg, beaten
125ml milk of choice
125g Greek yoghurt
198g tin sweetcorn, drained
100g plain flour
150g cornmeal or polenta
30g mature Cheddar cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 200˚C/180˚C fan. Line a 20 x 30cm tin with greaseproof paper.
Melt the butter or spread in a large frying pan, add the spring onions and courgettes and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until soft and cooked down. Leave to one side to cool completely.
Mix the egg, milk, yoghurt and sweetcorn together in a bowl.
Add the flour, cornmeal, Cheddar, and cooled veg, and give it a good mix to combine.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 25 minutes, or until golden and cooked through.
Cool in the tin then transfer to a cooling rack and cut into 20–25 squares.
These will keep in an airtight container for 2 days or can be added to your freezer stash.
How to Feed Your Toddler: Everything You Need to Know To Raise Happy, Independent Little Eaters is published on September 29.